The choice is ours

October 30, 2006

The Coming Week

Filed under: The Website — shippingpal @ 10:47 am

What better way to start the workweek than with a kvetch? My current pet peeve – great new web apps that require you to register before you can find out what they do. Seems to me they have it all backwards – show me the usefulness, and then I’ll decide whether to spend my time filling out forms that give you my personal information. Anyway…

It’s a busy week coming up at Shipping Pal as we prepare to roll out our official launch. We’re putting the finishing touches on our coast-to-coast quoting system, courtesy of the good people at UPS and Purolator, as well as building the charity component of the site.

As I’ve mentioned before, community is a big part of what we’re trying to achieve at Shipping Pal, and as the weather here in Toronto gets colder, we all huddle together to keep warm. We’ve partnered with a number of worthwhile charities and will be profit-sharing with them through a pretty interesting initiative we call ‘Handle With Care.’ Full details for the site are still being written up, but essentially all shipments can be coded with the charity the user wishes to support, and we donate a percentage of the value of their shipments to the charity they choose. On top of that, GTA users can give our couriers non-perishable food items for donation to the Daily Bread Food Bank.

It gets better – all participating customers are eligible to win one of 5 great prizes provided by Hammam Spa and Blowfish restaurant, two of the most luxurious and stylish destinations in the city. Details on all of this will be available on the website in the next day or two, so start shipping!

Currently reading: Observer Magazine interview with Tom Waits

Currently hearing: Signs (Badmarsh & Shri)

Currently watching: Dexter (Showtime)


October 27, 2006

Start Spreading the News

Filed under: Business Development — shippingpal @ 10:06 am

I’ve been blogging in an official capacity for a couple of weeks now, trying to get a post in every other day or so, and so the time has come to start connecting the dots in the blogosphere (not my favourite neologism). I’ve created a Technorati profile, and once I figure out exactly what the point of is, I’ll join that too.

We’ve also been working really hard on creating a charity tie-in for our impending launch and the upcoming holiday season. We’re calling it “Handle With Care.” Here in Toronto, we’ve gotten the agreement of our four primary service providers to collect and warehouse non-perishable food items for the Daily Bread Food Bank. Customers can give drivers cans and other durable food items when they come to collect shipments. We’re also in the late stages of negotiations with a couple of other worthwhile causes, and I’ll report on those once the deals are in place. The first couple of days next week will be all about branding and launching this campaign, which we hope will raise lots of food and funds for charities.

Currently reading: Blog Marketing (Jeremy Wright)

Currently hearing: Atlantis – Hymns for Disco (K-Os)

Currently watching: Intelligence (CBC)

October 25, 2006

Shipping Blues

Filed under: News and Comment — shippingpal @ 12:39 pm

A couple of interesting articles about shipping are making the rounds today. calls shipping “the roughage in an entrepreneur’s diet. Nobody’s interested in talking about it, but everybody’s got to deal with it,” before proceeding to a fairly usual-suspects oriented article, recommending shopping around between UPS, USPS and FedEx. I might modestly add Shipping Pal to that list, since we have no minimums and provide a wider range of service than any of our competitors, and you don’t have to go down to their store and line up to use it as an occasional shipper. is reporting on a business which has a similar concept to ours, RedRoller, though without as substantial a network. According to the article, they aggregate results from “FedEx, DHL, the U.S. Postal Service, and two regional carriers.” Oddly, UPS passed on the network, saying that “it is uncomfortable with the idea of ‘a third party representing our brand based solely on cost.'” I guess that’s probably another key difference between RedRoller and Shipping Pal, namely that we don’t believe that it is our business to provide the cheapest level of service – we believe it’s about convenience and choice. Maybe that’s why UPS has enthusiastically agreed to join the Shipping Pal network.

In other news, I had a spectacular meal last night at Blowfish on King Street West. Excellent service, good selection of wines by the glass, a lively scene, and creative fusion cooking made for quite a night. We started with assorted nigiri, including exceptionally fresh butterfish, before diving into the mains – particularly startling was the orange and black, a maki of super-fresh salmon and mango. The way the two flavours and textures melded was superb, and reminded me of how really great chefs can take ordinary ingredients and combine them in new ways. Outstanding.

Currently reading:

Currently hearing: Is This Desire? (PJ Harvey)

Currently watching: Nacho Libre (dir. Jared Hess)

October 23, 2006

Do we have contact?

Filed under: The Website — shippingpal @ 4:57 pm

I am in the process of refining the contact page for Shipping Pal. We’ve been in beta now for about 5 months, with alpha testers for about a year before that, so we’ve got a pretty good sense of what kind of issues compel our users to reach out to us. These fall under a couple of headings –

1. Getting weird results (or no results) for a shipment query. This usually happens when our users are located in rural areas, or sometimes when the weight of the shipment is really heavy. We try to identify these problems areas and then refine our query strategies to create a solution. Bringing UPS and Purolator on board will eliminate any no-result areas, but that’s another post…

2. People who can’t complete an order. Despite having designed what is, in my opinion, a really simple interface with clear labels and procedures, some people still need assistance in placing an order. We have addressed this problem through developing an online demo, which walks users through the process, and failing that there’s always customer service.

3. General inquiries. I guess it’s quite encouraging that we get a lot of calls from people asking if they can invest in our company (at least 2 or 3 a week!), but unfortunately we can’t split the shares again until our next round of financing.

4. Customer support. Ironically, the smallest percentage of calls relate to shipments our customers have made. I’m pretty proud of this, because it indicates two things. Firstly, that the vast majority of shipments are arriving on time (in fact, many arrive way before time), and secondly that our tracking engine is working effectively.

Currently reading: Naked Conversations (Scoble & Israel)

Currently hearing: Wati (Amadou & Mariam)

Currently watching: Entourage, Season 1 (HBO)

October 20, 2006

In Other News

Filed under: News and Comment — shippingpal @ 12:12 pm

Yesterday was a good day for UPS, who reported a 19% increase in global volume, and enjoyed a healthy 3.9 percent spike in share value. Kudos to them. UPS were the first major firm to sign on for Shipping Pal, and their team were very enthusiastic about the project. Having read about them in Friedman’s The World is Flat, it’s fascinating to see how they’ve expanded from being a straightforward shipping service provider to becoming an integrated supply chain manager, handling all aspects of their clients’ business processes. That kind of vision, and attainment, is inspiring. Here’s another article of note on UPS’s emerging green fleet.

Meanwhile, Der Spiegel reports on Panama’s plans to widen the canal, including a nice picture gallery that tracks the history of the Panama Canal.

A recently released book, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, traces the history of the modern shipping container from its invention by Malcolm McLean in 1956 to the present day, and there’s an interesting podcast here on New York public radio WNYC which salutes the 50th anniversary of the shipping container with an interview with the author of The Box, Marc Levinson. Princeton Press also has a 19 minute video interview with him available online.

Currently reading: Spiegel international edition

Currently hearing: Refreaked (Dzihan & Kamien)

Currently watching: Princeton Press interview with Marc Levinson

October 18, 2006

A Typical Wednesday

Filed under: Business Development — shippingpal @ 3:03 pm

Hardin is out in Calgary, meeting with some of our service providers out there in anticipation of our rollout there in the new year, maybe earlier if things go well. I’m here in Toronto, where it has finally stopped raining. My basement flooded yesterday, so dry weather is very welcome.

I just had a very useful management training session, which helped to remind me of the core values driving our business: honesty, belief, commitment, trust, loyalty. They might sound like abstract, interpersonal values, but they are at the heart of the Shipping Pal brand, and differentiate us from the competition as much as our interface or business model.

We view Shipping Pal as a brand that will inspire trust and loyalty, like Apple, Mercedes Benz, or eBay. Those are some big shoes to fill, and we believe that the fastest way to build that trust is by creating a genuinely useful tool that will help people to live their lives in a simpler, less stressful way. That’s why we have developed so many features for Shipping Pal, like the ability to view your entire shipment history with one click, or to email or print shipment details or waybills, or to export information to Excel with a single click. We say around here, that Shipping Pal is not about shipping – it’s for people who don’t want to have stress and expense around dealing with shipments, whether occasional or regular, so they can get on with their lives.

Currently reading: Fierce Conversations (Susan Shannon)

Currently hearing: Remixed (Lamb)

Currently watching: The Wire, Season 4 (HBO)

October 16, 2006

What it takes

Filed under: News and Comment — shippingpal @ 10:21 am

Today’s Guardian asks, “Can Britain produce a success like YouTube?” It’s a bit of a moot point for us, being located in Canada, but there are a number of valuable insights into the startup process that make the article noteworthy, and it’s a virtual rollcall of some of the more promising UK-based startups, including the always-useful, where I’ve booked a couple of things (they have a North American site).

There’s an overall optimism in the industry, which I think is the result of both high-profile M&As such as Skype and YouTube, and also a confidence that these firms have created something genuinely valuable. If the original Internet boom seemed somewhat like a bunch of mail-order catalogues suddenly putting their material online, the more recent one is definitely revolving around harnassing the unique characteristics of the medium – real time, networking, interactivity – to create entities that could not exist outside of the Web. That’s certainly how we look at our project, as one which provides real-time connectivity to a continent-wide data network, something which would have been impossible to achieve even a few short years ago.

Addendum (October 19th) – I came across an interview with Google’s North European chief Philippe Schindler, who expresses a similar view: “We believe the current development of the Internet and digital media consumption is standing on solid ground. Look at Amazon or eBay — they’re highly profitable business models. The idea of a bubble is in my view fully mistaken. The Internet will be a fundamental part of our lives. That’s where acquisitions will be prepared and carried out, that’s where future branding will be done, that’s where media will be consumed. In contrast to the so-called New Economy of the late ’90s, today’s Internet firms are earning good money.”

Currently reading: The Guardian

Currently hearing: Adapt or Die: 10 Years of Remixes (Everything But the Girl)

Currently watching: Spooks, Series 1 (BBC)

It’s Anglophile day at Shipping Pal!

October 14, 2006

And they’re off

Filed under: Business Development — shippingpal @ 5:23 pm

Welcome to our new blog. We hope that it will function as a window into the day to day life of an ambitious, high-potential IT startup (that’s our company, Shipping Pal) and the people behind it (that’s me – Martin – and my business partner – Hardin, who’ll also be blogging). We’re hoping to be able to blog fairly regularly on the challenges, opportunities, and plain madness that comes with running a new company, and to somehow create a record of how we did it, what we did right, what we totally messed up, and what we’re going to do next. Stay tuned for updates.

Currently reading: Becoming An Effective Leader (Harvard Business School)

Currently hearing: Another Late Night (compiled by Kid Loco)

Currently watching: Brick (dir. Rian Johnson)

Blog at