We entrepreneurial Mac users of a certain vintage can give ourselves the shivers just thinking back to the long dark era when finding business software on the platform was a slog. One bright point in this dismal landscape was always Endicia, the Mac shipping and postage software. Endicia was both practical godsend and morale booster, something we die-hards could brag to ourselves about and cheer on the success of as the platform and the company grew year over year, never neglecting its Macintosh fan base along the way.
As the years passed and Apple became more mainstream, Endicia also went mainstream, briefly becoming a division of Newell Rubbermaid (2007 to 2015) before ultimately being acquired by Stamps.com in November 2015. But even today Endicia has stayed true to its its Mac users, remaining the only major shipping and postage platform with a true native Macintosh application, offering a robust suite of mailing, shipping, and order management eCommerce software solutions.
All of which made me happy to check in with Amine Khechfe, the Endicia co-founder who now serves as the chief strategy officer of the combined $4+ billion entity [NASDAQ: STMP]. I was interested to ask Khechfe (pronounced: a-MEEN kech-FEE) to share any and all “aha” moments that have allowed his company to grow, as well as any principles he’s developed along the way that have allowed his enterprise to grow and evolve.
Talking with Khechfe was a bit of an entrepreneurial leadership lesson in itself. He appears always interested and never in a rush; the time I spent with him felt like an antidote to the default position too many of us assume in our business lives, where we relegate our native curiosity to the background.
The aha’s that built a brand
Literally speaking, the first aha that built the brand that would become Endicia was a sentence in a general-press article that caught Khechfe’s eye: the perpetually cash-strapped Post Office believed it could save a whopping $60 million in handling expense for each 1% of the mail that it received already barcoded. The founders of Endicia jumped on the opportunity, proposing to USPS a software solution to validating addresses and printing barcoded mailpieces (and eventually parcels).
MORE FOR YOU
Jumping on opportunities like this as soon they were recognized, in fact, provide time and again to be enough in itself to build a profitable, growing, self-funded business. “We didn’t have outside funding; we didn’t have a research arm; we had zero marketing, but what we did have was this curiosity, this problem-solving attitude that went well beyond the academic. When we got interested in something, we pursued it–often with the kind of results that meant another leap forward and upward for our company.” Such as:
• Patenting Zip Code lookup (the aha here came at the gas pump, believe it or not, waiting for the terminal to dial up a service bureau somewhere—remember that modem sound?–to get the need authorization code for the credit card).
• Creating the first soft font for barcode printing (there wasn’t, in spite of their expectation, an HP font at the time).
• Prototyping PC Postage for USPS and patenting hardware-based electronic postage
• Patenting the electronic postage that you see (and likely use) today.
• Recognizing the nascent eBay revolution and going whole-hog into supporting small- and solo-business shippers via eBay (and later, Shopify, Wix, et. al.)
Three of Khechfe’s top secrets for sustained entrepreneurial success
1. Solve a real problem. When our technology was approved for mainstream use by the US Postal Service, most of our competitors focused on printing stamps for small businesses. We had targeted that as well, but by 2000 there were other convenient ways to get stamps, so it was becoming merely a “nice-to-have.” So we took a long look at why merchants were still going into the Post Office for service: parcels along with tracking, online parcel insurance and those complex international customs forms. We solved for those in our first eight months, creating a “must-have” solution. At that point, our customers’ word-of-mouth propelled us forward and became our marketing arm, driving eight years of 50% growth!”
2. Take your business seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously. It’s much better to retain a sense of play. “I love business, and I love our business. But that doesn’t mean I have a self-image as Amine, the Business Builder to the Stars, or anything like that. What I do for our business is important because it feeds our employees and gives us something to work on every day. But our success doesn’t prove we’re blessed by the heavens, and our failures don’t mean we’re bad people. It’s important to keep perspective.”
3. Keep in touch with your customers and listen to everyone, especially your employees and your customers. Even on family vacations to his wife’s ancestral Wisconsin, Khechfe would bring Endicia swag and visit some half-dozen loyal customers every trip. “I’d show up with balloons or what-not to thank them for being customers and also use the opportunity to find out if there was anything more Endicia could do for them.”