Just Go For It
Matt Chasen, MBA ’04, B.S. ’98, caught the entrepreneurial bug early in his engineering career. He went on to found uShip in 2004 with classmates Jay Manickam and Mickey Millsap. Often called the “eBay for shipping,” uShip allows customers to post shipping requests and companies with empty trucks to bid on jobs. The company boasts one million registered customers and operates sites in the United States, Canada, Australia and across Europe.
In 2010, Chasen was a finalist for the Ernst and Young's Entrepreneur of the Year in Central Texas, and in 2011, earned top honors in the Austin Under40 business and entrepreneur category.
Chasen is the 2011 McCombs MBA Alumni Rising Star, an honor given to recent graduates who have been successful professionally and have helped strengthen the McCombs Alumni Network. He remains active on campus, regularly speaking in entrepreneurship classes and serving as a judge for the Venture Labs Investment Competition.
What brought you to McCombs for your MBA?
I started off my career at the Boeing Company in Seattle, working on a diverse group of projects, including some of their internal new ventures. I got the entrepreneurial bug while there, realizing that it’s really tough to make any kind of impact at such a huge company, especially that early in your career. That drove me to McCombs and entrepreneurship in general.
How would you characterize your experience in the MBA program?
It was like an incubator, because I had the idea floating around in my head for uShip and was able to develop that idea in an encouraging environment. The entrepreneurship professors are top in their field. I would take a class, and it was like getting a $1000 per hour consultant with real practical entrepreneurship issues. I leveraged every one of my classes thinking about this business and wound up launching while still in the program. I got more out of my McCombs education—infinitely more—because I was applying everything I learned every day directly, tangibly, to this new venture.
How did you come up with the idea for uShip?
I got a call from my mother one day. She asked me how she could ship a family heirloom dresser from Ohio, where my grandmother was going into a nursing home, down to her home in Texas. I did a little bit of research, and it opened my eyes up to the fact that there is no practical solution for shipping household goods, less than a full household move.
[A year later], my now-wife and I were moving from Seattle down to Austin and rented a nine-foot U-Haul truck. We went to pick it up, and they were all out of nine-footers; all they had was a twenty-footer. We had everything we owned packed into the first three feet of this twenty-foot truck. The proverbial “light bulb moment” for me was standing in the back of this truck: I thought about my mom’s heirloom dresser, and how many people might be trying to move things, and how many trucks are there out there with excess capacity.
I wound up boring my wife to tears during this 2000-mile drive, talking about how I was going to create this eBay for shipping. My wife told me that it was the stupidest idea she’d ever heard in her life. But, I’ve got this stubborn streak. I think if she’d said, “That’s the best idea I’ve ever heard,” I probably would’ve patted myself on the back for the idea and moved on. But I spent the next couple of years proving I was right. I think you need to have a fair amount of stubbornness if you’re an entrepreneur.
How did the connections you made at McCombs help you in your career?
That’s the way all great founding teams are started, sitting in class in the back row. You’re working on a project, and you look to your left and right, and there’s the founding team. It just speaks to McCombs’ quality, quality folks, and a huge network. We’ve not only hired a lot of people from McCombs and from UT, but it’s also been really instrumental in other aspects of our business.
I credit McCombs for hooking us up with Benchmark Capital, who’s our Series A venture investor. Bill Gurley, MBA ’93, is with Benchmark. He was speaking on campus to the Venture Fellows group, and I went up after he spoke and just spilled my guts about what we were working on. He ultimately got us into Benchmark. There are many opportunities through the McCombs network for everything from employees to investors to advisors.
What keeps you motivated to go into work every day?
uShip has been my baby. I kind of feel like it's an adolescent now, and there’s a lot of mistakes that we can still make with the company, and those keep me up at night. I’m trying to build the team and the culture with the right ethics and the right savvy to be on a long-term, independent, self-sustaining trajectory.
Tell me more about your company culture.
One thing we decided early on is that the team and culture is unbelievably critical to any organization’s long-term success. One of our core values is to not take ourselves too seriously. We do silly and fun stuff all the time, like the Shipping Network video [parody of the Social Network movie trailer]. That was actually created internally for a Christmas party.
It’s important for a company to expose its personality. It goes a long way, both with prospective customers and prospective employees. And most importantly, with current employees and the atmosphere that you create. You have to make people want to go into work every day.
How do you do that?
One of the things that really defines our culture and the atmosphere here is what we call “First Friday.” It was year one of the business, and we had just graduated from McCombs. We were working ridiculous hours, and the three founders [Chasen, Jay Manickam and Mickey Millsap], we went out for First Thursday, which is a big party out on South Congress. We all drank too much, frankly, and recognized that we were not going to be able to make it into the office that next day. We decided to come in to the office, make Bloody Marys, bring in breakfast tacos, and really not work that day.
What developed out of that was what we call “First Friday.” The first Friday of every month, we spend half a day doing something fun with the team. We float the river, do community service, things that we can do together that are team building. That’s one of the staples of our culture. Our entire culture here is based on that we started the company as friends, we were friends first.
How do you find the right fit in a new hire?
I think culture fit is equal to if not more important than talent, and that’s a really tough decision to make. We’ve had to let really talented people go after short stints with the company, just because the culture fit wasn’t right. You have to make sure that you put the interest of the organization and your people first.
I think the best way to do that is to make sure the candidate meets a lot of folks on the team. And not just in an interview setting. We take people to lunch or to dinner. You have to spend enough time with someone and in the right setting with the right people, and then just ask everyone, “How do you feel? Would you want to work with this guy every day for five years?”
What advice do you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
It sounds cliché, but you just have to go for it. You just have to do it. There’s never been a better time to launch a company. With a modest amount of money, you can use off-the-shelf tools to build and test something very quickly, easily and inexpensively.
Whenever I see entrepreneurs, and they’re struggling with their idea and, they really think that they need to spend a year fully polishing and writing a business plan, I just say, “Forget all that.” Go build the smallest thing possible for the least amount of money. You’re going to learn so much from doing that. Just get started.