Nina Luu: Banking on Data
Nina Luu is CEO and co-founder of Shippabo, a cloud-based supply chain management solution headquartered in Los Angeles.
Responsibilities: Leading shippers, logistics experts, and technologists in creating cloud-based supply chain solutions.
Experience: Co-founder, IGH Global Corporation; marketing director, Evergreen Herbs
Education: B.S., business administration, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, 2005.
One year after college, I started a company that imported home textile products and sold them to large retailers. My business grew quickly because of the popularity of e-commerce. At the time, most retailers were set up to move large pallets and containers to different facilities. They didn’t have the infrastructure to pick and pack their products, and the third-party logistics sector wasn’t as robust as it is today.
We identified that challenge as an opportunity and decided to create products and handle fulfillment for retailers. We also offered a private label fulfillment service that would allow retailers to scale their e-commerce operations. They signed on quickly.
However, I ran into challenges with managing the many manual logistics tasks, such as accessing freight and customs release documents. I also tried to centralize information scattered among emails and different systems in a way that would allow us to visually see and analyze the data.
But because the information was isolated, I wasn’t able to create a living document that our team could use to collaborate.
That’s why we started Shippabo. The need for centralized information becomes even greater with large businesses. To manage risk, these organizations need to visually see where their manufacturers are, where raw material is moving, and how that impacts their own business. However, their freight forwarder has some information, their factories have some information, and their retailers have some information. Traditionally, no one has had the data together in a way that allows the organization to benefit from collaboration.
In my current role, I help businesses organize and leverage their information so they can position themselves to compete in this new e-commerce environment. It’s no longer just a linear importing process.
For instance, a beneficial first step for a logistics department is being able to analyze their contract carrier rates versus market rates within a single rate management platform. Then the planners, buyers, and even the sales team can track each product’s progress to the SKU level.
They can search by an item number and see if the product is, for instance, still in production or on a vessel, when it’s arriving, and the number of units. They can see all the way down to when it’s actually in the warehouse or has been shipped to their clients. They are able to manage all that in one single system.
One challenge with information that’s in silos is your customs broker has your duty information and it lives in one system. Your freight forwarders may give you a quote, but as your container progresses, assessorial charges often are added. Because that information lives in the forwarder’s system, it becomes hard to access it. And that makes it difficult to tell if you’re making more or less money.
In 2016, Shippabo was a team of eight. Today we’re a team of 30. I like to create and grow things, and solve problems.
The Big Questions
Best supply chain advice?
Any supply chain should be scalable and ready for growth in the future.
If you could speed the development of a disruptive supply chain technology, what would you choose?
The ability to track both transactions and physical units.
Is there any conventional wisdom you disagree with?
As an Asian and a female, we’re often taught to be obedient. We need to break that rule in order to create new ideas.
Where have you traveled that has had an impact on you?
Turkey. It’s half Asian and half European. Just watching how the two cultures came together was mesmerizing.
Who are your heroes?
Educators for the young. They’re underpaid and deserve a lot more respect than our community today provides.
What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
Stretch yourself and don’t take the safe route.