I recently had the honor of meeting with Philip and Melissa Niu – the husband and wife team behind Parachut – a first of its kind subscription service that delivers unlimited access to photography gear. On the website, users can browse an extensive warehouse of creative gear they can keep or exchange at their convenience. Free shipping is an added bonus. This dynamic duo and their team of five employees are enabling other creatives to fulfill their dreams regardless of budget. Microsoft recently recognized Parachut as one of ten businesses accomplishing big goals with fewer than ten employees. In the below Q&A, Philip and Melissa share insight on running a lean business and having a lot of fun along the way.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face today as a business with fewer than 10 employees?
PN: Leading a startup doesn’t just mean that you need to be resilient and work hard. That’s the easy part. You need to be the ultimate problem solver. Every. Single. Day. You also get to wear many hats, which if looked at the right way, can provide you with greater insight, perspective and eventual empathy for those future team members that will replace you in those individual roles. Balance and structure is absolutely a must when many hats are being worn.
MN: Time is often a challenge. We run a very lean company and have eager members that want their gear, and they want it fast. We’re dependent on streamlined processes. If a hiccup gets in the way of our daily deadlines, it takes a great deal of effort to keep the rest of our processes on track.
Q: How does technology help you solve those challenges?
PN: With so many new tools constantly being introduced to the market, tools themselves can become a problem if you’re not careful. Fortunately, the Microsoft tools and others that we use at Parachut are simple to work with and enhance our abilities to get the job done. So, using them to increase efficiencies and solve problems becomes second nature. We use Office 365 and absolutely depend on its collaborative, internal and external syncing and coordination. Collaboration tools are a huge part of what keeps our business moving forward. Because our team is all over the western United States, we depend on the cloud for collaboration and sharing with not only our internal team, but with our partnering manufacturers and retailers.
MN: We don’t have time to wait on technology, that’s all there is to it. We want the most dependable products that support our processes and we want everyone on the team to be able to log in and input their data that completes the process. As a young company, we’ve found that through Microsoft Word and Excel. From member communication, to packing, to swapping out their gear and helping them learn how to use the gear, the right tools are essential to our daily time crunch and making sure the member has the absolute best, white-glove, user experience with Parachut. Excel is also imperative for data delivery to our supporting manufacturers.
Q: What tips do you have for someone just starting a small business?
MN: Make small achievable goals. We all want to change the world but it’s not going to happen overnight.
PN: Start! Quit overthinking already.
Q: If you could travel back in time to when you were first starting your business, what is one thing you would tell yourself?
PN: Based on the experiences and business failures of my dad, I swore to myself that I would never be an entrepreneur. Yep, a safe job was what I was going to do. Well, it only took 10 years of working for other people when I had finally had it. I love the quote from Jim Carrey who pretty much said, “you can fail at something you don’t want to do so you might as well try to succeed at something you want to do.” I’d say to myself, you got this! Everything works out. Get started, have urgency and accept the fact that you are going to make mistakes. Give yourself some credit and have faith. Stay humble, always be open to advice, and be willing to accept that you will most certainly NOT know all the answers.
MN: Do it yourself. A true leader leads from the front. If you haven’t taped up boxes or cleaned the floors, you’re not yet ready to hire someone else to do it for you.
Q: How do you keep a small team motivated and productive?
MN: First, we make sure to constantly show our gratitude for the job they are doing. We want them to feel that the expertise and their talents are absolutely valued. And the best part about each of our team members is that they thrive on innovation and new ideas. As we begin our meetings and planning sessions, we celebrate the successes, both big and small. They all truly believe in the big vision of Parachut, and want it to succeed on a global scale.
PN: Our team has the same perks that the members do; anytime access to the warehouse to use the gear when they want it. We are a bunch of closet geeks that love creative technology.
For more from Philip and Melissa and our other 10 Under 10 nominees, download the 10 Under 10 eBook.