Marc Kuo – Founder and CEO of Routific

If you don’t know something, admit it.

As Founder and CEO of Routific, Marc is an expert on advanced route optimization algorithms and brings more than a decade of experience in the field of logistics. Previously, Marc was a founding team member at Axiom Zen, an algorithmic trader for UBS Bank in Hong Kong, and a consultant at Cap Gemini in the Netherlands. He graduated cum laude with a master’s degree in operations research from Erasmus University, where he majored in computer science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

Where did the idea for company come from?

I wrote my thesis on complex vehicle routing and scheduling problems. After graduation, I worked as a logistics consultant in the Netherlands and then as an algorithmic trader in Hong Kong. I started Routific because I saw so much waste in the supply chain, and I recognized that I could do something to help reduce inefficiencies on a grand scale. I recognized the need for a modern cloud-based routing solution that’s functional, easy to use and affordable.

So many businesses around the world are still manually planning their routes – wasting precious time, money and fuel. Logistics consultants sell legacy software for hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop and FedEX and UPS have their own proprietary solutions – solutions the rest of the market doesn’t have access to.

I am determined to change all that with Routific. We aim to help all businesses run more efficiently than the UPS’s and Fedexes of the world.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m married to my co-founder, so we start our day together with a healthy breakfast and brisk, 20-minute walk to the office along Vancouver’s beautiful seawall. I catch up on emails and important overnight inquiries before syncing up with the team at our 10 a.m. daily standup. Every day is different. Some days I’m on the phone with customers, partners and prospects. Some days I find myself in a lot of internal meetings. While we try to minimize team meetings, they’re necessary to make important decisions, but we do make sure to define the objective of each get-together before we begin so we’re not wasting anyone’s time. As CEO, I don’t get to code as often as I’d like, but I still get to work on improving the core routing algorithm from time-to-time. I’m most productive when I’ve set aside blocks of uninterrupted time to complete high priority tasks. I also make sure to try and take at least a 30-minute lunch break. Stepping away for a little bit is crucial to keeping a sharp mind for the rest of the day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Honestly, we Just Do It. Entrepreneurs have an innate bias toward action. We will, of course, have a constructive conversation with relevant team members first. We’ll identify the objective, weigh the cost and benefits, and move ahead pretty quickly if it all makes sense. If we have enough data, the answer is clear. If we don’t, we’ll construct an experiment to get that data or at least enough answers to either debunk or confirm our hypothesis. We are constantly running experiments to bring ideas to life. That’s what really excites me and the team, and it’s what we love about working in a lean startup.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

We see a very different future with the introduction of autonomous cars. By replacing human drivers with smart algorithms, we anticipate a huge reduction in road accidents, a greater efficiency in traffic flow, less congestion and fewer carbon emissions.

I’m especially excited about the advent of autonomous fleets in the last-mile logistics space. It will make the most expensive chunk of the supply chain 10x more efficient – partly due to the fact that machines will listen better to the instructions of routing algorithms. Routific is excited to get involved with this new wave of technology.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Sleep well and stay well-rested. Once in awhile, you might need to pull a late-nighter. But if you do it too often, it will lead to an unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyle. If you are well-rested, you can think more clearly and be more productive.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Being an equity trader at an investment bank may look and sound prestigious and glamorous, but sometimes appearances are very different from reality. In my experience, banks can have a very stifling culture where creativity and new ideas to improve existing processes are blocked by layers of bureaucracy and internal politics. If you’re skipping your lunch break or staying in the office until late in the evening just to impress your superiors, something is seriously wrong with your idea of workplace productivity and culture.

When I started Routific, I vowed to do everything within my power to avoid having that kind of culture. We’re building a company where people are constantly encouraged to be creative and to come up with new ideas; a place where they can always be honest, happy and productive.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I quit my job and founded Routific two weeks before my wedding. It put my wife (and now co-founder) under a lot of stress, and it wasn’t easy to explain my actions to my in-laws. If I were to do it all over again, I probably would wait until after the wedding to do it.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Stay intellectually honest and transparent. Intellectual honesty is something we learned at Techstars, and it’s simply about being honest with yourself and your team. If you don’t know something, admit it. Don’t fake your way through it. Transparency is about keeping the entire team in the know about the most important things in your business, especially when things aren’t going as well. You rely on your team to grow the company – they ought to know what’s going on.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Ship quickly and often, then listen to your customers. We are only three years in, but probably on version 7 or 8 of our software. Each version is better than the one before, because we made sure to gather a lot of customer feedback after each release. It’s important to maintain your own vision for the product, but do allow your customers to have influence. They can help you prioritize the right features and improvements, and keep you in touch with market needs.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest mistake in the early days was probably wasting months of my time chasing after large companies, when the product wasn’t ready for it. It’s very tempting to try to land a big customer, but you have to be honest with yourself and maintain realistic expectations.

An entrepreneur’s optimism is truly a gift, but you have to remember when it is prudent to keep that optimism in check.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Selling to small businesses is hard. If there was software that could make it easier for B2B SaaS companies to connect with SMBs, it would be immensely valuable to us, and to many other B2B SaaS companies out there!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently purchased two new board games! As much as I love my computer and personal electronics, it’s important to have moments where I can disconnect from all things digital.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

We use ZenHub to manage all our projects and keep every single team member looped in. Since we’re a software startup, all our engineers live in their code on GitHub. ZenHub is a Chrome-extension that overlays some very useful project management goodies on top of GitHub. This allows us to have the entire team – from marketing to sales to engineering – all on the same page and operating on one platform.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián. This book is truly a timeless masterpiece, with maxims applicable to both business and life (because you shouldn’t treat the two differently).

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Paul Graham’s essays – he actually inspired me to quit my banking job and learn how to code in Common Lisp!