Ecommerce Plug and Play
Allan Marshall figured his days as a CEO were complete. He’d founded several successful logistics firms, including Segmentz, which eventually became XPO Logistics. Satisfied with all he had accomplished, Marshall then spent about 15 years providing seed capital for promising startups.
One of those startups, called Grove, struck Marshall as a particular standout. Grove offered a corporate infrastructure for direct-to-consumer merchants. The potential was strong, but the firm needed better management.
“I decided to put in a little more money, take control of the company, and give everyone who invested a chance to be successful,” he says.
Marshall became CEO and, in 2022, changed the firm’s name to Upexi. In 2023, it’s poised to make a profit on $100 million in revenues. Marshall talked with us about his leadership trajectory and his rapidly growing enterprise.
IL: What opportunities made Upexi so interesting to you?
Amazon had created a launching pad for small brands. But if you start a brand today, you reach a point where you don’t know how to get bigger. You can’t afford a development team, an advertising team, and a marketing team. So you hire agencies, and they eat up all your cash.
We offer an alternative, acquiring ecommerce and Amazon brands and providing a plug-and-play model to make them profitable and more efficient.
IL: Tell us about an event from early in your career that helped to shape you as a leader.
Early on, I learned that you have to understand every aspect of your business. When I was in my 20s, my friends and I started a temporary agency for truck drivers. I learned the business by making deliveries.
Then I moved into sales, where my conversations with customers clued me in to new opportunities. They needed trucks as well as drivers. They needed linehaul services. Even at XPO, I used to drive the forklifts on some days, or unload.
At Upexi, I’ve worked on the floor; I’ve fixed our packaging machines. We have our own third-party logistics services and our own pick-and-pack. I walk through there regularly, asking about the problems and about what we could do better.
IL: Right now, what’s the most interesting challenge at Upexi?
Our biggest challenge is finding human capital that doesn’t want to specialize in just one thing. I look for people who want to be generalists and understand our whole business. You always have to plug in the specialists to help train others. But the generalists can also train the specialists.
IL: What do you most look forward to achieving at the company in the next 12 months?
I want to see our earlier stage brands grow up. We’ve created some economies of scale for them; now we’re working to drive them to the next level of product development. I want our three main brands—VitaMedica, Tytan Tiles, and Lucky Tail—to grow to the next level and become better known in their sectors.
IL: Which emerging technology will have the greatest impact on your business?
We’ve just launched an initiative to build our own artificial intelligence (AI) engine, which we’ll use to develop business intelligence to increase sales.
For example, when was a customer shopping? Was it raining? What was the temperature? What other products have they bought from us? And what offer did they act on? Was it two-for-one? Free shipping? We want the AI to analyze all that and give us the best opportunity to sell to that demographic.
The volume of data AI can sort through in one minute is more than we can sort through in one month. And it bases its decisions on data, not on a gut feeling. I’m excited to see how we can use this to spend our money in the best possible way while also creating the best possible experience.
We’re developing the AI engine in partnership with SME Solutions Group. I used ChatGPT to write the press release announcing the partnership. I had to edit the results. But I was amazed at what it produced in about eight seconds.
IL: What characteristics make you an effective leader?
I don’t treat anyone like I’m the CEO. I treat everyone like I’m their resource and they’re my resource. I want people to follow me because they know I’ll do the same job they do, and I’m there for all the projects and problems. In collaboration, we do a better job. It’s the same when I hire an executive. I don’t want them to tell people what to do, but to tell people they’re going to help them, whatever they need.
IL: If we followed you on a typical day, what would we see?
I wake up at about 5 a.m. and log into all our sales channels. I look at the return on equity on all our spend every morning. I look at our Monday.com board to see the projects everyone is working on, and I might send e-mails about some of them. Then I work out to get motivated for the second part of my day.
I have calls five or six days a week with each of our teams, and I catch up with our CFO during the day. After lunch, I check our sales numbers to see if we’re on trend. Later, I follow up on future projects. I respond to 100 to 300 Slack messages a day. And since we’re a public company, I spend about 15 hours a week on calls with investors and analysts.
IL: What business books would you recommend?
Two books that have influenced me are Good to Great by Jim Collins and The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger. And I’ve read books about some of the great investors, such as Peter Lynch and Warren Buffett.
IL: Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
I love to be outdoors, especially walking in the mountains with my dog and my wife. We spend time in Jackson, Wyoming in the summer and for part of the winter, when I go snowmobiling and snowshoeing. In Canada, where I was born, I have a cabin on a lake. It’s off the grid, with only solar power.
Learning by Doing
Some people learn leadership skills from role models and mentors who teach by example. Allan Marshall got his education by jumping in with both feet and getting his hands dirty.
“I’ve never worked for another person,” Marshall says. “I’ve only had my own businesses.”
Necessity and experience taught him to love hard work. “There was no task I wouldn’t do,” he says. “When we had our first office, I cleaned the bathrooms; I’d come in early and vacuum so the place would look good.”
Marshall has also learned a great deal from the teams that have defined the success of his companies. “It’s about having people who work hard because you work hard, because you care about them and they care about you.”