Jake Rheude first learned the value of hard work and hustle as a young teenager, when he used to mow his neighbor’s lawns for pocket money (this also cemented his love for Dave Matthews Band, since he used to listen to them while working in the yard). Jake is VP of Marketing at Red Stag Fulfillment, where he’s been since 2015, helping grow the company and build its online reputation from a scrappy startup to an established juggernaut in the highly competitive ecommerce fulfillment industry. When he’s not leading his marketing team to SEO victory, he’s either skiing somewhere in Colorado or hanging out with his beloved black lab at home. And probably listening to DMB.
Where did the idea for Red Stag Fulfillment come from?
The whole reason Red Stag came into existence might sound all too familiar: Shitty third party vendors not living up to expectations.
Two successful entrepreneurs built an ecommerce business that grew too fast. It’s the best problem to have in business, but it can end in disaster if it’s not handled well. As demand grew, they outsourced their product fulfillment so they could focus on marketing and growing the company. Their 3PL partner nearly killed the business, though. Shipments were sitting on the loading dock for weeks after they arrived at the fulfillment warehouse. Hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of inventory was lost or stolen. The late deliveries–and angry customers–rolled in like waves of a tsunami. In the end, it made more sense to start their own fulfillment center and run it the way they preferred.
That’s how Red Stag came to be. We’ve been growing ever since. Our focus is on heavy, oversized, and high value product fulfillment. We have one of the most aggressive same-day and next-day cutoffs in the industry. And we’re lucky enough to help hundreds of ecommerce businesses grow and succeed, even (and especially) during COVID-19.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m usually in meetings for a few hours every day. I’ll share strategy and reports with fellow C-level members of our team, discuss various projects with contractors and agencies we employ to do everything from write our company blog to outreach with media such as IdeaMensch. I spend time doing a bit of quality control on any new content that we’re about to put out and usually skim a blog post as it’s getting ready for publication. Other things that occupy my day including reaching out to potential partners (if anyone from Shopify Plus is reading this, please answer my emails) and discussing everything from full-blown affiliate/referral partnerships to link building to PR opportunities like this one.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas come to fruition at Red Stag in a number of different ways. They vary from the conventional–blue sky brainstorms with C-level partners or some of our more creative freelance consultants–to the unconventional. I’m a big fan of John Oliver, and I’m not ashamed to say that some of the marketing content we created and some of the better articles I’ve written came from being inspired by his show.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m writing this in May 2020, so who knows what the future could look like. But from what we’ve seen two full months into the COVID-19 pandemic in the USA, ecommerce has been a game-changer. For consumers who need to buy both essential and non-essential items as much as for mom and pop retail stores that have found a lifeline to keep afloat while quarantine and lockdown have shut off traffic. I want life to go back to normal as much as anyone else and can’t wait to return to the Columbia River Gorge for another DMB concert series. But in the meantime, it’s reassuring to see so much adaptation and creativity amidst the pronouncements of doom and gloom.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Asking–and listening–to questions. I think having a dialogue about a product you’re about to launch, a project you’re organizing, or a presentation your boss just gave is important because it can uncover potential weaknesses or highlight areas to exploit. Whenever I’m in a meeting I make a point of asking questions if I’m not clear on something. And if I’m the one doing the presenting, I like to ask my audience if what I’m saying makes sense. Miscommunication can lead to assumptions and bad decision making are both completely avoidable if someone is willing to ask for clarification. It’s not just about damage control, either: The more you ask and receive questions from people on my team, the more trust and rapport we have with each other. That’s made the quality of our work better and allowed for a lot of autonomy on our team, because people understand what their roles are, what they can do on their own, and when it’s better to check with me first before doing something.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Listen to people who have more experience than you at something you’re trying to succeed at. Luckily, I did. I am fortunate to work for and with some of the most innovative and far-sighted people in my field.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
There’s a ton of hype around AI and robotics taking people’s jobs. Overall, there is truth to the concern that a lot of workers will find themselves replaced with software or robotics. At Red Stag Fulfillment, we are well aware of Amazon’s robot fleet, Shopify’s acquisition of 6 River Systems, Walmart’s pilot warehouse project using drones to conduct inventory, etc. Robots work to a degree in warehouses, but there’s certain limitations that come into play if you’re dealing with larger, more sophisticated products. It turns out humans equipped with smartphones and proprietary warehouse operation software (in other words, using what’s known as augmented intelligence) can do a damn good job at a fraction of the cost of a full-scale integrated robotics system.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Make connections! My goal, every day, is to have at least one conversation/message/email with someone new. Whether that’s a key decision maker for our partnership/affiliate efforts, a journalist or editor for an article on a different website, or someone in my industry who just shared a thought-provoking post on LinkedIn, reaching out to new people is something that all of us should be doing each and every day.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Well, this isn’t exactly giving away the formula to Coca Cola, but the backbone of our success in increasing Red Stag’s profile has been through thought leadership and backlink outreach. It’s taken years of work–of building new relationships and maintaining old ones–but we’ve put together an extensive network of websites and media outlets where I share what I and my team know. Everything from ecommerce selling to content marketing to supply chains, and many other topics that overlap or intersect with what our audience wants to know.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
As part of my MBA program at the University of Tennessee, I founded and led a food-based startup called SummerSett Foods, LLC. It did pretty well for a while, actually! I raised $63,000 through private investments and entrepreneurial competitions, and used that capital to create, market, and sell a buffalo chicken dip that was inspired by a revelation I had while tailgating at the University of Tennessee, my beloved alma mater. We had the product in stores, and it was selling, just not fast enough. I gained a ton of first-hand experience of product procurement, vendor partnerships, and other supply-chain related knowledge that continues to serve me well today. Failure offers so many teachable moments.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This is not a secret: Last-mile shipping and fulfillment is by far the most complicated, most expensive facet of moving goods from Point A to Point B. It will probably always be that way. If you can figure out a way to shave off 1% of the time, cost, or resources currently devoted to last-mile shipping, you will become very, very wealthy.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I have the world’s best–and most spoiled–black labrador retriever. Her name is Reagan and I treat her like an absolute queen. I probably spend that much on nice dog food and treats every couple months 🙂
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
At any one time, we have a few dozen guest articles and outreach projects happening simultaneously. For a while, we used a simple spreadsheet to track progress, but we quickly outgrew that. It’s been a few years that we adopted Breeze as our central project managing tool, and it’s been a game changer. It helps you visualize all the different tasks you have in a nifty drag and drop board. We would be absolutely lost without a project managing tool like this. For any team–whether it’s marketing, product management, etc–being able to see who’s working on what and how far along they are is invaluable. It keeps the staggering amount of labor we do from driving us insane!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Marcus Sheridan’s They Ask, You Answer. You will probably never succeed if you don’t know how to find customers — and more importantly, listen to them. So much of doing business these days comes down to how open you are to hearing what your customers are talking about (in a product review, on social media, in the comments section of a blog post) and taking their feedback seriously. It’s shocking to me how few businesses listen to the people who buy their product or services.
What is your favorite quote?
“If not now, when?” — Rabbi Hillel
- Listening and asking questions is a simple yet oftentimes overlooked habit for many successful entrepreneurs
- The idea for Red Stag Fulfillment — and many other successful businesses — came from disgruntled customers who realized they could do better than their vendors.
- COVID-19 is proving to be a major test of ecommerce and its ability to reach people when retail cannot. I’m excited and proud to be part of a company that is part of the solution to our current problem
- Thought leadership and guest blogging is where the marketing legwork should happen. Giving authentic, useful advice to your target demographic is worth the effort.