Episode 200 Featuring Alex Bond

Tracking Shipments: Logistics and Solutions with Irina Poddubnaia

Tracking Shipments: Logistics and Solutions with Irina Poddubnaia

Irina Poddubnaia is the Founder of TrackMage, an eCommerce software tool that makes tracking shipments easier for both companies and clients. On this episode we talk about supply chain management, customer experience, her multifaceted resume, and much more.


What is TrackMage

Irina Poddubnaia: TrackMage is this service that helps bridge the gap of communication with a customer after the purchase ha has been made. So in a nutshell, what it is remember how when you order something on Amazon, you get the information about like where the order is coming to you when you are receiving this order, you get prompted to leave a review. 

So basically we take all this fancy and functionality and make it available on other platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, ClickFunnels, and other tools that just don't have a functionality. That's what TrackMage is. So what it helps with is getting additional sales from existing customers and getting better customer retention, more brand exposure, and all the other positive influences on operations. 

Because when you have a very solid visibility of all the shipments, all the orders, and you have analytics, you can make better decisions and troubleshoot your processes. And all the other interesting things that you can do with it all. 

Alex Bond: So it's kinda like a one stop shop. So can you explain to me how you boost sales with this product? 

Irina Poddubnaia: Yes. So what we noticed is that the customer experience sometimes gets interrupted. That's what I was talking about prior to this conversation. All this communication gap that happens. 

So if the customer orders something, we get an order confirmation email and that's it. And for the next who knows how many day because depends on the supply chain robustness, it could be from one day to two weeks or three weeks or even two months for the customer to wait for their order to get there.

If there is no communication in between, the customers get anxious. We start right into customer support and ask the question like, where is my order? What is commonly known in the industry? Like where is my order request? And then there are other things that happen with customers even just go into PayPal or whichever credit card provider we have and just filing a chargeback or a refund because we are not sure that the order is getting there.

So what we noticed is that this is a great opportunity for the brand to still continue communicating to the. So first of all when the customer sees those emails about their order, they don't treat them as marketing. They open them in 60% of cases and they see them as transactional. And while they open those emails, they actually read the content and they are not expecting to be sold anything.

But that's what all the other platforms do. For example, on Amazon, when you come back to check the status of your order, you still see additional products you could buy. The problem for the commerce brand is that the products that are shown are not their own, they are just random stuff. But Amazon is currently thinking this customer is going to buy.

When you have your own store and you have your own tracking page, you can show your own product. And this way you get additional five to 10% to convert even before we receive very first package. And that's exactly what the offer is because this is the minimum that you can get with the post-purchase experience.

Depending on the robustness of your offers or if you have some specific promotions that you can put where the conversion could go up to 15% or even 20 where the customers are going. Prompted to buy something that is just now on sale for this specific price, or it's a hot product that they already bought, or they want to purchase an additional copy for their friends or their family as gifts.

So it just depends on the marketing side of first that you are presenting. But still even if you present just your regular products, your main list of products, you will get up to like five to 10% extra sales without actually re-marketing to those customers. 

So you don't have to pay for ads to get them back to the store. You don't have to send them marketing emails. You just invite, invite them to check the status of their order, which we were going to in any case. And that's when you get them. That's when you get those extra sales. 

Alex Bond: Well, and it sounds like too, because you're keeping the customer who's engaging with the website in communication consistently throughout the process, the retention is then coming in as well because they're getting an email, you know, once or twice every other day or so, updating them on how the order is progressing in the tracking, that they're actually returning to the website more often as well.

Irina Poddubnaia: The thing is most of the businesses that I've seen at least most of the businesses, will become our customers. They usually just send to the customer, they tracking number and the tracking number goes to the page provided by UPS, FedEx, DHL, or whichever carrier they used. 

So the problem with that is that all this traffic, those additional visits that the customer pays, and we go to UPS and we go to FedEx, and sometimes it gets even. Like in my case, when I shop around when I get this tracking number and I check it, I don't even remember which store it came from because there is no information about like, okay, this package, what does it contain? Which brand is it coming from? 

And since there is no branded experience and there is no connection, the customers, we cannot even ask questions. What if a package gets stuck in customs and they need information about the content of a package or an invoice or commercial? We don't have any means to remember like which package or which company to go to for that information, and that's why it's better to provide the handholding after the purchase.

If you provide good customer service, you increase the probability of that customer buying from you again, because we had a great experience. So that's all about like customer experience overall. Not treating every customer as a one off transaction, but always focusing on the lifetime value of that customer.

Focusing on customer experience

Alex Bond: And I love the focus on customer experience, and that's something that I think translates really well on your website, you know, with this emphasis on customer experience and making trackage as user-friendly as possible for your clients. Is that something that required a lot of research? How did you go about that?

Irina Poddubnaia: You mean how did we discover what needs to be done? 

Alex Bond: Yeah, in terms of the customer experience, because I think it is pretty complicated to find all those problems without putting it up a little bit. So did you have to kind of trial and error or were you able to research some of these obstacles before you found them in like a beta, right?

Irina Poddubnaia: So that's the backstory of a business. So basically before we started TrackMage, we used to run an e-commerce fulfillment center in China for two and a half years. And we used to package for goods, send them to the customers, do all the customer support ourselves. And that's how we discovered all those pitfalls and problems that arise during this process of shipping.

And the post-purchase or fulfillment part. And that's how we knew already, like TrackMage, maybe like 10% of what we actually wanted to build in the first place. Because I understand that there is. More we can offer to the customers, and we are still working on it. And right now we are rolling out the version 3.0.

So this is referred iteration of everything that needs to happen. And we have more robust fulfillment functionality and more robust post-purchase experience. Like we change with design all the time just to cater to the needs of a customer. And obviously we always get customer support requests that are asking for additional features and we are trying to implement as many as we can.

Alex Bond: I'm sorry. I was gonna ask you, you know, if that's how you came up with the idea for the company is by working with this fulfillment center and saying, Hey, I think this could be a better way. 

Irina Poddubnaia: We were a fulfillment center. Don't misunderstand. I used to live in China, like and I still don't speak Chinese, but it was what we did, it was built in the trenches basically when we were working in this fulfillment business. And we were dealing with all those case by case customer issues. We always tried to implement the functionality.

And after we business went bust after we ended that company, we were left with a system. And that system became the basis of TrackMage that later we were able to offer to other businesses all over the world. Right now we're focusing mainly on implementing some integrations and making it a seamless experience for the customers to just like one click install and not think about everything else.

Because with e-commerce systems, sometimes the hurdle is to set it up correctly. And not all the e-commerce entrepreneurs, they have tech savvy background or they have some developers on call. We're trying to make it as technically. Like as technically easy as possible. 

Alex Bond: Exactly. And I'm not the most tech savvy guy on the planet, but easier the better, I'll tell you that much. So yeah. You know what's really impressive is, you know, when I was cruising on the website and looking all at these carriers that you work with, there's over a thousand of them.

And I think the catalog of carriers that you work is extremely impressive. So how did you go about building relationships with them? I mean, how does that system kind of work out? 

Irina Poddubnaia: Well, I would say that it's not as complicated as it sounds, at least from the development standpoint. Most of the carriers, they have a public APIs and they already provide all this information for the party websites to get with all it takes is just implementing the integration with their API and get the information.

I guess the challenge was to unify all those formats because every carrier we have our own statuses and we have to map them to our statuses because in TrackMage you have a handful of statuses that are universal for all carriers, but on the backend it literally translates like, okay, this status says out for what does it translate to in TrackMage? 

So, okay. It is like delivering progress. Okay, great. So that's how we were able to implement integrations with multiple carriers, but still, again, the maintenance is a pain in the neck because certain carriers sometimes we change their API or we change their accesses and like, yeah, that's why the IT guy they handle that. That's what I can say. 

Their marketing and pricing strategies

Alex Bond: I noticed when I was looking at the pricing is that the membership price, in my opinion, really low and affordable is a better way to say that to your clients. 

Is shipment tracking like a com competitive space and is that priced by design to be a competitive price? And then my follow-up question is, if that is your only revenue stream, is that membership fee that you bring in? 

Irina Poddubnaia: Yeah. Well the thing is when the e-commerce business is starting and when we don't have enough orders to even pay their bills. We just wanted to make it as accessible as possible for e-commerce businesses to integrate TrakMage, because TrackMage only starts making sense when you have hundreds and thousands of orders.

And that's when you get the return on investment. But in the meantime, you get a lot of operational efficiency tweaks. If you integrate TrackMage you can be able to troubleshoot your process before the problem becomes, before the problem is brought to you by your customer. So you can, for example see when the shipments are being late and you can contact the carrier before the customer contacts you.

And whenever the customer contacts you, you will already be able to tell that. Like, okay, okay, we already are solving this problem. And Vicari said that there was a tornado in the airport and that's why they couldn't deliver the package. So you could be on top of a situation and that creates a better customer experience.

And again if you are a drop shipping business, and certainly a lot of p people they start their businesses without any budget for I. And that's what I would recommend for anyone who's starting before you get steady sales. Don't buy inventory. Don't buy those 10,000 units that the manufacturer is trying to sell to you, because otherwise you'll be stuck with those 10,000 units in your garage.

And that's it. that's the end of your business. It's not the beginning for drop shapers. It's very important to monitor if the package was actually shipped by your supplier. Because what tends to happen with businesses that work with Ali Express or other platforms where you buy the product, so you buy the product on Ali Express, the product gets shipped, you get provided a tracking number, but then the tracking number is not tracking.

Like, you don't get any updates about the shipment status during that time, and that's a problem because maybe you were provided a wrong tracking number. Maybe the package was not even shipped, or maybe your supplier is just trying to scam you. sometimes they just don't send anything. They just provide a fake tracking number and that's it.

And that's why on Aliexpress you have to file a refund. But when to file a refund, is it in two weeks when the customers start knocking at your door and they file a refund with your company? Probably not. It's better to monitor the shipments and see when they were shipped, just reach out to the supplier and even buy from a different supplier in parallel.

This way you can just bridge vets and really solve the problem before it even. So this way you will always have a choice to troubleshoot and make sure that you follow up before it becomes a problem on your side because it's their problem if you take action. And it's your problem when the customer takes action on you.

Alex Bond: You know, one of those ways that you do that on your website is by checking everything. You know, I noticed if someone say misspells an email or something, your website lets you automatically autocorrect that or edit it and it really pays attention to kind of the minutia in those details. 

Irina Poddubnaia: Oh. But web functionality actually came from the customer. So we have this celebrity customer from YouTube influencer with 3 million followers and they are creating an animated cartoon series about metal. So like, it's literally like a family of Metalheads and the cartoon that was created by just two animators without any studio, without any funding, without anything.

So it's just like the Bootstrap project. What they were facing is that where customer base is literally, childish, like the average age of the viewer is probably not over 18 years old and they were dealing with a lot of misspelled emails based on their claims because we couldn't get any information outside of their home.

Every referred email was misspelled. So every referred email from 10,000, that's a lot. That's a lot. And those customers, they already paid. They were charged, but they didn't receive even the order confirmation email. So we were not at peace after that. 

And they were trying to reach out to metal family through email, from social media, through comments on YouTube and like it just turned into this craziness where one customer could send five questions on different social medias and they had to deal with like 15,000 emails. 

Alex Bond: Because they're already so popular that they're having to like sift through all of these emails to try to get to one complain.

Irina Poddubnaia: Yes. And that's when we came in because when we posted that video that I'm going to post, like we translated it now now it's going to be posted on our channel, which is great. So the thing is we just localized this problem and we implemented validation script. That can be added to any form on any website.

So it's not only in the e-commerce checkout it could be just some kind of opt-in form or some kind of email filled on the website where you could use the validation script. And it is going to troubleshoot. If that email actually exists because we are ping the email and we see if that email.

Sometimes we know the actual domains of the popular mail services, and that's when we ask like, oh, did you mean not like, did you mean gmail.com? Not something what you have there. And people realize that it's a typo and that's when they have to fix it because the first time we introduced a script, it literally said like, please check your email.

Please provide a valid email. But when the customers were trying to like, just hit enter three or four, When we introduce like, oh, did you check your spelling? Is there a spelling mistake? And that reduced four or five attempts to just two. Like a person sees like, ah, there is a typo. And when they submit a valid and then it's a smooth sale from there.

Future of TrackMage

Alex Bond: Awesome. And you kind of touched on this a a little bit, but you know, what are the future plans? What are your plans for TrackMage in terms of growth and scale and, you know, two to five years down the road? 

Irina Poddubnaia: Well, I hope we're still around by that time.

Alex Bond: I think you will. You got the, you got the can-do attitude. 

Irina Poddubnaia: The first thing that we get asked a lot where a lot of customers that are asking for what feature is their ability to create their own tracking numbers. So there are certain logistics companies that ship for products for their own logistic routes.

And they just don't use any of the commonly known carriers. And that's why we are going to introduce the My Carrier functionality. The person is going to be able to create that carrier and they are going to be able to create their own tracking numbers and provide the tracking updates. 

The downside of that would be that there could be a potential opportunity for the scammers to use Trackage to introduce like faulty information about the packages that were never never shift. 

And that's why we're very cautious about that. And we still haven't figured out how to legally frame it so that the company is responsible for their own information so that trackage doesn't get pulled into the lawsuits or something like that. But again, we get asked a lot to provide that.

And that borderline crosses to mail room automation where the company is just sending documents from one department to another, and that's a, a lot of hassle for the company to manage that. I just don't know like where we are going to end up with it. And the retail side, we're introducing some additional like marketing flare to tracking pages where the tracking patients will have a rich.

So you could introduce gifts, videos, if you want on the page. Then we are going to make sure that with customers when we leave a review the review gets shared on social media. So if it's a positive review, only in that case, we're not going to display with functionality to like, oh, share your review, you of one star for his brand. Like, yeah, we're not gonna do that. 

Scrum Methodology

Alex Bond: You actually have some experience in, you know, you've got a lot of experience. It's an impressive resume. That includes marketing, IT, sales, exporting, and plenty more. And the thing that it kind of jumps out at me is which I'm still learning about, is as a scrum master, can you actually explain to maybe some people in the audience what Scrum is specifically? 

Irina Poddubnaia: Well, scrum is a framework for managing creative processes or unpredictable processes. So if you have for example, customer support, scrum is not a fit. You have to introduce something that is more reliable. 

And that's why e-commerce businesses are so different from any other business because. The part that deals with standard quality, that's the shipping, fulfillment, customer support. And then you have a part with marketing where you have to iterate and you have to discover the needs and you never know what is going to work, what's not going to work.

And so you have unpredictability there. And scrum is good. And it's applicable for marketing departments and also it's very much applicable for IT departments. That's where Scrum currently is becoming the mainstream. Most of the companies are currently embracing Agile and they are introducing Scrum in every part of our company, which is sometimes like biting them. Because scrum is not universally applicable to everything.

It just was like whenever you have unpredictable result where you need to give people the ability to learn and iterate and get creative, that vent scrum is applicable everything else where you have a hard expectation, for example, that customer support request needs to be answered within 24 hours.

That's a hard metric. And again the result is always predictable. You have to answer the customer support request regardless of what is in the customer. So that when Scrum doesn't and isn't applicable. 

Alex Bond: So how is your experience in Scrum, IT, marketing, sales, all this wide experience, has that all kind of like led to TrackMage to to this moment in your company? How has that experience kind of helped you out? 

Irina Poddubnaia: TrackMage, as I run our projects just as well. I run it from the perceptive of a servant leadership. So Scrum is all about servant leadership. It's not about giving people orders and then they just go where and execute. The more you do that, the more of a bottleneck in your own business you're becoming.

I usually just give the teams the ability to fail and iterate, so we have to figure it out. The. And the vet said, I don't get pulled in more meetings than I need to be on. And that's why they they just sort things out without me. And the more independent we become and like the longer we work together, the easier it gets.

And the only thing that I usually do is I set with standards. So I set with standard like the quality needs to be this and not. But if somebody is going to go above that quality, let's also encourage, because like, oh, that's a great idea. We should do it better every time With teams they're just there and they have the ability to create whatever they feel is right.

And then they have the retrospectives where we discuss like, what went well, what didn't go well, we should, we do better. And the teams contribute as well. It's facilitative leadership where I'm not the one telling them what to do. It's them telling me what I need to do, and I'm usually the bottleneck.

Okay, yes, I need to fill in that form. I need to submit that. I need to, I guess sign up to that service. That's what I do for the team. But then again the decision making is collective. 

Alex Bond: That's a cool different approach. I feel like I don't really hear that often. And creating a self-regulating system where you set the standard. I love that. I think that's really unique. 

Management strategies

Alex Bond: Do you actually find that having this wide multifaceted experience is more useful or impactful as opposed to focusing only on say, like one particular skillset set or concentration, you know, sales guy does sales and he's really good at that and that's it. But you're kind of all over the place. Do you find that to be more useful? 

Irina Poddubnaia: I guess we need to compare me to our CEO in this case because again, sales guy, a sales guy is a sales guy, right? So that could be a VP of sales. Even if a CEO has very solid sales experience we are still going to have to learn about our departments and we will have to nurture their own leaders in the company.

So that they are not the only ones pulling the string and trying to conquer the world with everyone else just sitting around and asking like, oh, what should I do, Irina, what should I do?

It's almost like in that one minute manager book about like one manager one minute manager meets the monkey where every employee is going to bring their monkeys to you and then you are just like swamped with all those problems that you have to solve for those employees. And we're just standing around and like, I already asked the question, like, yeah, please work. 

Alex Bond: Yeah, that's a good anecdote. I mean, I think that makes a lot of sense. Again, that kind of goes back to creating a self-regulating system. 

Irina Poddubnaia: If anything my goal in business is to obtain freedom because when you are working in your business like 24 hours and you don't have any, any freedom for your own, that's not the ideal situation. So I'm not into creating lifestyle businesses either very like, oh, this is just like some gig that gives me like extra a hundred bucks every now and then.

So it should be robust, but I don't have to be in the picture for that to be robust. I need to hire and fire of right so that's the company just, it's almost like with Bonsai, like I have to just like trim and nurture the tree so that it grows into this beautiful picture. 

Alex Bond: So you more operate on kind of like a bird's eye view than a day-to-day, hand-to-hand. What's kind of your approach? Cause I know some CEOs are a lot more big picture, talk to like three or four different people and then it kind of falls down the tree, while others are varied day to day? 

Irina Poddubnaia: Our company is not that big yet. So if we had hundreds of people, I wouldn't be able to do that even if I wanted, but we are like 23. So I know everyone personally and I do communicate with them often. Like I don't attend the daily standups. They do that themselves.

I don't get involved in solving particular problems. They do that. I'm just there to resolve any outside blockers or think outside of a box. Even in IT departments, sometimes the engineers, they're just like, okay, we're going to build this machine that's going to do that and this is gonna be taking us free weeks.

I'm saying like, wait, that edge case is not even an edge case. Let's not do it altogether. And that's how I save the company three weeks of pointless working, the decision making and letting people do their best job. So that's what is left basically. 

Alex Bond: Give people the tools to succeed and the ability and freedom to learn from mistakes that they might make. I really respect that. 

Irina Poddubnaia: We've start on thresholds because like if a person doesn't dedicate themselves to the job enough, or if we start making too many mistakes, and if we commit like the same mistake two or three times, that's a red flag. That's when we make a decision. 

Because there's a situation where we had a QA person. QA is a quality assurance engineer who actually tests the system and the QA person was not able to find the bugs. When they hired different QAs afterwards we were able to find 70 plus wow issues in various parts of the system. Some of those issues, very flattened.

Something like, okay, I try to register and then I run into a wall where I can no longer even go back or go forward. And that was a real indication to me that this per person was not coping with what they were tasked with. And this time I had to replace. 

But again it's always this decision that comes from assessing everything that the person does. In a small company, it's very easy to do that in a bigger company. Sometimes very hard to understand if a person is performing or they are just making this impression that they're performing. 

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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