PODCAST EP 32
Simon chats with Lucy Allen, Thrive PR and The Graceful Collective.Listen Now
Explorate was established two years ago and is the first Freight Booking Platform. Explorate offers a new and innovative way of booking containerised ocean freight.
Simon Dell: Welcome to the Paper Planes Podcast, Conor Hagan from Explorate. How are you?
Conor Hagan: Not too bad, Simon. Thanks for having me on.
Simon Dell: Now, for most people that will realize straight away, there is a slight Irish tint to your accent. And of course, you have the most Irish name that I’ve heard for a long time. So, do you want to give everybody a quick overview as to how you… Number one, obviously, what do you do and what Explorate does, but also how you got yourself into sunny Brisbane because you are not far away from where I am today.
Conor Hagan: As you rightly pointed out, I do have an Irish tinge, and that’s what happens when you spend 24 years in Ireland. But yeah, I haven’t been out here 12 years. I do officially call myself a Queenslander now as well. I have been here quite a while. In terms of Explorate, what we do, we set out about two years ago with a mission to make freight simpler.
And so, over the last two years, we’ve been refining our online platform, which essentially allows shippers to disintermediate their freight booking process. And what that means essentially is that they go to shipping lines directly and airlines directly and engage the use of a freight forwarder a lot more smartly.
And so, for your user — or your listeners who probably are familiar too much with the freight industry, when they generally get a package to their door, that’s considered courier freight. And when you can no longer lift it anymore, that’s when it turns into freight. And so, we play in that heavy back-end of logistics space and we’re doing relatively well at it now.
Simon Dell: That’s actually the definition, when you can no longer lift it yourself, it becomes freight.
Conor Hagan: That’s exactly it. If you need a truck or a forklift, you can’t exactly choke it at the front of someone’s door. It does officially become freight then.
Simon Dell: There you go. I did not know that. So, give me an idea about who your target market is. Who are you looking to reach with your service?
Conor Hagan: We mainly service small to medium enterprises and some of the bigger shippers as well. So essentially, anyone who imports or exports at a relatively large scale. And my sweet spot is in the full container space. So, containers are — they’re a relatively new invention in terms of what we look at around the world. They were invented in around about the 50s, and they had a major impact on the fact that globalization then happened around then too.
When we look at our industry, not a lot has changed since the 50s, and a lot of the bookings are done by phone and fax even still with the shipping lines. And so, we look at changing that by essentially making those bookings online. In terms of the scale of the industry, about 200 million containers get shipped around the world every year, and of that, about 100 million by phone and fax. You’re talking about quarter of a million a day transactions done by phone. It’s definitely a big impact that we’re having on our industry. And we want to bring that benefit to the small to medium enterprises out there.
Simon Dell: And I did notice something that you wrote, and then you’ve just said it again there, that people are still booking these things via fax machines. Is that really still happening?
Conor Hagan: Yeah. I could not joke about that. Especially if you go to a place like North China, I still get process flows that really have the only option as fax. And I’ll call a guy in their tech department and say, “Is there anything we can do? Can’t we API this or something?” And they’re like, no, you have to send a fax to this number. “Okay. That’s great. Thanks for that.” And so yeah, it’s a bit fucking annoying, but it is what it is. This is the industry that we operate in.
Simon Dell: You must be the only businesses still in Brisbane to actually have a working fax machine.
Conor Hagan: Yeah, we do. Well, actually, there’s actually some online applications that you can get that can circumvent that, but we actually do have a fax machine. But to be honest with you, I really like it. I like the fact that they’re a bit grey. Not a lot of people know about us, and we get to do cool shit that not many people talk about, but it’s really important.
Simon Dell: Now, one of the things that I looked at from your background, is you’ve got a background in freighting, moving things around the world, DHL, sea freight, DSV, all those kind of people. We won’t go into that too much. You’ve pretty much done your time in that. It looks like there is about 10-12 years in moving stuff around the world.
Conor Hagan: Yeah. To be honest with you, that’s the stuff that I like to get into. When I started — and I started after leaving school. I had a side-hustle, and I suppose being an entrepreneur earlier in my life, I had a side-hustle landscaping gardens. One of the gardens I landscaped belonged to the managing director at the time of DHL in Ireland.
He pretty much came up to me and said, “Why are you still digging holes? Would you like to have a real job?” And I was doing biotechnology in university. I was actually progressing my career in that direction. And the way he said it to me, it was like no messing around. So okay, you know what, I’ll give this a go.
And yeah, since getting my first touch of freight, going down, making real stuff happen, I was kind of hooked from the get-go. I’ve worked with the big guys.
Simon Dell: What was it about the industry that got you hooked?
Conor Hagan: I think you get to do — you get exposed to every single business out there. From pharmaceuticals, which was actually my real probably shining moment when I was back at Ireland, especially at DHL forming a life science division. But even to small to medium enterprise, you get to just speak to guys moving stuff around the world. They’re coming up with inventions, trying to get it over to the other side of the world.
Brisbane is actually really good for that at the moment as well. But even back in Ireland, you just get in a truck, organize a fridge to keep sensitive cargo in. You get exposed to the insides of aircraft, charter planes, and vessel tours. Get to see these big, heavy, multi-million dollar pieces of machinery and you get to use them every day. So, you get really connected to actually the — one of the other founders explains it’s the lifeblood of the world. It’s the circuitry system of the world.
And getting goods and that around from country to country is the way the world operate now. So, we get to do the cool stuff that actually services that circuitry system.
Simon Dell: I guess accessing the big planes, those big boats, all those kind of things, which is the sort of thing that my three-year-old would get absolutely overly excited about. I guess there’s that little kid in you still that’s getting excited with these big vehicles and big industry.
Conor Hagan: I mean, name a person who doesn’t get on a charter aircraft that’s got a nose-opening Antonov. Tell them to not to be excited. It’s epic. We get to do some really cool stuff. And I think that’s — our industry is kind of seen as boring, and paperwork, and office-driven. I totally see the opposite, and I think when you look at the inner three-year-old in all of us, of course you want to get on the biggest moving thing you can possibly get. And that’s what we have access to.
Simon Dell: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve moved in all of your time?
Conor Hagan: That’s a great question. I’ve moved some weird stuff. In Queensland, there’s actually a company that ships live sharks around the world. And that’s mental. So, the other day I saw this guy and he’s in this shed in Queensland. It’s like the guy comes to the door and he is this giant of a human. His hands are like dinner plates, then he shakes my hand and he’s like, “Conor, great to see you. Great, I’ve got this order over in Dubai.”
And I go inside and it’s wall-to-wall aquariums. He would’ve had about 50 fish tanks. And sharks, to ship them around the world, not many people know this. Even people in logistics probably wouldn’t understand how to do that, but you have to get a circular tank. You need to build a circular tank. You put a shark inside the circular tank and you sedate them slightly, and you put the top on it, and you put it inside a crate, and you put that crate in an aircraft, and you literally put a shark on a plane and send it over to the other side of the world. That’s hectic.
And the guy catches them by hand. So, he’s the guy who catch them by hand, builds these tanks, puts them in the tanks, and then ships them across the world. That’s entrepreneurial 101.
Simon Dell: You know there’s a Samuel L. Jackson film in that. They’ve had snakes on the plane. You could put forward sharks on a plane because I don’t think anybody would have ever imagined that that’s how you ever get a shark from one place to another.
Conor Hagan: It’s kind of like Sharknado combined with Snakes on the Plane. I’m already seeing it. I think I could cast this pretty epic cast.
Simon Dell: Write this down.
Conor Hagan: Yeah. I’ll give you a part as well, Simon.
Simon Dell: I’m going to have to die in it somewhere because I think that would be… A lot of people are going to die in that film without a shadow of a doubt. I’m also guessing that you have to build a circular tank so that the shark can keep swimming around and around. Would I be correct in that?
Conor Hagan: Yeah. That’s it. Sharks have to keep moving. I’m an avid diver as well, so I really love scuba diving. I’ve done it around the world now as well. It’s one of my passions. When you meet a shark head-on in the water, they’re kind of always moving. Even if they’re still, they’ll sit somewhere where there’s a current, and they’ll just keep moving very, very slowly. They just never — they never stop, so you got to have that capability for them to swim around. They can’t swim around in the square. So yeah, that’s how they move them.
Simon Dell: I suppose there’s a very strong business lesson there as well about keep moving forward. But I also noticed on your LinkedIn profile that you had a background in sailing and boating as well.
Conor Hagan: Yeah, that’s very true.
Simon Dell: Is it kind of fortuitous that you’re suddenly in a garden doing some landscaping for a bloke who works for DHL, and then you end up in shipping? It kind of seems a bit like fate was driving you that way.
Conor Hagan: I think that happens a lot though. It’s something like my father is a taxi driver, so he’s in the business of getting people around. My mum was an air hostess. I did work experience in air traffic control and aircraft engineering at Dublin Airport. So I think, yeah, indeed, definitely there’s a bit of fate to it.
I met an Uber driver last night and he was in transport logistics for Specsavers. And he was looking for a job for the last year, and he’s an incredibly smart cookie. He has a master’s in international supply chain. And having a conversation with him in an Uber. I think there’s a lot of — especially when you run a business or you look at progress in your career, there’s a reason definitely that I’m in Brisbane, Australia, the almost exact opposite end of the world to where I grew up and where a lot of friends and family are.
And I definitely believe that there’s a lot of unintended consequences. But they generally push you in the way you’re supposed to go. So that’s something, definitely, when I look back in sailing, I look back at my time in winter in Ireland where you literally had to break ice with the front of a boat to get out on sail… And the hardship that sport at the time brought, it kind of, yeah, once again, you’re spot-on. It was something at a very early time of my life. And I was definitely connected to the water and moving stuff around.
Simon Dell: Obviously, we’ve talked a lot on this show with other people about — you can’t predict your life looking backwards. All those steps that you take forward now make sense, but back when you were making them, often they don’t make that much sense. Where did you suddenly go, “You know what? Bugger this working for everybody else. Let’s start a business.” Was that a light bulb moment or was that something that had been nurtured in the back of your head for a long time?
Conor Hagan: It actually wasn’t. I was doing relatively well. I loved the company that I was working for when I came to Australia. I had no intention of being an entrepreneur. But having looking back at it, even to the early days, I was talking about doing things for myself. And if I didn’t like the way something was done, I would just go and do it. And I think that’s a natural personality trait that actually helps me in owning and running a business, essentially, in Brisbane.
It wasn’t an a-ha moment when I said I got to go out by myself. It was more an a-ha moment that this is a way to solve a problem in our industry. We need to engage our customers better. We need to provide a level of customer service that people get in their everyday lives, but they don’t get in freight. That was more of the a-ha than, “A-ha. I want to start a business because, yes, fuck the corporate world.”
It was definitely not around that. I need to move because this is wrong, and I need to do — I need to fix this. It was more, there’s an opportunity. Here’s something we believe in. Here’s another person, so Alex, my co-founder that believes in it. And here’s also — we got a lot of federal support. So, we got accelerating commercialization as a grant in our very early days as well. So, it wasn’t only us that saw this problem and us that believed in it.
We got a few customers on board. We got shipping lines on board. Once again, it was more like we set off a chain of events in place that made us and gave us that push to go and fix this problem ourselves.
Simon Dell: Where did you meet Alex? Was that somebody you’ve known for a long time, or was that sort of — Was he in the industry?
Conor Hagan: I worked with him at UTI. He came through as a graduate program, and he’s a bit younger than me, but he came through and came out of doing his master’s or was currently doing his master’s in supply chain. I showed him the real world and brought him around a few customers. He had this same attitude that I have to logistics, which is one that this is a cool industry, and I can’t believe things are still done this way.
And then he went off, and he actually went and toured Europe. So almost the exact opposite of me coming over to Australia. He went to Europe but then decided, “God, it’s hard to beat Brisbane as a place to live.” And came back and worked with Anglo American. But he kept pestering me in terms of, “We need to do something. I want to have this. We could really make an impact.”
And so, definitely, he was more about the passion and, “Let’s go and do this.” Whereas I was more, “I need to find exactly how we do this and make sure that we get bother people to believe it as well.” And definitely, he was very much a catalyst in getting this business up and running. But I know him from the last almost a decade now.
Simon Dell: I guess there’s a point when you were working for DSV and you go, “Right, well, I’m going to quit and start my own business.” I guess you probably already started it by then, I suspect it was — was there a bit where you were working on it on the side with him?
Conor Hagan: I couldn’t. And logistics is one of those industries where you have a lot of agreements and contracts that you have to adhere to. There was a lot of — we had to be very careful in the early days. And personally, I didn’t want to get into that space. I really respect DSV, and UTI, and all the freight forwarders I worked for. And it was certainly not something that I was going in to disrupt them, but there’s a potential conflict there.
So yeah, in the early days, it was very much Alex did a lot of leg work in terms of getting a business set up. And I then left on Valentine’s Day two years ago and decided to go at it from there. And from there, we’re then on the first of April, so talk about like April Fool’s Day and Valentine’s Day as getting your two major early moments.
On April Fool’s Day, we have accelerated commercialization or accelerating commercialization come through in terms of grunge. And that was it. You just start from there. If I look back and if anyone else is looking at leaving the job and who’s listening, just make sure that you prepare, and you further prepare, and then you prepare some more, get some believers on your side, and do it for the right reasons, and you’ll have a far better percentage, chance of succeeding than just saying, “I want to be an entrepreneur or a wantrepreneur.”
It’s a hard gig. I know that you’re Paper Planes as well. It’s something that you’re passionate about, and that you lead the charge, and I’m sure you had a moment probably like mine where there’s an opportunity to do something but there’s a hell of a lot of hard work that goes in behind the scenes and no one sees. It’s hard. But I wouldn’t change it for the world though.
Simon Dell: I think anybody who does, who’s got this far down the line, I don’t think they would either. It’s very hard going back to work for a corporate entity afterwards. I did actually for three months and just buckled. That wasn’t a corporate entity, it was just working for somebody else. And after three months, they actually said, “Thanks but no thanks.”
And I was like the sigh of relief when they sacked me. I was like, thank fuck for that because I was hating it. What do you do day one? When you’re out there, you’ve got your grant, it’s April Fool’s Day. What happens day one? What were the first things that you guys did?
Conor Hagan: I think apart from going, “Holy fucking shit. This is mental.” What do we do? The first thing you do is just work hard. You build a lot of relationships. You find the bits that you need to make the machine work. And then you just go hard. Essentially, when you pull 16-hour days, seven days in a row, it starts to become a little bit about balance. And then once you find the balance between work, and life, and passion, especially work passion and keeping up — keeping your personal passion as well, for me, it’s motor biking, scuba diving, a bit of fitness and touch volley and stuff like that, you got to have all faces for that in your life.
But at the start, very day one, it’s all consuming. You don’t get to think about anything else. You don’t you get to do much else apart from just going, “We need to solve this problem. How do we do it?” And you have to go through a lot of failure. And I think day one, it was equal parts exciting and terrifying. How do we do this? And hard work. Definitely, day one was something I probably don’t think about a lot, but it was definitely a bit of a jolt to the senses and something that we — and me personally, enjoyed every minute of it. Looking back into it, it’s actually quite good.
Simon Dell: And I guess you already had established relationships with some businesses out there. You had obviously a good understanding of the industry as well. But how did you find… And this isn’t necessarily just day one, but this is the last two years, but how do you find customers?
You’ve built yourself a website. You sit there. You can’t sit at your desk twiddling your thumbs and waiting for people to find you. How did you go about building that customer base?
Conor Hagan: I think when we built our first website, I’d hate to think what it looked like, but we had some… Our first website was probably just basic HTML plain text, but we went to bed and we actually — the first thing we chose was, I suppose the name. And everybody has a bit of a different kind of start.
Some people are lacking a founder and they’re trying to find another founder that’s passionate about things. Some people are lacking technology. Some people are lacking the business knowledge. And so, when you look at people starting a new business, that’s generally the places they have the shortcomings.
Ours was definitely technology. We knew the industry and we had finance. And we had a good co-founder relationship. But definitely, our technology was something that we needed to put a lot of work into. So in the very early days, it was trying to find a good technical founder to join us on our journey, and that was a really difficult process which I won’t go into too much.
But essentially, it’s a lot of trial and error. You got to find the right person. Now, we have the right people, the staff of seven. And so, it’s about that process and trying to build up the right relationships. And then I suppose off the back of that, you’re right, a lot of relationships that we had over years and didn’t disappear. We got good people around us, good ex-employees, ex-employers, companies that we did business with.
And all were very happy to show their support behind us. And because we were really passionate and still are passionate about what we do, which is finding the perfect mix of technology and people in supply chain. That’s not talked about a lot in our industry, but it’s something that’s critical to its success. Logistics has gone beyond human scale, but it still needs humans to fix all the problems in it, and to make something run efficiently.
Having that really good baseline of industry knowledge, having good customers straight off the bat, having good relationships straight off the bat help to solve all the other problems that we essentially were light in mainly tech, and then learn tech ourselves. So now, we can code, both co-founders. Mainly, the shit stuff that devs don’t want to do. So, if you’re non-technical and start a business, I think the best thing to do is go to your developers and say, “What’s the thing you hate doing every day?”
And in our industry, it was XML. We hate doing XML. We hate this messaging. We don’t know the structure. So it’s like, fuck it, give me that 75-page schema and I’m going to read it for like three weeks, which I did. And formed now — what forms the back end of some of our platform, and it’s still being used every day. I’ve written old back-end code for our platform, which I went into this journey with not writing a line of code in my life.
Simon Dell: I was going to say, that doesn’t happen a lot. I couldn’t write code. I mean, I could probably write a HTML link if there was a gun to my head or something like that. But I couldn’t write a single line of code, and I don’t think I’ve got any kind of inclination in my body to learn it. And I sit opposite a guy who writes a lot of code.
That’s interesting that you actually went to do that. I don’t think there’s many founders that I’ve ever spoken to that have actively gone out and learnt code in their time.
And so, having people touch it is important. Don’t fucking break it. But if we can get the guys interested in it, it just helps break down the barriers and it’s no longer, “Oh, they’re the devs, and we’re the sales guys, and they’re the ops guys.” It’s like, “Now, we’re a company and we’re all trying to help each other. We’re bridging gaps all the time.”
We run an Agile methodology which helps the whole team speak in a consistent manner towards each other. And then inside of that, we get people co-sharing a few little tasks. I mean, I like that methodology of running a business, and it won’t work for everybody, but it’s something that, I suppose, if I can learn how to write a couple of lines of code, anybody should. I’m certainly not a dev. I can write a bit of code.
Simon Dell: I think my business partner would have a heart attack if I started writing code.
Simon Dell: It would be hard to replace him. There was another thing you mentioned there about sales calls. And again, one of the ongoing themes that we hear — or that I hear from start-ups is about how important it is for people to be able to sell. And I guess you probably have a slight advantage with the Irish accent.
Whenever someone talks to an Irishman, they kind of always expect it to be extremely friendly. And people have this affinity for talking to the Irish because most of you could talk underwater with marbles in your mouth. Number one, does the accent help I guess is where I’m coming from with that. And the second part of that question is, how important has it been that you guys are able to sell your product face-to-face or over the phone?
Conor Hagan: I think the Irish thing is good. It’s equal parts good and bad. Some people have a tendency not to take you seriously because, hey, fiddly be leprechauns, thank you very much Jimeoin, who nobody in Ireland knows who the fuck he is. Jimeoin is not a thing in Ireland, which I think surprises most Australians.
Apart from the ‘let’s get over this and let’s talk about some value here’, it does help break down the doors. I’m under no illusions that having a bit of an Irish tilt does help when you’re having initial conversations. But sales, if we look at it in our organization, and you ask how important it is, I think sales gets a really bad rap.
And maybe we should change the name, and I know other businesses talk about customer success, or head of growth, and all this other stuff. But sales has a really bad connotation that you’re pestering someone who doesn’t want you to talk to them essentially, but you force them to talk to you.
But sales more and more now is about finding product market fit. Sales encompasses emails, digital live chat, live chat in terms of scripts, even things like podcasts. Essentially, this could be considered sales in the wider scheme of things. It’s an important thing that I suppose people, especially younger people, who are almost like, “I’m not doing that. I would never debase myself by calling someone who doesn’t know me and maybe doesn’t want to talk to me.”
But I see it as incredibly important because you’re literally getting to talk to someone. And if you just flip your mind a little bit, you get to talk to someone about something that you know really well or should know really well, and you get to impart a bit of knowledge on them that could help them.
And if you go into every single sales call like that, I guarantee you’re going to be 100% more successful. It’s not about, “Here’s Explorate. Take it. Shove it down your throat.” It’s more about, “Hey guys, do you ship freight. How do you do that?” “We use a freight forwarder. It’s generally down to that.” “Well then, how do you find that process?”
And then talking at it from a manner like that, you get to uncover the things that are good and are bad, and then you get to give that feedback to your business so you can help them essentially have a better customer experience. And if they’re dealing with freight all day and more if your… For example, if someone else is looking at scooters, if they were getting the scooter all day, there’s a better experience to be had if you talk to people and you understand what they like and what they don’t like.
And then match that in the digital world with data. Because sometimes, you call people and go, “Hey, how do you find your experience?” “Yeah, it’s great. Get off the fucking phone.” But then if you actually put the data and overlay that on top of it and go, “Well, why did you click here? Why did you do this?” And you ask them intelligent questions about sets of data that you have, it enables you to have a conversation where they’re like, “Well actually, you’re right. I do that quite a lot.”
And funny enough, I spend my day inside a spread sheet, which I used to fix that problem. But that takes up 20% of my time. And we go. “Well, maybe by doing it this way, you can eliminate that whole spread sheet.” And then all of a sudden, it’s an arggh ha moment, how good is that? I just did that. I’ve literally helped someone save 20% of their time. That could be 20% of the time they spend with their kids, or 20% of the time they get to go skateboarding, whatever floats your boat.
That’s the thing that I think is incredible about sales. That’s why I think it’s really critical that you have good sales people in your organization. It’s not because of trying to sell goods, it’s trying to understand your customers.
Simon Dell: I think the other thing that I often find with sales is, we use a funnel — whenever I do a strategy session, we use a funnel. It’s a classic marketing funnel. Whoever you speak to, whoever you’ve done these strategy sessions, the sections of the funnel change names. There’s one that we use that’s awareness, interest, decision, action. That’s the process that people go through to purchase something.
We’ve also seen one from a previous guest on the podcast who talked about the section of the funnel being know, like, trust, and buy. You have to take people through the process of knowing who you are, then you have to take the process of them liking who you are, and then you have to make them trust you, and then they buy.
Now, where I think sales really fits in well is that trust element. Because trust isn’t a thing that happens in a split second. Trust happens over time. And often, one of the things that people are going to need to do with an organization like yours is trust you. Because then, you’re moving their shit around the world. They need to trust who you are.
And that’s, to me, where a salesperson really fits in, because that human contact builds trust a lot quicker than a website can, than a bot on a website can, or a Facebook page, all those kind of things. Human interaction builds trust real quickly.
Conor Hagan: Definitely. I think as well that you’ve got this kind of — it’s an ecosystem of trust. How do you build both trust online and build trust on a platform especially, when you don’t interact with the person every day? And we come from an industry that is very relationship-driven.
And then how do you… What aspect of sales / phone calls and customer service, what impact does that have on levels of trust if you can’t call someone? Especially if it’s a nine-to-five industry, which freight essentially is, but boats move all the time. Planes fly all the time, yet office hours are 9:00 to 5:00.
That’s where this digital merger, what I talked earlier about, the mix of people in technology is important, not only just to get the job done. But also, when customers want an experience with freight or with anything in general, they want to have a good mix. And you’re right about the trust element. That’s not something that comes overnight. It’s not something that comes just from a phone call or from a website, but definitely a combination of multiple different factors can definitely form trust.
Like, “Hey, this guy’s looking after me. This company has my best interest at heart. And this company is going to try and make good decisions on my behalf. And they’re going to do it as well by giving me live interactivity with my current freight status.” And that’s something where I think — that unlocking of and true trust in an organization that is primarily digital is something that is yet to be unlocked in a lot of industries, not just ours. It’s definitely something that we focus heavily on, and I’m sure that you could probably give a lot of insights on that kind of trust element, too.
Simon Dell: What are some of the other channels that you use from a marketing perspective. Where are you getting… Where are you getting leads from? Because it’s all well and good, obviously, you’ve gone to the market with an existing platform. But you need people to find you who never knew who you guys were. What works best for you guys?
Conor Hagan: There’s a couple of different things but I’ll give you a good insight in someone who’s done it really well and how they’ve done it. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Flexport in the USA. Have you heard of them by any chance?
Simon Dell: No.
Conor Hagan: Flexport, they raised a billion dollars, kind of a unicorn of freight in Silicon Valley. And the founder of that previously founded a company called Import Genius. And essentially, all Import Genius did was take the data of every importer into the USA and find where those goods came from, from customs declaration, customs declaration… So essentially, they could determine the trust and authenticity of buyers and sellers in international trade for the USA. So, it became incredibly valuable, people use it as a primary resource to see, “Hey, I’m buying stuff from China. Is this company in China real?”
And so, that’s something that a competitor did, and then they use that list essentially and formed a really good leads list in terms of importers and exporters for the USA. And now, they’ve made a digital freight forwarder and they raised a billion dollars, valued at over $4 billion at the moment
When we look at what we do, and we take some key learnings from that, but also from the general industry. And so, yes, the leads are relatively difficult to come by, but there are a couple of publicly-available repos of importers and exporters in and out of Australia. So, you know, we should know where we’re getting our stuff from and we should know who exports stuff because it’s — customs essentially has to process that information, and there has to be an element of trust there.
And so, we do access those repos of data. And then that provides us a hell of a lot of customers to call and also target. And targeting sounds so aggressive too when I say it, but it’s not. It’s not like we draw something on a dartboard and throw a dart at it and say, “Hey, listen, we’ve targeted that customer really well.”
It’s more about uncovering what they want. So, if you’re an exporter and if you’re a small to medium enterprise, what are you looking for in your ideal transaction? And that’s something then when we look at converting that lead and converting someone that we kind of know to someone who kind of trusts us. I don’t know what you’re talking about earlier in terms of the four stages.
But essentially, bringing them that journey, and that’s something that if you call 10 people and only get one at the far side, well then, maybe improve what you’re providing them to increase their conversion rate. And then you have to call less people and you don’t need this big lead list.
And we also use SEO and SEM strategies in terms of marketing. And so, that’s publicly available stuff, but we do a relatively okay job at that as well. And then just some industry-specific stuff. Talking about containerization, talking about freight in general, how supply chains work. I was at a digital and supply chain panel discussion last week talking about how that’s going to work in the future.
There’s 140 people there. And out of that, we’ve got already about 50 leads. Once again, it’s about trying to — you don’t do it just for sales and marketing, but you do it as part of that ecosystem of trust you’re trying to create, and that creates its own kind of demand. And that own kind of interest that people come to you.
Simon Dell: Public speaking, I say to people all the time. There’s not a lot that’s better in terms of getting up in front of a group of people and talking about your business. They don’t all necessarily need to be potential leads. Some of them could be husbands or wives of people who work in similar kind of industries. I just think you know that opportunity to stand in front of a group of people is one of the best marketing tactics in the world.
Conor Hagan: Yeah. Listen, I agree. I understand why though. This is something that I personally struggled with at an early stage in the business. When you’re a founder and your business is less than, say, a year or year and a half old, you’re still figuring out what you’re doing. And when you’re still figuring out what you’re doing, it’s like when you’re figuring out how to walk. You’re not going to go and sprint straightaway, so you’re not going to go and try and walk in front of a thousand people for them to clap you.
You’ve only got to walk in front of mom and dad. And that’s the type of thing that you’ll do early on in your business, and that obviously creates a fear of speaking in front of a lot of people. Because, hey, it’s your reputation. And if you say something that might not be correct because you’re still trying to figure stuff out… I understand that tentativeness.
And hey, we did the same thing. For the first odd year. I didn’t speak at any conferences. I went to a lot and learned a lot. I understood what domain and the problem domain, understood some of the solutions that are out there, and understood our solution. And then when you’ve got a bit of confidence, just go hard and try and talk to people about it. And it’s not about trying to convince people. It’s not trying to sell yourself on stage. You’re not Beyonce. Well, I’m certainly not Beyonce, but it is really about that.
“Listen guys, here’s an opportunity.” And if 10 people believe you, you have 10 believers. And they’re going to tell 10 other people. And they might tell 10 other people. And all of a sudden, you’ve got this network effect that you’ve created by just having one conversation that touches on.
Simon Dell: I want to take a step back to something you said earlier on. You’ve made a great suggestion for a lot of businesses out there, the data mining, which I guess is what you were talking about that company in the US does and what you’re doing, is data mining potential clients. That’s a fantastic opportunity for you to build a set of leads. I guess when you get that data, is your next step a cold call or a cold email? What do you do once you have that spread sheet of people that potentially could buy from you?
Conor Hagan: Hell no. Don’t do that. We get this all the time. “Here’s 2,000 leads.” First, you have to qualify massively. And I think the more effort you put into preparing that list, if you want to use data mining as a thing that we do, which I suppose in one way it is. Data cleansing is something. Get either someone to look at the quality of that data, and whether it’s by surfing LinkedIn to see if that contact is still at the company, and also if that contact is still relevant in that company.
Because people tend to change jobs nearly, every two years. So, I’m going to call someone and say, “Hey, listen, I just want to talk to you about your logistics.” And then all of a sudden it’s like, “Well actually, I’m in finance, and I’m not even at that company anymore. Get lost.” Instantly, it stops that element of trust. Because I’m like, “Where did you get my information? I don’t trust you.” Instantly.
So firstly, definitely cleanse that data, qualify the lead, and then when you talk to someone, research the company. Give a talk about something that’s meaningful to them. Like, “Hey, I noticed that you just launched an office in China. How are you finding that process? is it good? Do you speak to them often? How many people do you have over there?”
Genuinely give a shit and then people will genuinely give a shit back about you. If you go in and say, “Hey, I’ve got my product and you need to buy this because it’s the best thing since sliced bread.” Automatically, it’s — you hit the nail on the hand when you said trust. You’ve got to build that trust.
And you don’t build it by forcing your business on someone. It’s like giving a shit about what their day-to-day life looks like, what the company is trying to achieve, what their role is in that goal, and then give them something that makes their job either easier or better, save a bit of cash whatever it is, and understand what’s important to them. So then, you can configure, and we configure our business to have a lot around that.
You’re not here to make people spend more and do worse. We’re here to give people the opportunity to do things a bit better. And so, yes, sell that to them. And in terms of sell that to them, just understand what they do bit more so that you can have a meaningful conversation.
And yeah, that’s definitely when we go through that process. Qualifying is massively important and understated. Massively when you talk about interfacing customers for the first time.
Simon Dell: My last three questions, my normal last three questions, but I’m going to reverse them a little bit. I want to understand not necessarily what you’ve got planned for the rest of the year, because I think you’re obviously in the long-term business. There’s obviously growth strategies for you. What I’m more interested in finding out is where you see this going. Is your goal to build this fantastic business and live off that for the rest of your life? Is there an exit plan or are there other opportunities, other brand extensions? What’s the goal? Where are you going to get to?
Conor Hagan: Well, to be honest, I want to have an impact on the industry. That’s my personal goal. And the company’s goal is the same. We want to change the way that businesses interact with their freight. We want to make them more positive. In terms of a high goal, that’s something that we want to achieve as a team.
And I never think of exit. It’s not because of the — it’s not attractive to say that, honestly, but just because there’s so much work to be done. It’s something that I like doing, so I think it’s like asking someone genuinely, “When are you going to retire and play golf, and not do anything anymore apart from just live off something that you’ve done that was kind of okay with your life?”
If you look at some of them stellar leaders in our industry, if you look at Paul Little from Toll or some of the guys at DHL, and you look at the ugly arcs of our industry, MSC, and the founder is still alive. He’s one of the last founders in shipping lines, and from the original shipping line, containerized shipping line of the arcs. And he still, at 85, goes into the office, albeit in his Rolls-Royce and private jet.
He goes into the office and doesn’t have people leave until he leaves. There’s definitely — we need the new generation of that, and I think there’s a lot of people coming up in our industry that will be. And essentially, the companies that are associated with those people are very important right now. That’s where we position ourselves, as a company of change with individuals who have a long-term goal to facilitate that change.
And there might be more of sub-brands off the side. So when we talk about things that need done in our industry, booking a freight is one thing, interfacing a freight is another. But just essentially getting consumers engaged in it, it’s something that’s incredibly important so that we can make it better and more efficient, because it’s not efficient right now. So that’s something definitely when we talk about exits, when we talk about higher goals, it’s to really have impact on our industry and do that for a long time.
Simon Dell: My second to last question, brands that you enjoy or you respect and look at and think they’re doing a killer job. Ideally, you’ve mentioned a lot of brands within your industry, but ideally brands that you see outside your industry that you like.
Conor Hagan: I’ll try and break it up. Obviously, I love looking at companies who do well in different industries and different sectors, and I’ll firstly start with wrapping a local start-up who I think is doing incredible things. World’s Biggest Garage Sale. Yas, incredible founder, doing good things in the circular economy, which Australia is actually terrible at, really terrible when you look at recycling and when you look at what happens to your goods after they come — get returned, or the mass-packing we have.
You look at initiatives like back in Ireland, even when I left a decade ago, but more advanced than what we have here. And so, she’s doing an incredible job in something that needs to be done and in reusing old goods and also looking at the life cycle of goods. When I look at brands that I respect and look towards globally, I look at some of the bigger brands.
I really like Google. I really like the way that they detected their company with Alphabet and all the different industries that they play in. All of it not necessarily awesome in terms of progressing the digital industry, but you got everything from Boston Dynamics through to Google Search, GMail, G Suite.
I know there’s people coming in, essentially trying to do Google better, but I really like the way that they set their business up and the way that they run their business, and the things that they do and invest in. That’s something that I look at in terms of, where is the world going? Kind of look at that. And then obviously, we look at, I think in terms of a person then you look at what Elon does. Over in the US with SpaceX, and Tesla, and stuff like that, it’s hard not to admire that.
End even though he can be a bit of a fruit loop and fruitcake on Twitter, at the end of the day, he’s given the world electric cars en masse as a brand, not as a feature. He’s giving people the access to space and he’s building tunnels to improve the way the people move around cities, which is a massive emerging problem. So, yeah, fuck all the people who think that he’s not doing a good job.
If someone wants to try and do a better one, go at it. I think that he’s definitely doing some cool stuff. And take away the fan boy stuff, he’s doing meaningful work. That’s essentially the great things I look up to.
Simon Dell: I totally agree. Some of the stuff that he is implementing is some of the stuff we all sat there in the back of our heads going, “We need electric cars.” We genuinely want electric cars. We genuinely want solar panels, solar tiles in the roofs and things like that. Those all make absolute sense from the evolution of human existence.
The problem I have is just the way it’s done by what is evidently becoming more and more of a complete and utter crackpot. The whole Neuralink thing that came out the other day, I read that and you just go… When he releases a paper that has no peer reviews on it and has no other authors on it other than himself, you just go, right, he’s finally gone bonkers.
Conor Hagan: Yeah, but Van Gogh cut off his ear though, right? Brilliant people do dumb fucking things. He’s just a brilliant person doing some dumb things. And I can honestly say, hand to my heart, if I ever become successful, I will do dumb things. Seth Rogen does arguably dumb things. All these people that are good at their craft, sometimes they do dumb things.
Simon Dell: I totally agree. Seth Rogen, for example, it delivers. He’s constantly actually producing things. Whereas you go, where are my solar fucking tiles that were supposed to be on the roofs of our houses? That was 2000…
Conor Hagan: It’s easier to make great jokes and grow pot than it is to actually having… But I agree with you in certain things, but I don’t know how Seth Rogen is actually productive at all, seeing as he does them 99% of the time, so you have to admire that. If he wasn’t stoned, how effective and how world-changing would he be? Anyway, onto the last question I suppose. We’re on the finale. Hit me with the big one.
Simon Dell: My last question was… This is probably the most boring one of the lot, is how people can get hold of you.
Conor Hagan: The unpopular answer, I’m going to give the unpopular answer. If you can’t find me, then that’s something that you should probably work on, how to find people. If you Google my name, I’m pretty much top of all results. If you want to look for me on LinkedIn or Twitter, I don’t have the world’s most common name. I’m not John Smith.
In terms of the company, you can find us at Explorate.co. And so, if you really want to change the way that you move your goods around, please do reach out to us on there. There’s multiple ways to reach out to us: live chat, emails, socials. But yeah, essentially, if you want to get a hold of me, you’ll be able to find me.
Simon Dell: Yeah, cool, wonderful. Look, mate, thank you very much for your time today. It’s been fantastic having you on. And hopefully, everyone got some great insights. Really appreciate you spending the time with me today.
Conor Hagan: No problem at all. Really enjoyed that. Thanks, Simon. Appreciate it.