Episode 271 Featuring Alex Bond

3PL Solutions with Joe Spisak

3PL Solutions with Joe Spisak

Joe Spisak is the Founder and CEO of Fulfill.com, a digital marketplace connecting companies with 3PLs. Joe is also the Creator of OK Boomer, a family trivia game, and the Founder and ex-CEO of ShipDaddy, a fulfillment solution for eCommerce businesses.

Prior to his entrepreneurial ventures, Joe worked at AT&T as a Senior Network Engineer and later as a Network Integration Engagement Manager, where he managed complex solutions for customer requirements. Joe also participated in a business sales leadership development program as an Account Executive.

On this episode, Joe and I discuss how he properly vets fulfillment centers, the matchmaking process of companies and 3PLs, his experience as a board game entrepreneur, and much more.

What is Fulfill

Joe Spisak: So really high level, what we do at Fulfill is we connect e commerce brands with the right warehousing and fulfillment partners. So right now we talk to a little over 300 brands per month. And our matchmaking team will work with them. 

Basically compare at scale, you know, 500 plus 3PLs and narrow that all the way down to, you know, one to five of the best options for their particular scope of work, we introduced those brands over to our short list of favorite 3PLs for them. And then the 3PLs come in and take it from there and present their pricing, their solution. And the brands look to pick the best option for them. 

Alex Bond: That's awesome. I had no idea that it was that many, you know, when I was looking through the website, I don't know if I noticed that you have that many options. So to make sure that I'm understanding correctly, you guys are essentially a broker or a matchmaker for brands and fulfillment centers, right?

Joe Spisak: Yeah, that's exactly right. So I told you a little over 500 individual 3PL companies spreading across 2,500 plus locations and once upon a time, I used to own a couple of different eCommerce brands. I started my own eCommerce fulfillment company, and you can see how I kind of kept going down the rabbit hole to get to, you know, this matchmaking kind of middleman.

And up until this point, before we started Fulfill, it's just been really, really difficult to, you know, for brand owners to try and find the right 3PL partner. Traditional path has been going to Google and looking for best apparel fulfillment center in Pennsylvania or something along those lines.

And you're getting hit with the same advertisements from 25 to 50 of the top venture capital back 3PLs in the industry, when in reality, there's over 15,000 eCommerce fulfillment centers in the United States alone. So I kept saying to myself, like, there's gotta be a better way to be able to find the best 3PL for these brands.

Ensuring Proper Vetting: Fulfill's Selection Process Explained

Alex Bond: And then that brings up a question that I had about kind of the vetting process. How do you ensure that all of the fulfillment centers that you're recommending to, you know, customers and brands that they are properly vetted? 

Joe Spisak: Yeah, that's a big part of what we do. And that a lot of that is done during the onboarding process whenever we're bringing the 3PL on. And that's when we really heavily vet them kind of getting all of the information necessary that we get over a hundred different data points on each 3PL that we're bringing onto our network. 

But then we continually monitor them over the course of working with them to just to make sure that the operational quality stays, you know, to the level of excellence that we're looking for to feel confident in recommending an e commerce brand over to them.

And then in the future, you know, within the next, I'd say three to six months, we're going to go as far as tying into the actual warehouse management systems of our 3PL partners. So we have real time first party data that can kind of back up the qualitative assumptions that we're making as well. 

Alex Bond: You'll have someone that is getting you the data in real time instead of just getting last year's reports on all their metrics.

Joe Spisak: Yeah, exactly. And like you can make lots of different inferences from the data that we could ingest from their warehouse management systems, like vertical specialization as one. So we could look at an individual 3PL and see. Hey, they have, you know, 50 different customers that they're shipping for, and 45 of them are apparel specific.

So clearly these guys are doing a great job shipping for apparel e commerce brands. So that is, you know, a trigger point for us that lets us know, Wow, like we could probably send these guys more apparel companies and they're going to do a really good job. From a shipping and a price point and a communication perspective.

Alex Bond: No, that's great. I'm curious what that more finite matchmaking process looks like. I imagine it can be a bit hectic because, you know, brands are very specific. You know, anyone who's running an e commerce brand generally knows what they want and is very detail oriented from the people that I've communicated with. So I'm curious if you could just walk me through that kind of brokering process a little bit. 

Joe Spisak: Yeah, sure thing. So this is really how it works kind of from end to end. So I told you, we're talking to a little over 300 brands per month. That's all inbound folks coming to us, you know, with the intention of using our fulfillment finder service. So how they get to us is by coming to our website and submitting a form submission that really kind of gives us their high level information. 

Think like first and last name, company name, website, e commerce, vertical, monthly order volume, SKU count, et cetera. And that's kind of the trigger in our system that cues our matchmaking team to reach back out to them and get on a phone call, phone calls if necessary.

And then our matchmaking team will get on a call with them and really just go through a consultative process where they'll gather all of the information that we need on our end to use paired with our software system to start to narrow down from our big pool of three PLS. So once we work with the brand, we kind of just go hand in hand with them and start that process.

So once we have all that information, that's when we use our software, we start with our big pool of 2500 plus 3PL locations and using that information, we can start to narrow down like very quickly on who we think would be good options for them. And, you know, not only just that information, but what's important to the actual e commerce brands.

Like a lot of the times it's geography. A lot of the times we want the best pricing, but they also can hit X, Y, Z shipping SLAs. So we use all of that information and the true wants and needs of the brand and help them narrow down to these best list of options. And then from there, you know, we are finding let's say we find 53 PLs on our network that could handle that scope of work. 

So we'll talk to the three PLs on the backend and we already, you know, have their information and their ideal customer profile information. And we say like, Hey, take a look at these guys. Do you think that this could be a really good fit for you to bring on as a new customer? So from there, we can even further whittle down until, you know, we come up with our, our pick of our best five. 

And that's what we're really looking to do. Like the last thing we're trying to do is spam this out to, you know, 100 3PLs and make introductions over to as many 3PLs as possible. We truly want to, you know, and do deliver this kind of white glove matchmaking service to help the brands kind of cut out all the other BS and talk to like five really, really, really great options without them having to, you know, pay any money. Like this is a free service for the brands. We make our money on the 3PL side of the house. 

How Does Fulfill Get Paid: Understanding the Revenue Model and Payment Structure

Alex Bond: And I was just about to ask about that. And I think that's extremely surprising. It was surprising to me when I was doing some research on fulfill. So to just to be clear, you what, get a cut of the bids that the 3PL make to the brands. How do you get paid specifically then? 

Joe Spisak: Yeah, that's a really good question. And brands are always really surprised when they're like, wait, this is free to us. And we're always really happy to tell them, yeah, it's free. So we make our money through the 3PLs and the 3PLs pay us money to be eligible to receive leads from us and to also use something called our salvage program.

So they pay us a monthly recurring fee to be on our network and for us to send them opportunities. And then this works great for 3PLs as well, because they're not just generating leads from us, giving them recommendations and introducing them to folks. They are also generating leads typically through their own marketing efforts, but you know, not every lead that three PLS generate are, you know, a good match for them.

So, for example, whenever I used to own my own 3PL called ship daddy, we were running tons of Google ads, you know, tens of thousands of dollars in ad spend per month. We're generating hundreds of leads and we were probably only able to handle 10 or 15 percent of the leads that were coming into us.

We had this one large location in Pennsylvania, but we couldn't handle big and bulky or cold storage or hazmat or multi site international opportunities. So basically we just have to wave goodbye to those folks and say like, you know, good luck on your journey. Sorry, we're not going to be the best fit, but 3PLs on our network as they're generating opportunities, they can say, sorry, we're not the best fit, but talk to our friends at fulfill.com

They run this free matchmaking service and we give 3PLs a 10 percent lifetime kickback on any revenue that we make from placing those opportunities. So we create this flywheel effect for 3PLs, where they can now not only get great qualified opportunities from us, but if they can be a good, great, you know, a good two way partner to us, they can also add an additional revenue stream and potentially make more money from working with us than actually spending.

And the last component on how we make money with the 3PLs is an introductory fee that's tiered based off of the size of the lead. So let's say, you know, the company is doing between 0 and 200 orders per month. It's 50 for the introduction, but if they're doing between 1,000 and 5,000 orders per month, it's 300 for that introductory fee. Then yeah, between, you know, the monthly recurring revenue and the introductory fee, that's largely how we make money at Fulfill. 

The Benefits of Fulfill: Automating Certification and Providing a Wide Range of Solutions for Brands

Alex Bond: That's great. And I bet the brands love that so much, man, because everything nowadays really does feel like pay to play. And for them to automatically get certified and getting a solution, you know, because there are over 500 at your disposal.

I would be highly surprised if any brand comes up to you, Joe, and you fulfill and says, hey, I need a 3PL with these, these, this and this. And you can't satisfy them. Does that happen any, because you have such a variety and solutions. Have you had to turn anyone away? 

Joe Spisak: Yeah. So that's kind of the beauty of the software engine that we built. So we've been at this now for over two years, building this out and kind of fine tuning things. And, you know, towards the beginning, while we were still building out our 3PL network. 

Even if we didn't have a 3PL on our network at that time, that could, you know, kind of satisfy the needs to our standards, you know, that was the trigger point that would tell our matchmaking team to go out and find that 3PL and build more density in our network there so we could handle opportunities like that in the future.

And then, you know, over the course of doing that and talking to. You know, every single size and scope and variation of opportunity, you could imagine we have this awesome, robust, trusted network of 3PLs to satisfy pretty much any dang opportunity that you could imagine. 

Like, some of the opportunities that we've worked, like, you'd laugh out loud hearing, like, how ridiculous some of these scopes could get sometimes, but yeah, no, we're pretty much good to go. Not just from a domestic perspective, but internationally, like we have 3PLs all across the world. 

Alex Bond: Yeah. What countries and continents do you have not in the US as well. Cause I feel like that is extremely beneficial. For example, Debutify, you know, the CEO lives in Australia and it's partly Australian based and in Philippines. So it's extremely helpful to be that just cuts down on fulfillment time and order time and lay over. So I'm curious where they are. 

Joe Spisak: Yeah, literally all over the world. And pretty much every continent except for Antarctica. But yeah, we probably have 25 individual 3PL companies. We work with in Australia spreading across like. You know, probably 75 locations, I would say literally everywhere else you can name. 

Bridging the Gap Between Brands and 3PLs: A Solution for Both

Alex Bond: No, that's amazing, man. That's extremely impressive. Do you consider fulfill to be more for brands or for fulfillment centers and 3PLs, because the reason I ask is For example, I interviewed this gentleman who had a website where online companies can buy or sell their businesses.

So that was very kind of buyer focused. They try to get, get really good price breaks so that people could buy businesses at a, at a cheaper price. So I'm curious if you consider fulfill to be more 3PL focused or brand focused. 

Joe Spisak: Yeah, that's a really great question. And so I would answer that we're focused on the brands and helping them find the best possible partner, but it works out great for both parties, the brands and the three PLS, because. Ultimately, 3PLs don't want to bring on opportunities that they're not going to be a good fit for. 

So for example, to bring it back to whenever I own my 3PL, you know, when you first start an eCommerce fulfillment center, you try and bring on anybody and everybody to get cashflow going and get some reps under your belt and look to grow your company at like with any means possible.

But ultimately, once you get big enough, you get to the point where it's like, Holy cow, we're spread across so many different verticals, different types of fulfillment. You realize that e commerce fulfillment is drastically different than B2B fulfillment, which is drastically different than retail fulfillment.

And you just start to, it gets really hard to create standard operating procedures and keep your standards of operations as high as you want them to be. You see this happen all the time with venture capital back three PLS that take on tens of millions of dollars and their operations can't keep up with the amount of opportunities that they're bringing on. Like this happens all the time. 

So these three PLS really love working with us because we take down who their ideal customer profile is. And we're walking into their lap opportunities that we know that they have a track record of doing a great job for that fit directly in with their standard operating procedures so that they can do a good job from an operational perspective.

So, long story short, we are really championing the brands, but 3PLs love us because we're bringing them opportunities that they want and that they're actively searching for. 

From Board Games to eCommerce: The Journey of Getting Started

Alex Bond: No, absolutely. That's amazing. You actually got kind of started in eCommerce via a board game. Is that correct? 

Joe Spisak: Yeah, I actually have a couple of copies here. So we started a trivia game called Okay, Boomer. And then right after I graduated college, I started a drinking game called Dicey. So, yeah, we started those. 

Alex Bond: This is a two parter. One. How did you get involved with board games? Did you come up with them? I mean, what was kind of your involvement in that? And then two, my assumptions probably wrong. But is that how you got into fulfillment centers too? Because you started working with them via these board games? 

Joe Spisak: Yeah, no, your assumption is actually spot on. So with the games, you know, I always wanted to become an entrepreneur. I knew that right when I got my first corporate job after I graduated college, that I would do that as kind of an ends to the means and have some money under my belt, but that I was going to look for a good side hustle and see, you know, what I was passionate about and what I could kind of pursue on the side.

And, you know, I graduated college and what was I good at doing at the time? Well, I like to party. I like to drink. I like to play board games. So that's when we came up with Dicey. And, you know, probably took, you know, two, two and a half years to build that product and get the Shopify website set up. And in retrospect, you know, like with the e commerce knowledge I have now, I probably could have spun something like that up.

One to two months, but I was basically teaching myself all of that from the ground up at the time and, you know, started to do pretty well with Dicey. Got on something called the barstool sports, big brain competition, which was basically like kind of like a JV shark tank where we went and presented our company to the barstool folks.

We got some good exposure from that and no, we got to the point where I was like. This is great, but I'm now I'm doing a lot more than just drinking and partying. And what's another great idea. And you know, that's kind of when we started to think about, okay, boomer, our trivia game, as we were playing a trivia game with my family over Christmas time, and I was getting my ass kicked by my grandparents and my parents.

And I was basically classic millennial just complaining, well, Hey, if these had, you know, trivia questions that were actually relevant to Gen Z and millennials, like we would be kicking your guys butts. And I went on Amazon, I looked, I couldn't find any type of generational trivia game. And then, you know, we created okay, boomer.

And probably a quarter of the time that, that we did dicey brought that to market. Yeah, we ended up doing, you know, probably a little over 6 million in sales over the course of, you know, X amount of years during that time, you know, we went through three different 3PLs over the course of a year and a half, we're shipping thousands of orders per month.

And it was just breaking our business that we, you know, we're doing great from a marketing perspective and really felt like we cracked the code there. The logistics side of the house. I'm like, what is going on here? Like from a pricing standpoint, from a communication standpoint, from a shipping SLA standpoint, everything was broken with the people that we are working with.

So really by necessity, we had to bring it in house right during the COVID time period, and that's when I started ship daddy, started my own e commerce fulfillment center, literally out of my parents garage. Graduated to a thousand square foot building, then a 6,000 square foot building, then purchased 140,000 square foot building, filled that up, sold the company, started fulfill.com. 

Alex Bond: That's amazing. So you literally were just like holding items for people and then shipping them off for them from your own garage. And then eventually got enough money to turn it into an entire, you know, fulfill.com to where now you don't even have to hold any of it. You just put people, connect people to others who deal.

Joe Spisak: Yeah, that's pretty much exactly right. You know, whenever we brought it in house and started shipping for ourselves, I was like, man, we could very easily do this for other people. And, you know, from folks that I met while building the board game companies, you know, we met a lot of great folks on the Barstool sports competition.

We brought on kind of like five customers right away from people we met there. And that we're having very similar problems and said, Hey, we'll do it for you at a better price and you can work directly with us and we can see if we can help you in other areas of eCommerce as well. And, you know, they loved it.

And we kind of use that as an opportunity to get some cashflow under our belt. Really teach ourselves how to optimize our own logistics operation. And we turn that into, you know, a full fledged, really great, flexible fulfillment op operation is what I like to call it. 

Fulfill vs. Competitors: What Sets Us Apart in the Business Model Landscape

Alex Bond: Well, speaking of brands, I'm curious if there are other brands like fulfill that have similar business models. And if so, what separates fulfill from its competition?

Joe Spisak: Yeah, really good question. We get this asked a lot and there's really not. So there are other. There's competition, of course, but they don't take this tech focus like us and network holistically. So the competition is in the form of more like old school brokers that you see a lot of this in the past where, you know, you'll have a bigger company that wants to run what I call like. An enterprise grade RFP, and they will come to a consultant or a broker. 

They'll ask that broker to basically do a comparative analysis and help them find the best 3PL partner. Well, these brokers don't have this technology network and are able to look at pricing and services and communication levels and the 100 other plus variables across 2500 locations. It basically have, you know, 10, 30, 50 3PLs that they've worked with loosely in the past, and they think a couple of them could be a good fit. 

So they go to them, get the pricing for them, put it in a spreadsheet, bring it back and do this over the course of a couple months, present it to the executive team of this bigger brand and say, Hey, we think that you guys should use these guys and maybe you should use them for freight and you should use these guys for import and export.

And here's going to be the total of what it costs. We can do all of that, except we can do it with actual quantitative data from a much, much, much larger sample size faster. Yeah. And yeah. And our thing is we'll do it in seven days. Within seven days, we'll find you a better, faster, cheaper 3PL for free.

Yeah. We look at it like, yeah, there's people that are trying to do this out there, but from a competitive standpoint, it's like, we feel like we're kind of crushing it right now. 

Alex Bond: So you guys have only been around for a couple of years. Is that SaaS tech side linking the 3PL directly to the brand? Is that what the future of Fulfill looks like? I mean, what do you expect, I don't know, five years down the road for you guys?

Joe Spisak: Yeah, great question. And so I told you we're closing our round right now. We'll probably have more money within the next two to three weeks. And I'd say 80 percent of that is going directly back into product, hiring more software engineers, really just picking up our tech.

To continue stomping down that road of what we described earlier to make, you know, this a more seamless process for the 3PLs to accept, deny, recycle leads, manage opportunities, grow, and then for brands to be able to just get their data over to us and have the best 3PLs in front of them, you know, as soon as possible. Lots of great options. Full transparency, et cetera.

So yeah, that's kind of the foreseeable future for us that we'll be working on over the course of the next year to 18 months is kind of how I see it. We have a longer term vision as well, but I think I've just been so laser focused on that. I think we could go in so many different ways in the future. It's just we know this is what we're doing next. So everything else is kind of off to the wayside for now. 

Alex Bond
Alex Bond

Meet Alex Bond—a seasoned multimedia producer with experience in television, music, podcasts, music videos, and advertising. Alex is a creative problem solver with a track record of overseeing high-quality media productions. He's a co-founder of the music production company Too Indecent, and he also hosted the podcast "Get in the Herd," which was voted "Best Local Podcast of 2020" by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia, USA.

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