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They grew their company to 500 employees—and achieved an eight-figure exit—using the Scaling Up platform

Stephen Adele

By Verne Harnish

Stephen Adele and his four co-founders at QuickBox Fulfillment, a Denver-based firm that does ecommerce fulfillment, grew the company to 500 employees and $57.3 million in annual revenue in two years. They sold an 80% controlling interest in the firm, founded in 2017, to Pike Street Capital, a private equity firm in Seattle, in 2019 in an eight-figure deal.

How did they pull off this quick exit? The Scaling Up platform helped them achieve their goal of building the company to sell, enabling them to master the Four Decisions every company must get right: People, Strategy, Execution and Cash. 

“I wasn’t even sure some of the practices would work but found them to not only work but be incredibly powerful in scaling the business,” says Adele, who led the company as CEO and is now a member of the board of directors. 

Simplifying a strategy

Adele became acquainted with the Scaling Up platform when attending a Scaling Up summit in Denver in 2001. He signed up for my free weekly newsletter, Verne’s Insights, to learn more and attended two of our workshops, once by himself and once with his executive team.

One first step in using the platform was completing the One-Page Strategic Plan, our one-page strategy tool, with his executive team. They met at one of his co-founder’s houses for two days to shape the company’s plans. In doing that work, he says, “I learned there is power in simplicity.” 

After studying Southwest Airlines’ “Wheels Up” strategy, they decided on their own, similarly concise one: “Easy In. Impossible to get out.” The idea was to make working with them go so smoothly that customers would never want to leave and would instead want to use their other value-added services, like managing postage or last-mile delivery.

“Once we designed our strategy so it was easy for anybody to remember, it guided a lot of our initiatives for at least three years—what were we going to prioritize and focus on,” says Adele. 

Embracing the Daily Huddle

Adele and his leadership team kept the team aligned with 7-to-10-minute Daily Huddles every morning, focusing on what they had to do each day and their progress toward these goals. Each business unit typically had an end-of-day huddle to clarify what had gotten done and set the stage for the next day.

“People would ask, ‘How do you afford the time for a Daily Huddle? I say, ‘How do you not afford the time?’” says Adele. 

Putting “process” front and center

Executing on the company’s strategy meant sure all of its processes were efficient. “Fulfillment is 365 days a year,” says Adele. “Our job was to service every order you as a client generated the day before, no matter how many orders you generated.”

To that end, Adele and his team examined how they laid out their warehouses. They sought to minimize the number of steps involved in processes like packing products and getting them out the door. “The less touches, the less room for error,” he says. 

To make sure everyone knew how to conduct each process, the company created Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for each task. “We built those SOPs so employees knew what was expected of them,” says Adele. 

For every process, they conducted a review every six months, asking two questions: 

  • What are the problems or constraints in this area of the process? 
  • How can we do this better or more safely? 

This led to many new efficiencies. For instance, they saved hours of time by giving quality control inspectors mobile carts. “99% of the time we walked out of there with an improved process,” says Adele.

Deepening connections with employees

QuickBox Fulfillment faces keen competition for talent from its competitors. “We are in a big warehouse district,” says Adele. “They would leave at lunch, get 25 cents an hour more from a warehouse across the street and literally not come back that day.”

After seeking advice from HR experts, the company did an analysis to understand which employees were most likely to stay. Many were “second chance” employees, such as former inmates. Others were recent immigrants. After recognizing this, the company began initiatives such as an extensive outreach program in communities that were home to many recent immigrants. 

The company also added programs to assist its core employees, such as offering an alternative to the “checks cashed” storefronts that many unbanked workers used to get cash advances, paying astronomical interest rates.  The company set up a cash advance system, in which they could get advances on their paychecks without any interest. 

“It’s one thing to say you care about your people,” says Adele. “It’s another to show you do.”

Keeping cash flowing

Given the intense competition in the industry, QuickBox Fulfillment needed to stay on top of cash. The leadership team figured out how to generate 5x the revenue that many of its rivals were bringing in. The company repackaged and sold other value-added services, such as postage, so it could charge more per box. “We never had to use bank debt to fund our growth,” says Adele. 

Although Adele is no longer CEO, he is confident he put the systems and processes in place for it to thrive in the future. The core of the company’s success, he says, is trust. “You can execute the strategic initiatives,” he says. “People were, and are, willing to hold themselves accountable. We treat each other as professionals and with respect. But we also have fun with each other.” It’s a winning combination.

Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish is founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program, the “Birthing of Giants” and WEO’s “Advanced Business” executive program both held at MIT. Founder and CEO of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company with over 150 coaching partners on six continents, Verne has spent the past three decades helping companies scale-up. The “Growth Guy” syndicated columnist, he’s also the Venture columnist for FORTUNE magazine. He’s the author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0); Mastering the Rockefeller Habits; and along with the editors of Fortune, authored The Greatest Business Decisions of All Times," for which Jim Collins wrote the foreword. Verne also chairs FORTUNE Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits and serves on several boards including chairman of The Riordan Clinic and the newly launched Geoversity. He is an investor in many scale-ups. A father of four, he enjoys piano, tennis, and magic as a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

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