The Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) spoke with the CEO of Shipt, Bill Smith, this week as part of our series to highlight the three finalists for the 2017 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. The BBA was proud to help nominate American Family Care, Medical Properties Trust Inc. and Shipt for the honor. Each week leading up to the announcement of a winner in June, we have featured one of the investor finalists.
Shipt launched in the summer of 2014 in the heart of the Magic City. Through a user-friendly app and a local network of reliable shoppers, Shipt connects members to fresh groceries and everyday essentials. Saving time, fuel and head space, next-hour, same day grocery delivery is quickly becoming an everyday necessity for people looking for an extra few hours and a variety of food choices.
BBA: Tell us about your company.
Bill Smith: The idea for Shipt became clear to me after my wife and I shopped for groceries for the first time after we had our second child. I had no idea how hard grocery shopping could be until we were in the store with a crying newborn in one cart and a one year old in another cart. I knew this had to be a bigger challenge that went beyond new parents, and realized there was an opportunity to build something truly useful for anyone who couldn’t make it to the grocery store. Shipt’s main goal is to give people their time back so they can focus on the things that matter most to them — whether it’s spending time with family, pursuing hobbies or careers, or just enjoying that precious time that would be spent shopping.
Shipt has grown into one of the largest grocery delivery services in the country. We started small here in Birmingham and quickly grew to other cities nearby. We’re currently in over 45 cities, with plans to keep growing. So many people have come together to build Shipt into the company it is today, and I’m proud of the work we’re doing.
BBA: How did you get your start in business?
Smith: I got my first job working at a small convenience/grocery store in rural Cullman County at age 11. I discovered computers a couple years later, and began building and selling them on my own. This led to jobs with an internet service provider and a wireless phone company during and after high school. I learned that customer service is king in retail, which applies to everything we do at Shipt today.
BBA: Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
Smith: I got a briefcase for Christmas when I was five, so I think that answers it! While I did well in school, I was always more fascinated by people than books. I wanted to understand what made them tick, what their needs were, why they might choose one thing over another. I haven’t stopped asking those questions and trying to place myself in others’ shoes. In my previous businesses, customers have come from a range of backgrounds and neighborhoods, often very different from my own. The same is true for Shipt. I love finding common ground, understanding customers’ stories, and based on that, trying to help solve a meaningful problem in their lives. Building a successful business is all about solving real problems and relationships, and the opportunity to connect with people every day is what gets me out of bed.
BBA: How does being in Birmingham help your business grow?
Smith: Birmingham has been a great place to start and grow a business, especially in the last few years. There’s a thriving startup scene here thanks to affordable housing, great universities, a welcoming and business-friendly government, and a growing network of smart, ambitious entrepreneurs. The Birmingham community really embraced Shipt when we first started out, from buying early memberships before we launched to sharing feedback on the service as we grew. The city’s Southern hospitality is core to Shipt’s culture and values. It’s what we’re known for, and we’re proud of our Birmingham roots.