Local strength, global reach

November 23, 2017 – Last week was a very special one for everyone at Twill; we achieved our biggest internal business goal, much earlier than expected. I feel very lucky to be the person writing a blog post after such a great milestone was achieved!

I can tell you that there is no one ‘hero’ in our story that made it all happen. Instead, there is a beginning, which is like a hesitant leaf falling on a calm pond. Then after many leaves have fallen, many waves have been made, and a lot of hard work, we feel the sweetness of a momentary success.

Building momentum for change

Our latest milestone moment made me reflect about the difference Twill can make in the world. Will we make any change in the way people go about their lives if we achieve our craziest dreams? Or are we just one more thing out there filling a forgotten space of the market?

It can be a scary thing to ask, but it is something we must answer to ourselves with bold determination. It is only with clarity on the potential impact we can have that we can build the momentum to drive massive change for good. And in order to answer this question we need to look at the helm of Twill: its customers.

The potential of SMEs

Today, our customers are predominantly small and medium companies (SMEs) that are focused on sourcing the best products around the world and bringing them to their customers. These goods imported with Twill include furniture for the tourism industry, tools for home improvement, exciting decorations for celebrations and many others. Our customers enable their local economies to thrive by providing the best products available in the global market while generating jobs and wealth simultaneously.

SMEs are considered to be the backbone of the economy. According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), 95% of companies in its member countries are SMEs and they generate 60%-70% of employment in those countries. Around 20% of these companies are also involved in international trade and contribute to 25%-35% of world trade – that’s a huge statistic!

So how does Twill create a level playing field?

When an SME is trying to access global trade it faces many issues. According to the EU Eurobarometer in 2015, the three main issues are: complicated administrative processes (i.e. excessive paperwork), high delivery costs and finding suitable business partners.

Something everybody knows in freight forwarding is that if you are a big player you will get the best service at the lowest price. So guess what you get when you are a small player? That’s right, not the best service for the price paid.

Twill has the potential to level up the ground for SMEs, increasing the level of service value relative to price. We provide access to global trade and enable our customers to win by simplifying the shipping process and building economies of scale so that they can stay focused on growing and scaling their core business.

It is not usual that you get to be part of a venture with so much potential. Tomorrow, when I show up in the office, I will have a big smile and sense of fulfillment because I know with certainty that we are enabling our customers to build local strength with global reach.

– By Juan Cajiao, Twill’s Head of Growth

Seamless simplicity

November 16, 2017 – When I first joined Twill, I loved its motto on very first sight – shipping made simple. It sounds like a great idea in a world where we have so much information to digest and so much data we can consume, right? For a system to be able to make something so complicated – such as shipping goods from one side of the globe to the other – sound so simple, it has to be exciting as a concept!

Defining simplicity

I worked for many years in IT, and in previous roles I‘ve participated in the build process of quite a few systems, both big and small. But I‘ve never seen a system that looks so “seamlessly simple” on the outside, but which has numerous obstacles that need to be overcome in order to get it there.

So what does Twill set out to achieve? Some dictionaries define “simple” as “easy to access” and “plausible” and that makes a lot of sense for our shipment business.

For us, “easy to access” means that we only provide information that is needed at a particular moment in the process. Making data “plausible” must give the option for our customers to drill down in case they want more context to understand exactly what is going on with their shipment.

So how does Twill do it?

Through the Twill platform we offer our customers a very simple to use, web-based front-end, so that they can check on their shipment quickly from a huge variety of devices, wherever they are in the world.

I could take this opportunity to provide more detail on how that front-end is structured itself, but I’m not going to go into that level of technical detail here.

Instead, let’s look at how our team of Twillers embrace our vision. We want things to be as simple for our customers as possible – and our employees play a vital role in that.

Shipping made simple

As a team, we can access so much data from the Twill platform that we have built our own internal dashboards to simplify the information that we use when handling our customers‘ bookings.

For example, in our offices we have monitors on the walls showing graphs of activity of various parts of our platform – which not only makes for interesting viewing, but also means that this information is easily to hand for all IT staff, providing the ability to quickly spot trends and any warning signs.

A lot of the work that the Twill team does is unseen by our consignees and shippers – and of course we want to keep it that way! The more seamless it feels, the better the experience for our customers.

In order to achieve that, we‘ve built numerous tools into the Twill platform to synchronize with our partners and be able to anticipate and communicate any issues before they occur. That means that we can address them before the customer even knows about them – making their lives simpler.

The end goal

Twill is all about making life as simple as possible for our customers. Are we there yet? Of course not! But we are making great progress.

We have a long list of features and a huge development path which we are working on in order to make shipping even simpler for our customers. But what I can say is that the whole Twill team is working towards that goal and I’m happy to be a part of that.

-Christoph Frei, CTO

“The Winning Formula”

November 9, 2017 – I often get asked the question: Why did you start a new company owned by a legacy freight forwarder? Why didn’t you either start Twill as a completely independent company or just make it a department or product of Damco?

For me the answer to this is critical, as it is key to our success. Let me explain…

‘Old School’ freight forwarders: The foundation

Logistics – in its core – is about moving cargo safely, cost efficiently and timely around the globe. Fantastic software alone is not going to make the container move. We need vessels, aeroplanes, trucks, trains, terminals, airports, warehouses and very capable people all around the globe, making sure that the process is a smooth as possible. We need that today and we will also need it tomorrow.

Damco has decades of experience managing exactly this, with a global network of offices and more than 10,000 people with a strong logistics skillset. However, with the rapid technological developments taking place in our society today, consumers’ expectations of the services we use are increasing exponentially – much quicker than incumbent freight forwarders are able to adapt. This makes Damco (amongst other freight forwarders) into what many would refer to as an ‘Old School Freight Forwarder’. This is not necessarily a bad thing though, since Damco’s level of experience still has tremendous benefits and brings a lot to the Twill story.

‘New School’ freight forwarding: Let’s re-think, let’s innovate

Yet on the other side of the equation, we have ‘New School’ freight forwarders. They are very much focused on significantly improving the user experience, utilizing new technology, challenging existing processes, innovating and building agile ways of working – with the customer at the heart of everything they do.

To truly do this, you cannot simply set up a department or product within a company. The established company culture would not allow for this kind of thinking, despite the best intentions. Instead, you need to start from scratch, adopting new mindsets, utilizing new skillsets, bringing a new energy and a genuine and passionate desire to challenge the assumption of ‘that is how we always do it’. This is what we do in Twill and that is why we chose to run Twill as a standalone start-up.

‘New School’ needs ‘Old School’: This is how we can make a difference to the customer

Now to the winning formula: balancing the ‘Old School’ with the ‘New School’, allowing for the synergies to flourish without compromising the strength of both. You can win in this industry and create a new and improved way of doing freight forwarding by combining the new with the old. But you cannot win if you don’t do both – and do both well.

So, to answer the question I am often asked: I truly believe that software, customer focus, new energy and new skills will transform our business – but only if we mix it with the right foundation, experience and already existing assets. That is why Twill is a standalone start-up utilizing the operational set-up of Damco – a top 20 global freight forwarder.

Twill and Damco: A good balance

It is not going to be easy though – it is a constant balancing act that Twill and Damco must engage in.  When should we utilize existing assets and when should we build from scratch? This is a constant question for us and we have many explorative discussions. But as with everything else we do, it is about short experiments (fail fast), learning, adjusting and re-starting. This keeps us on our toes and keeps us on balance. And that is the reason why Twill, together with Damco, is going to win – by creating a world class customer experience through a start-up from a freight forwarder which has been around for decades.  

– Troels Stovring, CEO

Photographer: MichielTon.com

‘Agile’ is our Change Management methodology

November 2, 2017 – Disclaimer: I’m not a scrum master.  I’m not even a very good source if you want to talk ‘agile’. It’s only in the last five months since I’ve been working for Twill, that I have begun to understand what ‘working Agile’ means for me.

What I lack in the agile arena, I make up for in change management.

Change management has been my focus not only professionally but also academically over the last 5 years. Now that I have a chance to combine the agile world with the need for change management, I’m discovering that an agile way of working is actually a great way to do change management.

Let me explain.

Changing the way we work

Agile is all about development and I would argue that development is equal to change, but it has to happen step by step, with user feedback. The idea is to develop our ways of working in short sprints – send ideas and updates out to our users, get their feedback, and then pivot based on that feedback. Not surprisingly, this method of keeping our users close as we all go through an evolution, encourages them to evolve with us, step by step.

In the process of developing Twill, we are in effect asking customers to change the way they handle their freight. We are asking freight forwarding professionals to change their way of working. And we’re asking employees to change their way of servicing their customers. That is a lot of change – but it is change that they inspire and request! And that is the agile way of growing: grow quickly and be ready to adapt when the users show you that their needs have changed.

Translating our users’ needs

This blog post was inspired by a colleague who approached me and told me that Twill had a reputation of being good at change management and she wanted to understand what methodology we were using.

In formulating my answer, I realised that I couldn’t really say that we consciously chose a specific model from my text books. But upon further discussion, I realized that the aspect that she understood as effective change management came as a result of our agile way of working.

When we travel around the world to introduce Twill to our users, it has become known that we don’t promise a finished solution, or a 5-year vision. Even we do not know what the product will look like in few months. It’s all about the translation of user needs, not company ambition. Instead, we honestly explain that we want to build a product that makes shipping simple. And to do that, we need our users’ help to know what to build that adds most value. That’s agile. That’s good change management.

Taking our customers on the journey

In any change management model, we are taught to communicate honestly, listen to people, give them space to voice their concerns, and help them understand what it means to “me”.

In our agile way of working, we can’t over-promise on what the end result will look like, because we need our customers’ help to get there.  We can’t develop a tool unless we listen to our users and understand their pain points. We must understand what our new product means for them, in order to make it better.

Change is not easy, but when people can truly give input to the transformation that is coming their way, it’s at least easier to understand. And when the required change is agile enough to adjust with people’s input, it’s undoubtedly a better change.

-Barbara Peric, Head of Operations

Our little product secret: Ask Customers!

October 20, 2017 – As head of product in Twill, the two biggest topics that I need to provide answers to are: What to build, and what to build first.

On one afternoon, we have our regular review on product roadmap. How do we make decisions on what Twill will look like in one year, or even in three years? We list all the ideas and ask customers!

Another time, we have different opinions about user experience design. What do we do? We put both options in mockups and ask customers!

Does it sound easy? Yes, it is easy. We just need to keep in mind that we are developing a platform to solve customers’ problems. The only way this can work is that we put aside our “arrogance” and listen to our customers.

However, it was not always so simple. I come from a background of ten years working in the logistics industry before joining Twill. You can imagine how many assumptions I have built up along the way. I thought I understood customers’ needs very well. I thought I could design a great solution on my own to address their problems.

I could not have been more wrong!  Every time I talk to customers, I find little surprises (sometimes even big surprises) that challenge my assumptions. Every time I learn something new from customers.  If I hadn’t talked to customers, we could have built a platform for my imaginary problems and my solutions. Then Twill would have had no chance to succeed.

Twill’s vision is to make shipping simple. At the end of the day, customers are the judges. They tell us if their life is easier with Twill.

Customer feedback is the strongest foundation and the most valuable asset throughout the process of how we build Twill. Twill’s value proposition stems from customer research. For every new feature-design, we run user acceptance testing. Almost every day, we receive and discuss product feedback from customers, commercial teams, and our customer care team. For every country roll-out, we conduct user research to understand how our product fits the local market.

Customer-driven product development will ensure that we are headed in the right direction, and that we are prioritizing the right features. This will address my two biggest responsibilities.

Today, my industry knowledge is no longer a wall between me and our customers. I use it as a tool to better understand what customers say, and to design the initial proposals. Of course, all the proposals need to be validated by customers.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all the customers that gave feedback to Twill. We are looking forward to hearing more from you. Let’s shape Twill together!

By Daisy Zhang, Head of Product, Twill.

How to Twill a new Country?

October 10, 2017 – On September 2nd, I was sitting in the car of a colleague in Bilbao, Spain. I missed out on taking in the beautiful scenery because I had my laptop open, doing a final check for the potential customer we were on our way to visit.

My plan for the meeting was to first show the customer how simple it is to place a booking with Twill, and second, to make sure we gained their trust to let us eventually ship their cargo from China to Spain at some point in the future. Shipping with us in the future instead became the present; the customer loved the tool and the way our people work so they immediately placed a booking in Twill!

Since then, in the period of one month, we’ve had customers from all around Spain placing bookings in Twill more than 50 times. Looking at this experience, and since we want to bring to Twill to more countries, I’ve asked myself: why is it working so well?

I’ve identified three factors that we must make sure are fulfilled when bringing a new product into a new country:

  • Sharpen your offering: Bring the product to a real customer and ask them for brutal feedback. Then, make sure you refine your offering to meet their needs. For example, we translated Twill to Spanish to make sure the customer feels confident about every step they take.
  • Tune your efforts: Make sure your team, your partners, and your suppliers share one goal and understand what is their specific contribution. In Spain, we had several conversations with different stakeholders to make sure they understood the value Twill delivers to customers and how they could contribute to make the introduction a success… and they did it! These bookings are their win.
  • Unleash your potential: Identify and remove roadblocks. You will be surprised how many roadblocks are actually ‘imaginary’ (created by you). Be like water, always flowing towards the sea. For example: In Spain we loosened up our definition of the customer target group to be able to reach all the potential customers we can actually serve.

I leave you with a short video in Spanish (with English subtitles) on our opening in Spain. You will see some views of Malaga (where besides meeting Twill customers, I also went on holidays this summer ☺).

Looking forward to Twill more countries around the World!

By Juan Cajiao, Twill Head of Growth.

Building Tech organization in a new country

October 4, 2017  – For more than 10 years I was responsible for building technical teams from scratch for several companies. All of those were great successes. Teams has been formulated (from 0 to 25 , 40, and 60 team members). All processes for the software development have been established and implemented (including CI/CD pipelines, quality assurance, cross team cooperation, software architecture standards and coding principles).

So, when I joined Twill as a Chief Technology Officer, in February 2017, one of the main tasks was replacing the team of contractors with permanent Twill-ers (software developers, QA engineers).  It would be the easiest task I could imagine. But it didn’t quite turn out that way.

What the heck happened? What made this particular one so difficult? Why was I not able to build a strong technical organization, able to support our fast-growing venture, even within 4 months???

There were certainly several major reasons. One, which I consider as the most important, was my underestimating of being put into a new environment, outside of my huge professional network in Poland. It became so clear that moving into another country (or even city) is like ripping up roots. You have to invest an incredible amount of effort to build any kind of a new network, became familiar with the working culture, but also local manners, ways of reaching out to people. You have to spend most of the time on searching, talking to people, to head hunters, simply asking everyone if they would want to help you, or simply work with you.

Sometimes, I was losing my sense of reality, trying to talk to every single person who pinged me on LinkedIn, investing my time into searching google for any sources, even those not verified but promising wonders. That was not only exhausting for me, but also put tension and unnecessary pressure on the other team members. This was a dead end.

At some point, I changed my mind and approach. I let the team focus on only selected and proven sources, focus on the prioritized openings. Learning for me is that every place is different. In some places, you use huge network of head hunters, in the other you use only one but, in yet another one you use only personal recommendations.

It was more than fortunate that I joined Twill as my first real abroad work. The management team here is extremely supportive. They are more than committed into making this venture a success, not only inside their areas of responsibilities, but also outside. Thanks to this I was introduced to several different sourcing funnels, met people who could help me and Ramona, our Head of People, to actually get candidates and finally hires.

At the same time, I also tried my known network in Poland, and thanks to this we were able to quite quickly find and attract several strong developers in Gdansk, opening a new Twill office in Poland on September 18th.

As of now, we have a very strong team of experienced professionals, able to deliver business needs, but also to redesign and rebuild the left over from the MVP (minimal viable product) stage. We also have very well thought-through organizational design implemented (I’ll talk more about this in one of the next posts).

Does it mean I’m done? No way. I will work on the next phases of this journey, building bigger tech teams, splitting responsibilities and people into more self-driven and effective teams, growing Twill tech culture, encouraging each and everyone to experiment and innovate. To really disrupt the logistics industry. Keep it simple, keep it strong, keep it Twill.

By Marcin Kulawik, CTO, Twill.

Completely Twilled

September 28, 2017 – Twill is a start-up aiming to make shipping simple for the customer. An important quest as the current customer experience from buying freight is all but impressive. However, how is it running a company that is trying to shake up a Legacy (yes, capital ‘L’) industry? And how is it to do as a start-up owned by a large organisation? For this blog I would like to share some of my personal experiences from starting Twill and the journey we have been on so far.

In July 2016, I was sitting with a colleague (Sarah) in a small room in The Hague starting the first infant thoughts on Twill. We were about to go to Berlin for 6 months to build the foundation for Twill. Now, a bit more than a year later, I can (despite many Twill years in front of us) reflect a bit on the journey. It has been crazy! And Fun! And Exhausting! And Exhilarating! And rather often, all in one day. You have to remember, that not only were we completely in uncharted territory on the business idea, Twill was also the first spin-off company from Damco and hence double uncharted territory. We were challenged with what tech stack to choose (and how does that fit Maersk), what the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) should/should not contain, if we really can adopt fully Agile, how Twill fits in Damco and who we can work with in Damco (to mention a few). Key learning to share on such questions: You learn to make decisions based on very little data and you should be prepared to pivot and re-do. You should be prepared to embrace fast failure and ensure that the learnings are the focus. This thinking made us start a tradition called “Failure of The Week” – a tradition we now hold very dear. Every Thursday 4pm – we clock out for an hour, huddle up our bean-bags in a circle, bring out a cold beer and nominate other people (or yourself) for all the failures we have done this week – and key – what we have learned from it. In the beginning this can be quite scary (to be frank) – you know – to be nominated publicly because you screwed up. However, we got the hang of it and now it is defining for our company culture and Twillers are not afraid to lean out, experiment, innovate – and fail fast in the process.

Starting Twill from just a few people and watch it grow to its current size of 50 people (and we are still just a toddler) has been a fantastic journey. We have had some very long nights making last minute code updates, fixing urgent bugs, preparing Board material or preparing for the customer meeting the next day, however, normally we would also find time for a game of ping-pong during the night (admittedly, sometimes causing an even longer night). These nights might have been long and tough, however it was all worth it, that day we got our first booking on the Twill platform and everybody could celebrate what we had been able to pull off in a very very short time. It was one of those moments I will never forget. I was with the customer, seeing her place the booking on the platform, whilst having the whole Twill team on Skype on a separate laptop. After she pressed “Submit Booking”, we looked to the team on Skype in anxiety – and only a second later – the whole team erupted in pure celebration when they saw the booking appear in the platform – we had our first booking.

Since then many customers have chosen to join Twill and it remains my favorite part of my job to see an intrigued customer making her first booking on the platform and look at you and say: “Was that it?”. Yes, that was it – we aim for simplicity and we will work extremely hard to ensure we keep improving that simplicity (or “Simproving” as we say).

Twill is not done (note: It will never be), however I know we have a strong product that is relevant in the market. I know because our customers tell us. We also get plenty of feedback on things we could also build and bugs we should fix, don’t get me wrong – but mostly, we get really good feedback on what we have built. And this is what keeps me going everyday – it makes me proud and keeps me motivated to build an even stronger product and reach even more customers. In that way we get one step closer to our vision every day: Making Shipping simple.

By Troels Stovring, CEO, Twill.

Customer Care in a Startup

By Barbara Peric, Head of Operations, Twill.

After 10 years of working in a corporate environment, I decided to take the plunge and join a start-up. To be honest, joining Twill Logistics is not as brave as joining other start-ups, as we have a strong partnership with our corporate sponsor: Damco. But, the appeal of growing a company from scratch was enough to get me pumped and walk my stilettos over to the Twill Logistics office and give it a go!

After 3 months of working with our killer Twill-ers, I thought I’d reflect on how customer care life is in this start-up. I’m not going to tell you there are pros and cons…boring…
But what I will say is that creating something with our customers is better than just creating something for our customers.

What our customers want
Simplicity and to feel important. Frankly, it’s like any other relationship: Make me feel like you care about me and don’t complicate my life! It’s not different in a start-up, but how we can achieve this is pretty cool! Here’s just one example of what I mean:

During an update meeting with the customer care team (CC team), we discussed that there was congestion at one of the Chinese ports. We wanted to notify our customers about this (only if it impacts them) but didn’t want to bombard them with emails…they have enough of those! So, I reach out to our integration genius to see if there is a smarter way to keep our customers informed. A mere 2 hours later, he has a solution that can reach customers and can be implemented that same day!

It’s only a test, and maybe it doesn’t work, but from idea to implementation we’re able to move lightning fast!

Quote from customer:

“I’ve just done our first container booking on Twill :-). It was really easy and Twill team support is really fast, Alex has been very helpful. Overall fab experience :-). Thanks for showing it to us.”

-Sapphire

What our customer care teams want
Simplicity and to feel important. No, it’s not a typo. It’s the same. To be able to deliver simplicity to customers, it has to be simple for the customer care team…and we need to make sure their voices are heard. Yes, louder than my voice, and louder than even our CEO’s voice. We create our tools and processes with the actual CC team who are using them. And when the CC team suggests something new that would make their life even easier…we build that. I’m not saying we’re there yet, but in our start-up, we’re removing the red tape, the lengthy processes, and simply spending our time and energy on just making it simple. Have I said “simple” too many times? Again, not a typo.

Quote from customer care team member:

“The difference is that we give the customer more of a voice in the development of Twill. By doing so, and asking for feedback on a regular basis, we are incorporating our customer’s ideas with our own to create a platform that works for everyone, rather than just relying on our own ideas.”

-Alex Archer, Customer Care in UK

From the people who talk to our customers every day to the people who create the tech solutions, we have a direct link that ensures no bureaucracy stands in the way of a good (or bad) idea. For me, this is the fun I can have here. Trying out solutions, testing out new ideas. Some are brilliant and we celebrate. Some are downright failures and we laugh at our mistakes and work late to fix them. But all ideas get heard, and most importantly, all our customers get heard.

Every day is today

October 26, 2017 – It’s been roughly a year since my first day here at Twill. I like to look at it as a journey of 365 individual days; opportunities to make today, and every day, more valuable than yesterday.

At the beginning of this journey back in November 2016, my mind and my heart were fully occupied by one big question: how do you develop a culture? Is that even possible? How do you twill that unique binding fabric that shapes how we talk and walk as Twillers?

Culture lives and shifts and changes in response to the actions we take and the decisions we make each day. Well, by now I have the answer to those questions, but you’ll have to wait until my next blog post to find out!

In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brené Brown says: “If we want to reignite innovation and passion, we have to rehumanize work. When shame becomes management style, engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity and innovation.”

I would add that an essential component to ‘rehumanize’ work is trust. Trust is the foundation for an organization to grow, where an organization is understood as a network of people rather than a conglomerate of layers and operational models. We build trust by showing vulnerability, Dr. Brown says. By sharing and being open about our wants and desires, as well as our inevitable stumbles and failures, and by getting into the practice of doing this regularly, we can build trust over time.

At Twill, we understand that feedback is a mechanism of trust building. We make a point to share feedback consistently, and follow a model to enable us to do this effectively. We also make sure we celebrate what we’ve learnt when we l review the week during our Thursday ‘Nomination’ sessions.

Failing fast is another way of building trust. Quite the dichotomy, I know, but the key word here is ‘fast’. There is safety in risk-taking when it’s done in incremental steps and fast loops. This should happen with the right structures in place – firstly to ensure we learn from our failures, and secondly to ensure that we limit the possibility of any such failure having an impact on our customers. This creates a psychologically safe space where learning, rather than blame, is the focus.

And finally, in my view, the ultimate proof of trust is having the courage to enter the ‘arena’ every day, focused on your purpose. In my case, that is to lead from the heart and create the organization I want to work for. And while I’m aware that, in Dr. Brown’s words “there really is no effort without error and shortcoming”, I feel fortunate to live my dream and learn every day.

So, accept the challenge to make every day matter. With every new day you are granted a chance to do better, to take new risks, and to learn from failure. After all, this is how we at Twill make shipping simple, every single day.

– Ramona Sandu, Head of People.