Jack Williams is the CEO and co-founder of Selazar, a Belfast-based ecommerce fulfilment company.
Founded in 2016, Selazar’s cloud-based supply chain software connects retailers, manufacturers, fulfilment companies and couriers.
It raised £20m in November 2021 – the largest ever tech investment in a Northern Ireland company – to fund its UK, European and North American expansion.
In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Williams recalls a “costly” ecommerce mistake, explains how Selazar is embracing sustainability and how why he thinks augmented reality is an “underutilised” technology.
1. What are the best and worst parts of your job?
Jack Williams: Some of the best parts of my job include working with talented people on a variety of interesting projects and delivering new impactful services to the market. It’s nice to be involved in that process and be able to work with creative people, seeing projects go from concept through to delivery. We built Selazar from the ground up and there is a perennial pride in building out the product, working with new people, and delivering for our customers.
The sometimes less enjoyable, but still very important aspects of my role, include ensuring the smooth running of the business when issues inevitably arise – as is normal in any organisation. Keeping everything on an even keel becomes a more challenging task as the company expands.
Parachuting in to address specific issues can spread you thin and takes you away from the more exciting parts of being a CEO, such as developing and delivering on strategic vision and bringing new products to the market.
2. Tell us about a time you screwed up?
JW: In a previous venture, I set up a fully automated ecommerce shopping platform focused on computers and electronics, with over 105,000 stock keeping units (SKUs). Coming up to Christmas one year, we were trying to increase sales and I made a data entry mistake which led to us selling MacBook Pros at the price of iPads. It was a fully automated system and one wrong bit of SKU data meant that it automatically pushed the wrong products on Amazon and eBay, resulting in £400 MacBook Pros hitting the market.
The error was detected within a couple of days, but not before around 200 laptops had been delivered – a costly mistake! I did learn from it though and it taught me two important lessons – when you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t play with the system, but equally failure is okay, as long as you learn from it.
At Selazar, we embrace the idea that failure is okay. No one gets everything right the first time. It’s good to talk about failure so you can avoid repeating mistakes. We want people to strive for new ways of doing things and not all ideas will be right at the outset. While your assumptions may be incorrect, you figure out your mistakes along the way and go back to the drawing board to get things right.
3. Has sustainability changed any of your business processes?
JW: One of the first things we did as a business was address sustainability in delivery packaging. Our proprietary technology and algorithms allow the selection of packaging that reflects the dimensions of the actual products, as well as packaging preferences, which eliminate the familiar issue of goods being packed in oversized boxes.
Our system can manage multiple orders for one customer or multiple orders for multiple customers at once, always ensuring the greatest level of packing and cost efficiency, with sustainability in both packaging and delivery in mind. Recently, we introduced a range of plastic-free packaging alternatives that is proving popular with customers.
We’ve also launched a sustainable returns service called Return Robin that streamlines the return logistics process, cutting-down carbon emissions. Additionally, we offer carbon-neutral delivery options and we’ll shortly be announcing new sustainable delivery initiatives.
4. Which nascent technology holds the most promise?
JW: Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that I believe is underutilised. There are so many potential uses for AR we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. It’s something that Selazar will be looking at, to see how we can bring new products to the market using it.
One of the interesting applications for AR that I’ve seen recently is in health and safety, where for high-risk jobs AR glasses can be used to identify risks and mistakes before the user even notices. It has many interesting applications in our sector, logistics, from warehouse operations to deliveries and even the ability to see road conditions. It also provides live data on inefficiencies so you can act on those.
5. What’s the most misunderstood technology?
JW: In my view, it’s probably artificial intelligence (AI) due to its immense scope and almost limitless number of applications. And of course, there’s some suspicion and even a level of fear associated with AI for many people.
I think it’s important to demystify AI and consider its current and potential uses in each industry. In our sector, eCommerce, we’re already starting to see advancements in AI and robotics which are making the supply chain smoother. This is very timely, with the sheer volume of global trade causing supply chains to buckle at the knees in certain areas.
Moving forward, I believe we’ll see all parts of the supply chain connected and integrated, with a lot of intelligence, AI and advanced robotics providing consistent performance and reducing points of failure.
Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative startups, scaleups, unicorns and public tech companies – is published every Friday.