Napoleon Suarez was tired of missing package deliveries — and dealing with stolen packages — while at work. The problem spawned a business idea: Fishbox, the after-hours, on-demand package delivery service he founded in 2015. (The name is a mashup of “Fishtown,” the Philadelphia neighborhood where Suarez lives, and “mailbox.”)
The startup, which serves customers in the Philly area, has been growing steadily. Three subcontractors help with deliveries, but Suarez oversees almost every other aspect of the business on his own. We sat down with Suarez to discuss the financial challenges of managing a startup:
As the founder of a startup, you need to wear many hats. How do you find time to manage finances for Fishbox?
Suarez: Well, the truth is that I'm not able to devote as much time as I'd like to finances. Every day, I have three things on my mind: customer acquisition, customer engagement, and customer service. Finance doesn't always fit on the list. Of course, I know I need to make it fit. The mantra in startup land is “Stay lean.” It's imperative to track finances and ensure we only spend money on what's absolutely necessary.
What financial decision did you make early on to help set up Fishbox for success?
Deciding not to develop our own applications — at least for now. I had wanted to develop mobile apps for all the main platforms. Then I found out how much it would cost. Alerting customers about a package arrival and setting up a time for delivery are essential activities for our business. Then a friend asked, “How do you normally communicate with people?” The answer: text messaging. So we developed technology to use text messaging as our communication tool. It's easy for users — and they don't have to download an app.
How do customers pay your service?
I knew I wanted customers to have a friction-free way to pay, similar to Uber or Lyft transactions. I researched options and found Stripe. We just connect to their API, and they handle our payment processing. After we deliver a package, we charge the customer's credit card on the back end using a third-party tool called Control. It's an iOS app that speaks directly to Stripe using their API.
Do you have plans to change how you manage finances as Fishbox grows and hires more staff?
We're definitely looking at SaaS solutions as we grow — for managing accounting, payroll and benefits, for example. I'm 1000 percent positive that we'll be using a third-party to handle these tasks.
Do you have any financial advice for other startups?
Don't feel like you need to build and manage everything on your own. What's beautiful about this time we're living in is that someone has probably already built the solutions you need to get your business started. If you're a service business, your No. 1 priority is to make people happy. SaaS solutions and other tools can help bridge any gaps in your business, like in the back office, until you get to where you need to be.
Jane Irene Kelly, who has two decades of professional writing, editing and reporting experience, writes about business and technology. Jane is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and resides in Pennsylvania.