“What is luck? It’s putting yourself in the path of opportunity and seizing it.”
Yosh Eisbart is the Co-Founder & CEO of Fulfilld, an intelligent location-aware warehouse management platform, which recently raised a $2.5M seed round that included former Amazon exec Jeff Wilke. Prior to Fulfilld, Yosh co-founded NIMBL which he and his team built to over $50M in revenue and over 300 employees before they were acquired by Techedge.
You’ve already built a really successful company with a successful outcome -
What are you doing back at the startup line with a new company?
From a DNA perspective, my whole juice and excitement is really around creation and the startup process. My business partner, who I in essence have been married to since 2005, is Michael Pytel. So much of my professional career has been, fortunately, linked to Mike’s brilliance and experience. We had a great run with our last company. We started NIMBL, as you had mentioned, an enterprise B2B software and services company based here in Colorado. That was a bit different than Fulfilld, our latest startup. NIMBL was a self-funded business, and it was a lot easier because it was primarily a service business. We were selling hours as opposed to software. To answer your questions succinctly, I think that Mike and I felt that we had more fuel in the tank to try to do it again. One of the things that we didn’t do at NIMBL, while we built custom software and integrated hardware for our customers, was we never commoditized that IP. With Fulfilld, we have the opportunity now to build from scratch the software we always dreamed of, and that’s what we’re doing now.
You’re bringing a lot more experience into your second company having done this before. What are the key lessons you took from NIMBL that you’re trying to take into Fulfilld?
My name, Eisbart . . . the literal translation from German is “icicle beard” or “ice beard.” My pepper beard is a reflection of innate wisdom, but more so age. Being so much older now and having the experience of the ten-plus years at NIMBL, there were so many powerful lessons that were learned that we’re really now trying to put into effect with Fulfilld. So I think a key thing is that when you’re starting a business is finding the right co-founder, which is really hard and presents itself with a whole host of other challenges because a co-founder experience, quite frankly, can be more challenging than a marriage. But finding a co-founder, someone who complements you really well and, in the best of relationships, provides you with the peer support when you’re down or vice versa. It provides you with a real mirror, helping you see your blind spots or blind spots of the company because we as strong, pigheaded founders feel like we know everything. All that needs to be within a constructive and radically candid set of interactions, so that’s super imperative.
The other thing is —how do you approach your business? Are you a product-led business, or are you a sales-driven business? And, as objective as I can be, I feel that it is crucial to be a sales-driven business. It’s important to have phenomenal product or services and constantly focus on, as my old boss used to say, “delivery excellence,” and “If you don’t got sales, you don’t got nothing.” So for me, ethics and presenting to the customer what you’re capable of doing and always being forthright is a critical pillar . . . and always focusing on revenue generation because that fuels everything. That fuels growth, which enables you to hire more people and be able to continue to focus on key aspects of your business.
When you’re trying to be a sales-focused organization, how do you get your product out there quick enough to get feedback when you may still be slightly embarrassed of a product that isn’t perfect yet?
I think that as you’re building a startup, getting your first set of customers is imperative because you need those references in order to be able to get other customers. I think working with friendlies is a great way to be able to get your foot in the door working with folks that you’ve had relationships with in the past who will be more forgiving and understanding of where you are in the life cycle. As an example, right now with Fulfilld, we are working on deploying the product. In some cases it’s co-innovation. We’ve completed our MVP as of December of last year. Some of the customers that we’re talking to as we’re passing contracts back and forth, they’re fully aware of where we are in our product, and some of them are comfortable with where we are in regard to feature and function. Others are excited about co-innovation and bringing some functionality that maybe off-the-shelf products don’t yet have. And because we are a startup and we’re NIMBL, we’ve got the ability to bring some of that feature and function forward as some of our competitors don’t because our competitors are companies of five thousand people, and getting a product moved quicker along the release schedule requires an act of Congress.
There is also a balance around selling the vision, generating excitement around what’s possible, and what the road map looks like in twenty-four months and tempering that with where we are now. The customers that we’re working with right now understand that balance.
You talked about how important the having the right Co-founder is for your business. What are the key things that you had to get aligned with, with your Co-founder?
I think there are multiple. Sometimes in a co-founder relationship, you have someone that is the one that brings along someone else as opposed to a fifty-fifty relationship, which is the way it’s been with me and Mike since 2005. So I think there are a couple of things -
One is there needs to be tremendous self-awareness. Not only is that important in the professional world, but it’s important in the personal world in terms of trying to cultivate the most successful type of relationships. Having self-awareness as a co-founder, understanding what your strengths are, understanding what your business partner’s strengths are, knowing when to lean in, knowing when to step back, knowing when to take the lead, knowing when to take the back seat, and knowing when to call out your business partner or have them call you out when you’re wrong. Being constructive in communication is fundamental.
That hasn’t always been the case though. Some of the most intense interactions in my life have been Mike and I nose to nose and not necessarily saying the nicest things to each other, then fast-forward a week later and we’re throwing back a beer and talking about how we were both idiots. That’s important. Quite frankly, it’s probably less about the business side. It’s more about the EQ side. I don’t know what the statistic is exactly, but close to 80 percent of businesses fail because of co-founder disharmony. Being able to find somebody that you can work with well, and also seeing how you’re behaving and how to be better, is fundamental to the co-founder flow.
When you were building NIMBL, you clearly saw something that ultimately led to what is now called Fulfilld. What was that and how did it all unfold?
When we were helping customers like Nestle and Pepsi we were brought in as consultants to help them innovate and propel their business and whatever the respective objectives were. We worked within, primarily, an enterprise software product called SAP. SAP is the largest enterprise software product in the world. While we were implementing SAP, we were asked, “Can you develop some complementary software that could easily integrate with SAP and enhance it above and beyond existing feature and function?” And we did it [on a one-off basis]. But being a sales-driven organization we were always focused on revenue and any real type of pause or investment in future opportunity, we just didn’t afford ourselves with that because we were so focused on growth. If you spend six months building something and then taking it to market, that is a long-term play that doesn’t always reap the rewards. It requires vision and foresight, investment, etc. So we never did it. We would build it for the one customer and move on.
Well, as we ended NIMBL, we just felt like based upon our experience within the enterprise software world and implementing SAP Solution, which is called extended warehouse management, or EWM, as well as integrating core SAP we just felt like there was so much opportunity here in building a better warehouse-management product.
Now we bring in Michael and his beautiful mind and the whole concept of location and digital twin, meaning creating a digitization of the warehouse, a physical space and creating that digitized, is what they call a digital twin. The power of digital twin, which we had experienced with NIMBL, and adding the digitization of physical space along with core warehouse feature and function, some additional differentiations such as deep-learning artificial intelligence and hardware and software as a product. We just felt like this was a phenomenal and exciting opportunity.
So exciting that among our incredible investors is a fellow by the name of Jeff Wilke. Jeff was the number two over at Amazon, reporting directly to Bezos from 1999 through 2021, responsible for their entire global consumer business, meaning anything on Amazon Marketplace, Amazon Prime, or Whole Foods. He was the head of the food chain there. He believes so strongly in what we’re doing, that he’s put his own money in.
How do you find a Jeff? How do you find someone like that with his knowledge?
I would say hustle, hustle, hustle, which is trite, and everybody says it. But the constant hustle and the constant networking . . . you never know where concentric circles will lead and what type of touch point you can get. What is luck? It’s putting yourself in the path of opportunity and seizing it. We were able to get on Jeff’s radar because of our lead investor, which happened through another lucky connection, which happened because of a LinkedIn post -
We were highlighting what we were doing as a startup, which was super basic and very early, pre-revenue, and pre-investment. Michael and I invested some of our own money, but this was before any venture capital was raised. We highlighted something on LinkedIn. We were just hustling. And the largest proptech venture capital firm in Europe, one of our investors called Pi Labs, reached out and said, “Hey, we work within the warehousing space. We’d like to have a conversation.” So we spoke to them, they had conviction, and they wanted to invest. They then started to reach out to other venture capital groups, primarily in the United States, that they wanted to have a relationship with. And they happen to then reach out to TenOneTen out of LA. I didn’t really know them before. We had some great conversations with them. They had conviction, and they said, “We’re in,” and then “Someone that is part of our radar but we don’t really have the strongest relationship with is a fellow by the name of Jeff Wilke. Would you be willing to take the call?” We’re like “Hell, yeah!” So after two twenty-nine-minute conversations with Jeff, he’s like “How much is left on the cap table? I’m in.”
So it’s all those pings. Again, you never know where it’s gonna happen, constantly being out there, throwing it out there whether you’ve got all the information or not, and, obviously, providing some type of valuable content. It doesn’t need to be Plato, but it’s got to be something. You never know how you’re going to get to a Jeff Wilke.
As the CEO, it’s a big part of your role to get the company out there. But how much time should a CEO spend trying to network and connect dots when you don’t where any of those connections will lead to?
I think a good percentage of your time. If I were to quantify it, I’m spending probably 40 percent of my time out there connecting with people on LinkedIn, sometimes getting a response, but most often not. I’m part of this amazing business network called YPO. I spend a good amount of energy there focused on a board that I’m involved in around entrepreneurship and innovation. Through board membership, or board volunteering, I’m meeting phenomenal people that are not only benefiting me personally and my learning and networking, but it’s directly impacting Fulfilld. So I am a huge fan of constant networking at all stages. You want to be judicious, and you don’t want to just take every single meeting (although, quite frankly, I probably do), but I think that it’s imperative, for personal growth, for business growth, for never knowing where the universe is going to unfold, to really spend quality time making meaningful connections because, again, you never know where it will lead.
There were a lot of things you clearly did well at NIMBL – But were there any mistakes that stick out that you’re trying to avoid this time?
How much time do we have?! I think taking on too much responsibility. I’ve seen many founders do this. Not delegating: not only is it a bottleneck, but it’s also a culture-killer. And if you need to be involved in every single decision as a founder, something’s messed up (or as a CEO or a C-suite). That said, it does depend upon how big your company is and where you are in your life cycle.
So putting in proper management, empowering them, and delegating is imperative for scale. The other thing that’s tremendously important is accountability. Accountability needs to be held at all levels. It’s always easy to manage rock stars. That’s not effective management. The tough part is having to hold people accountable in a constructive way when they’re not delivering.
Well, as we start to wrap up, what is the vision for Fulfilld? Where are we going to see Fulfilld in the next five years?
We want to take over the world! [laughs]
We’re leveraging—and this is new to us - but we are implementing a management construct called EOS. EOS provides a construct around how do you manage your business, what’s real tactical from a yearly, ten-year, three-year vision, what type of rocks are you focused on by quarter, how are you holding yourself and your team accountable, etc. This morning, we were reviewing our three-year set of priorities, so it’s totally fresh in my mind; In three years we are focused on 1) generating meaningful revenue - annual recurring revenue north of $30M in the three-year timeframe. And that’s ambitious. 2) We want to have leadership harmony and make sure that we don’t go back to the knucklehead, nose-to-nose conversations but be able to call each other out. I think having Rick as a third founder naturally is helping with that because it’s not just one-on-one, but it’s three separate, strong voices. 3) Then the last one would be we want to create a company where we’re all proud to be a part of it. One of the tactical rocks for the three years is creating a company that’s consistently recognized as the best place to work. We want people to be excited to be a part of Fulfilld.
And our EOS, priorities, visions, goals etc. are full-on shared with our entire team.
Was there a book in your career that was most meaningful to you?
Atlas Shrugged is a book by Ayn Rand. For me, her whole approach around objectivism and creating that meaningful work and passion around what you do—that’s resonated. As I’ve gotten more rings around the tree, it’s kind of tempered a bit, not in terms of the passion, but maybe the ideology.
That’s a great one. What about a quote? I’m a big quote person. Do you have a favorite quote?
Funny you should ask.
Is it right behind you?
Yes it is.
So there is a poem by Rudyard Kipling called “If—.” This is a poem—and I’ll read it—that has been a part of my life from third grade, and it’s so important.
“If—” by Rudyard Kipling:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Amazing. To wrap us up, do you have any parting advice, that you would share for other CEOS and founders?
I think, just with the poem, in terms of your remaining humble and kind, surrounding yourself with those that make you better, constantly hustling and networking, and paying it forward—those are some great characteristics that if we could strive to, it helps us become better, and it helps the ecosystem be better.