A Bolt From the Blue
An admitted workaholic, Mark Ang does a day’s worth of work before 8 a.m. While he is there for his team any time of day or night, he is a shockingly hands-off leader who encourages autonomy and gives his team space to spread their wings.
Mark Ang was only 12 when he and his brother demolished and rebuilt a sixplex apartment building with their father, a property developer. At 14, Ang helped manage construction for the family business. “I was involved in scoping, financing, getting quotes, working with architects, and ultimately working with the trades to execute the project,” he says.
So Ang was already a seasoned business professional when, in his early 20s, he founded Second Closet, a Toronto-based valet storage company that grew to five locations across Canada. Second Closet later transformed into GoBolt, a technology and logistics company on a mission to build the world’s largest sustainable, vertically integrated supply chain network.
Ang is GoBolt’s co-founder, CEO. He recently talked with IL about the company’s history, its current priorities, and his own evolution as a corporate leader.
IL: In your construction days, how did vendors respond when they saw a young teen walk into a meeting to strike deals?
Fortunately, because our side of the table was paying the bills, they couldn’t react too negatively. And I probably got a bit more leeway when I asked for discounts, because they would think, “This is kind of cute.” I leaned into that.
IL: How did Second Closet evolve into GoBolt?
As a valet storage company, Second Closet would pick up and store people’s stuff, then bring it back whenever they wanted it. Our vision was that people would use us to maximize their space by storing seasonal possessions.
But most people were storing for the long term. My co-founder and I didn’t want our legacy to be that we helped people hoard their stuff more efficiently. So we shifted focus.
Fortunately, several major brands including Chanel and WeWork were using us for business needs. We decided to pursue more of that business.
Slowly we morphed into a third-party logistics provider for brands, providing storage, fulfillment, and last-mile logistics.
IL: What keeps your customers awake at night?
They’re hyper-focused on efficiency. Logistics and supply chain are a massive cost for many of our brands and for most of the retail world. We’re having more discussions about how to strategically set up the supply chain network to take advantage of the customer experience that our brands want, but at an economic level that is sustainable. How do we forward-place some of the product? How do we leverage more electric vehicles (EVs) to offset fuel surcharges?
IL: Tell us about your plans to build an electric vehicle fleet.
By the end of 2023, we want 90% or more of our deliveries to be done by EVs. EVs will help us and the merchants we serve meet our sustainability goals, while also saving customers money by eliminating the 30% fuel surcharge.
IL: What challenges do you face in converting to EVs?
There are many constraints to consider—grid capacity, vehicle reliability, recharging time, and driver training.
We also have to rethink how we route deliveries to account for things like range degradation. If a truck starts out loaded with 10,000 pounds, do you drive that load over a highway at 55 miles per hour or a city street at 25 miles per hour?
Then, as you deliver items and shed weight, how does that impact your next sprint? How do winter or summer temperatures affect battery performance? We’re building routing software in house that accounts for all that.
IL: What characteristics make you an effective leader?
I’m always willing to roll up my sleeves when an issue arises. Whether it’s midnight or 6 a.m., and whatever is required, I’ll be there. That creates a culture at the top of our business where everyone is willing to help, based on the value of ‘one team, one dream.’
Also, I spend the time it takes to explain my decision-making process and make sure we get input from the people who are affected by a decision.
IL: How do you nurture talent on your team?
I’m very hands-off, shockingly so. We hire people who push the pace and challenge us to be better, and who know their areas better than I do. So I try to give them a ton of space. I stay vigilant and dive in when they need support, but I give them space to spread their wings and exercise their own decision-making.
IL: What do you check first thing in the morning?
Before I get out of bed, even on weekends, I check my e-mail. If there’s something urgent, I can skip my morning coffee because my blood already starts to rush. Then I check my calendar to see if anything has been added or rearranged.
I try to get into the office as soon as possible, which is easy because it’s a two-minute walk. Once there, I pop open my laptop and check on our operations performance for the previous day—quality, cost, and efficiency.
Then I look at any incoming opportunities and find out what solutions our team is thinking of providing, to see if I can offer a different perspective on an even better solution. All that happens before 8 a.m.
IL: What books would you recommend that others read?
One is The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. It’s a classic for anyone who’s on an entrepreneurial journey. Another is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. These laws apply to different parts of your professional and personal life.
IL: Beyond work, how do you like to spend your time?
I’m a big movie buff. I can rewatch a movie six to 12 times if I really like it. And I try to stay active. Recently I’ve picked up pickleball, which is an intense, fun game where you can trash-talk your partners while you play.
Learn by Doing
From his earliest days of knocking down walls, installing plumbing, and laying floors, Mark Ang discovered how crucial it is to learn the nuts and bolts of the business you’re running.
“Before I was able to manage a construction project, I had to be a laborer within a project,” he says. “That helped me to understand that you don’t just manage the outcome; you manage the process.”
A business process involves many people, with many different perspectives. As a leader, you need to understand those varied concerns so you can communicate effectively, Ang says.
“For example, we recently brought on a new chief operating officer,” he says. “We told him that it’s important to do support days and account management days, to be in the trucks and the warehouses, and actually operate as part of the team that you manage.”