We talked to Derrick Chen of Cenports about its software that automates business inventory and order-management processes.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Derrick Chen: It’s been interesting, to say the least. It’s not just COVID; it’s social unrest, all the wildfires in this part of the country, everyone is on edge with the election coming up, etc. It’s a really unique time, but we’re safe, and I think it really has helped make clear what’s important: family, friends, and health.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Cenports
Derrick Chen: I’ve started a few companies, but when I started the first eCommerce company, I started thinking about what we do at Cenports: make eCommerce success and scale accessible to a wider range of entrepreneurs.
At that company, I quickly realized that it would take a ton of time and money to build retail channels and relationships with buyers. Automation was expensive, order management took a ton of time, and warehouses required lots of up-front costs and big commitments. So I started building solutions for all of those challenges to give smaller companies the resources to compete. I founded Cenports to help small eCommerce companies grow and sell their products. I didn’t expect COVID to grow the eCommerce market opportunity as quickly as it has, but here we are: retail overall is down, but eCommerce is way up, and millions of people who never shopped online before 2020 are going to continue to shop online now.
How does Cenports innovate?
Derrick Chen: We’ve always focused our innovation, whether that’s affordable automation or the ability to grow retail partnerships at scale, to address challenges we understand first-hand. That means we need to stay on top of macro industry data and form very close relationships with our clients. It’s important to understand their day-to-day challenges and be able to predict what’s coming, especially with consumer behavior changing so fast.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Derrick Chen: Obviously, consumer behavior had to change because of COVID. In general, eCommerce has become a much bigger piece of the retail pie in 2020, and our overall sales have increased as you’d expect. That did introduce challenges – we had to move fast to meet demand from our partners/vendors and end customers, and some of our vendors had supply-chain challenges that affected inventory. It really forced us to become great communicators and proactive partners, making us better going forward. And obviously, the pandemic changed our work style; most of us work remotely and have had to get very good at remote communications and efficiency. Since we’re a global company, that wasn’t actually a huge change, but it’s also made us better fast.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Derrick Chen: The most immediate lesson was to stick to our values. At the beginning of the pandemic, we had lots of requests to fulfill PPE from vendors trying to make money off a global crisis. We decided to turn those down and instead provide free services for organizations donating PPE (Supply Our Heroes and Origin Protocol). We obviously turned down some revenue there, but it was the right thing to do.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Cenports in the future?
Derrick Chen: That’s a great question in 2020! I think we’ve all learned that nothing is more important than health and safety, and that includes mental health. Even working remotely, I try to keep things fun and inspiring for the team and make sure everyone knows they can take breaks when they need to. We’re building something for the long haul and need a strong, committed, healthy team to do it well. (And personally speaking, I’ll say a glass of wine from time to time doesn’t hurt.)
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Derrick Chen: There are a lot of companies out there doing a part of what we do – some handle fulfillment, some handle order management, some sell API solutions, etc. The only company who has all the capabilities Cenports does is Amazon, but that’s very limiting because it’s only one retail channel (yes, it’s a big one, but consider that Amazon won’t help you sell on Overstock, Wayfair, Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc.). We have a huge market opportunity, so the question is more how we can change the game than how we can stay in the game.
Your final thoughts?
Derrick Chen: eCommerce is growing so quickly now that a lot of companies are going to spring up to try to make a quick buck. We’re focused on helping vendors and manufacturers do things the right way and trying to make sure everyone has a chance to get the right products into the marketplace.
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