Ben Pu Of ShipSage

An Interview With Chad Silverstein

Adaptable Business Models: As the market evolved, so did our business model. We shifted focus based on emerging e-commerce trends and customer needs.

In the world of business and within every industry, there are forward-thinking leaders who go against the status quo and find success. Their courage to take risks, embrace innovation, and inspire collaboration separates them from the competition. Until 2002, Apple’s famous slogan was “Think Different”. This attitude likely helped them become one of the most successful organizations in history. This interview series aims to showcase visionary leaders and their “status quo-breaking” approach to doing business. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Pu.

Ben Pu, an e-commerce visionary, founded ShipSage in 2021. With nationwide warehouses and innovative solutions, ShipSage is revolutionizing e-commerce fulfillment. Ben’s expertise and relentless ambition have made ShipSage a transformative leader in the industry.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Xiamen, a picturesque coastal city in China known for its beautiful islands and historic temples. This bustling port city instilled in me a sense of curiosity and wonder from an early age. The fusion of traditional values with the vibrancy of international trade influenced my perspective on business and innovation. As I observed the ships sailing in and out of the harbor, I was inspired by the intricate interplay of global commerce and local enterprise.

My academic pursuits eventually took me to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, but the entrepreneurial spirit of Xiamen never left me. It was this blend of my hometown’s ethos and the education I received abroad that laid the foundation for my journey into the world of e-commerce, leading to pivotal roles at companies like eBay and, eventually, the inception of my own ventures, Gaatu and ShipSage.

Can you give us a glimpse into your journey into this industry and share a story about one of the most significant challenges you faced when you first started out? How did you end up resolving that challenge?

My foray into the e-commerce industry began at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where I studied Electrical and Computer Engineering. This academic foundation laid the groundwork for my role as a Software Engineer at FairMarket, followed by a significant stint as a Principal Software Engineer at eBay. It was at eBay that I truly comprehended the vastness and potential of the e-commerce landscape.

One of the most daunting challenges arose when I launched Gaatu Inc., focusing on auto parts and furniture e-commerce. We faced difficulties in efficiently managing inventory, order processing, and ensuring timely deliveries. These challenges were exacerbated by the diverse nature of our products, from bulky furniture to intricate auto components. Recognizing the need for a sophisticated solution, I decided not to rely on available tools but to create our own. Drawing upon my coding skills and industry insights, I spearheaded the development of a proprietary Warehouse Management System (WMS). This platform not only streamlined Gaatu’s operations but also highlighted a greater need in the market for specialized e-commerce fulfillment solutions. This realization led to the birth of ShipSage. Our WMS became the backbone of ShipSage, enabling countless other e-commerce businesses to optimize their operations and enhance customer satisfaction.

Who has been the most significant influence in your business journey, and what is the most significant lesson or insight you have learned from them?

During my tenure at eBay, I had the privilege of working closely with a myriad of talented individuals. But one mentor stands out — Mark, a former CTO at eBay. He had an innate ability to see beyond the immediate challenges and envision the broader potential of e-commerce. Mark often emphasized the importance of understanding the underlying mechanics of our platform, not just for immediate needs, but in anticipation of future scalability and adaptability.

From Mark, I learned the invaluable lesson of forward-thinking. It’s not enough to solve today’s problems; one must anticipate tomorrow’s challenges and prepare for them. This foresight became a cornerstone principle when I founded Gaatu and later ShipSage. By developing a proprietary Warehouse Management System for Gaatu, I wasn’t merely addressing an immediate need but was laying the groundwork for what would later evolve into ShipSage. Mark’s emphasis on preparation and adaptability instilled in me a mindset to always stay a step ahead, ensuring that our solutions not only address current market requirements but are also poised to adapt to future e-commerce evolutions.

Can you share a story about something specific that happened early on that you would consider a failure but ended up being a blessing in disguise or ended up being one of the most valuable lessons you had to learn on your own?

In the early days of Gaatu, we decided to integrate a popular third-party inventory management software into our system, hoping it would seamlessly address our unique needs. Given its rave reviews and widespread adoption, it seemed like a no-brainer. However, the results were far from satisfactory. The software was not tailored to handle the diverse range of products we were dealing with, from bulky furniture to intricate auto parts. This led to significant inefficiencies, mismanaged stock, and delayed shipments, impacting our brand reputation and customer satisfaction.

Many would deem this a costly failure, both in terms of time and resources. Yet, this setback was a turning point for Gaatu and, by extension, ShipSage. It instilled in me the realization that relying on generalized solutions wouldn’t cut it. This pushed me to leverage my engineering background to develop our own proprietary Warehouse Management System (WMS), tailored precisely to our needs.

In hindsight, that initial ‘failure’ was a blessing. It paved the way for the creation of a platform that not only transformed Gaatu’s operations but also identified a broader market gap. This led to the inception of ShipSage, extending our tailored e-commerce fulfillment solutions to other businesses. The lesson was clear: sometimes, to truly innovate and address unique challenges, one must build from the ground up rather than relying on existing solutions.

Leading anything is hard, especially when grappling with a difficult situation where it seems that no matter what you decide, it will have a negative impact on those around you. Can you share a story about a situation you faced that required making a “hard call” or a tough decision between two paths?

Indeed, leadership is filled with moments that test your mettle. One of the most challenging situations I faced at ShipSage was during our rapid scaling phase. We were expanding operations and onboarding clients faster than ever. It was exhilarating, but it came with its set of challenges. Our existing infrastructure was struggling to keep up with the demands, and client dissatisfaction started to creep in due to occasional delays.

Two distinct paths emerged:

1. Pause New Client Onboarding: We could temporarily halt the onboarding of new clients, ensuring the system stabilized and improved for existing partners.

2. Rapid Tech Overhaul: Invest heavily and quickly in our technology infrastructure to scale at the pace we desired, without compromising the service quality for current clients.

Both options had significant ramifications. Pausing would slow down our revenue growth and possibly tarnish our reputation in the market. An aggressive tech overhaul, on the other hand, required substantial investment and had its own set of risks if not executed perfectly.

After numerous consultations with my team and assessing our core values, I decided to pause new client onboarding. It was a hard call, as growth opportunities were abundant. However, ShipSage has always been about quality service and client partnerships. This decision reinforced our commitment to our existing clientele.

In the end, this choice strengthened our brand’s trustworthiness. We used the pause to refine our infrastructure, and when we resumed onboarding, we were better equipped to handle growth. It taught me that sometimes, slowing down can actually position you better for sustainable success in the long run.

Let’s shift our focus to the core of this interview about ‘Successful Rule Breakers’. Why did you decide to “break the rules”? Early on, did you identify a particular problem or issue in how businesses in your industry generally operated? What specifically compelled you to address this and want to do things differently? Please share how you went about implementing those changes and the impact they had.

Breaking the rules wasn’t a deliberate act of defiance; it was born from necessity and a deep-rooted desire to provide better solutions in the e-commerce logistics space. My journey began at eBay, where I was deeply entrenched in the e-commerce ecosystem. It allowed me to identify gaps, especially in how businesses managed their logistics for specialized products, particularly auto parts and furniture.

The prevalent issue I observed was the generic approach many fulfillment providers took. They operated with a one-size-fits-all mentality, not giving room for the unique requirements of specific product niches. When I founded Gaatu, an e-commerce platform selling furniture and auto parts, I felt the impact of these shortcomings firsthand.

I was driven by the belief that e-commerce businesses deserved a tailored fulfillment solution. So, instead of solely relying on existing platforms or systems, I took the audacious step to develop our own Warehouse Management System (WMS) to cater specifically to Gaatu’s unique inventory. The success of this endeavor made me realize that other businesses could benefit from such a specialized approach, leading to the birth of ShipSage.

We built ShipSage as a direct response to these industry inefficiencies, focusing on custom solutions rather than broad, generic offerings. This “rule-breaking” led to increased efficiency, reduced costs, and enhanced customer satisfaction for our partners. Over time, this tailored approach became our signature, setting us apart in a crowded marketplace and underlining the importance of challenging the status quo when it’s not serving your mission or your clients.

In the ever-changing business landscape, how exactly do you decide when to adhere to industry norms versus “breaking the rules” and forging your own way? Can you share an example?

Navigating the intricate waters of the business landscape requires a delicate balance between adhering to industry norms and knowing when to chart a unique course. For me, it’s always been about recognizing gaps in the market, understanding our customers’ needs deeply, and assessing the potential risks and rewards of a decision.

An illustrative example is our choice to develop our own Warehouse Management System (WMS) at Gaatu. The industry norm was to rely on available platforms or third-party solutions. But our unique e-commerce focus on furniture and auto parts presented challenges that standard systems just couldn’t efficiently address. I faced a decision: adhere to the norm and make do with existing tools, or “break the rules” and develop a solution tailored to our distinct needs.

By opting for the latter, we not only addressed Gaatu’s immediate challenges but also inadvertently set the foundation for what would become ShipSage. The success of our bespoke WMS highlighted a larger market need for specialized fulfillment solutions, leading to the inception of ShipSage.

In essence, my approach is rooted in critical analysis and understanding our clientele. If industry norms serve our purpose and align with our vision, we embrace them. But when they don’t, we aren’t afraid to forge our own path, always keeping our customers’ best interests at the forefront.

What guidance or insight can you offer to new entrepreneurs trying to follow existing and accepted industry norms while at the same time trying to differentiate themselves in the marketplace?

For new entrepreneurs, straddling the line between industry norms and carving out a unique niche can be challenging. Based on my journey with ShipSage, I’d offer the following insights:

1. Understand the Norms Thoroughly: Before you can differentiate or innovate, you need to grasp why certain norms exist. This understanding provides a solid foundation upon which you can build or modify. It’s akin to the principle of learning the rules well, so you know how to break them effectively.

2. Identify Genuine Gaps: Differentiation for the sake of differentiation can be counterproductive. It’s essential to recognize genuine market gaps or customer pain points. Our decision to create a tailored Warehouse Management System at Gaatu was rooted in a real need, not just a desire to be different.

3. Test and Iterate: When charting a new course, you’ll face uncertainties. Instead of making massive changes all at once, consider adopting a ‘test, learn, and iterate’ approach. This reduces risks and ensures your innovations are grounded in real-world feedback.

4. Communicate Your Unique Value Proposition (UVP): Once you’ve identified how you’re different and why that matters, articulate this UVP clearly to your target audience. For ShipSage, our UVP was tailored e-commerce fulfillment solutions, built from hands-on industry experience.

5. Stay Agile: The business landscape is ever-evolving. Being wedded too tightly to either industry norms or a specific differentiation strategy can be limiting. Cultivate agility in your business processes and mindset. This allows you to adapt, whether it’s by adopting new industry best practices or pivoting your differentiation strategy.

Here is the main question of our interview. To make an impact, you have to champion change, get creative, and take risks. Please think back about the decisions you’ve made that have helped your business get to where it is today, and share your top 5 strategies or decisions that helped you succeed by doing things differently.

Over the years, several key strategies and decisions have steered ShipSage to its current stature. Here are my top five:

1. Developing Our Own WMS: Instead of relying on third-party logistics platforms, we recognized a gap and built our own Warehouse Management System (WMS) during our Gaatu days. This bespoke system was tailored to our unique needs, providing us a competitive edge and leading to the birth of ShipSage.

Example: Early on, when Gaatu faced logistical challenges, our WMS enabled us to automate, streamline, and optimize our operations, reducing costs and delivery times.

2. Expanding Warehouse Locations Strategically: Recognizing that delivery speed is paramount in e-commerce, we strategically located our warehouses to cater to key market areas.

Example: By positioning a warehouse near a major U.S. hub, we drastically reduced shipping times for a significant chunk of our clientele, enhancing customer satisfaction.

3. Prioritizing Employee Training: Instead of solely relying on technology, we invested heavily in training our staff, ensuring that they complemented our advanced systems.

Example: When an AI glitch caused inventory mismatches, our well-trained team quickly identified and rectified the error, preventing potential shipment delays.

4. Adaptable Business Models: As the market evolved, so did our business model. We shifted focus based on emerging e-commerce trends and customer needs.

Example: Noticing the rise of direct-to-consumer brands, we tailored our offerings to cater to this segment, ensuring they didn’t feel like ‘small fish’ in a vast e-commerce ocean.

5. Active Feedback Mechanism: We established open channels for client feedback, ensuring our services were continually refined based on real-world needs.

Example: Acting on feedback from a client about package safety, we innovated our packaging process, leading to reduced damages and returns.

By championing these strategies and decisions, ShipSage has been able to stand out in the competitive world of e-commerce fulfillment and carve its niche.

As a leader, how do you rally others to align with your vision? Also, how do you identify those who may not be fully committed or even silently sabotaging or undermining your efforts? What steps do you take to address these situations?

As the driving force behind ShipSage, rallying my team behind a unified vision has always been crucial. Open Communication is the bedrock of this alignment. I regularly host town hall meetings where I articulate our company’s goals, direction, and the reasons behind them. By transparently sharing the ‘why’, not just the ‘what’, I foster a sense of purpose and belonging among the team.

But alignment isn’t just top-down. I encourage Feedback Loops where team members can voice concerns, share insights, or suggest improvements. It’s in these sessions that we can often spot misalignments. If someone consistently resists or challenges without a constructive basis, it’s an indicator they might not be fully on board.

Addressing potential underminers is a delicate process. The first step is a One-on-One Dialogue. Sometimes, it’s a simple miscommunication or personal challenge they’re facing. Understanding their perspective is crucial. If, however, it becomes evident that their goals and the company’s vision are fundamentally misaligned, it might be time for tougher decisions. In some cases, it’s been necessary to part ways, ensuring the team’s collective energy remains positive and forward-focused.

At the end of the day, the success of ShipSage is a testament to a team that shares a unified vision and works cohesively towards it.

Imagine we’re sitting down together two years from now, looking back at your company’s last 24 months. What specific accomplishments would have to happen for you to be happy with your progress?

Two years from now, reflecting on ShipSage’s journey, a few accomplishments would stand out as markers of our progress.

Firstly, Expansion into New Markets: ShipSage’s footprint extending into Europe or Asia would be a significant milestone. Given the e-commerce boom in these regions, our presence there would be a testament to our global reach.

Second, Tech Evolution: The successful rollout of an updated version of our AI-driven warehouse management system, with enhanced predictive analytics and automation capabilities, would make me proud. It would signify our commitment to always providing the most cutting-edge solutions to our clients.

Thirdly, Sustainability Initiatives: I envision ShipSage taking robust steps toward becoming a carbon-neutral operation, reducing waste and increasing our use of renewable energy in all our facilities.

Fourth, Client Growth: Doubling our client base, while maintaining a 95% or higher retention rate, would underscore the value we’re delivering.

Lastly, Team Growth and Development: Establishing more comprehensive training programs, career progression paths, and seeing a marked increase in employee satisfaction scores would confirm that we’re not just growing externally but nurturing our internal family too.

These accomplishments, while challenging, would reflect a vision of ShipSage that isn’t just bigger, but better in every dimension.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Given the influence and reach of ShipSage in the e-commerce and logistics space, I’ve always felt the need to harness this potential for a broader, positive impact. If I were to inspire a movement, it would be “Sustainable Commerce for All.” This movement would advocate for businesses, especially those in e-commerce, to adopt sustainable and eco-friendly practices in every facet of their operations, from sourcing to shipping. It’s not just about reducing carbon footprints, but ensuring fair trade, ethical production, and giving back to communities.

With the rapid growth of online commerce, our collective environmental impact is monumental. By leading the charge in sustainable commerce, we could inspire businesses globally to rethink their strategies, making sustainability not an afterthought but a core principle. Imagine a world where every package delivered has a minimal environmental footprint, and every purchase supports fair wages and community growth. That’s the world I envision with “Sustainable Commerce for All.”

How can our readers continue to follow you or your company online?

Readers eager to delve deeper into the innovations and insights from ShipSage can explore our official website, For regular updates, industry insights, and behind-the-scenes glimpses, I’d recommend following me directly on LinkedIn. My profile offers not only updates about ShipSage but also my personal thoughts, articles, and perspectives on the evolving landscape of e-commerce. Join me there to be a part of our ongoing conversation and to be at the forefront of industry trends and insights.

Thank you so much for sharing all of these insights. We wish you continued success and good health!