Three Things Startups Need to Know About Their Supply Chain

Contrary to popular belief, not every startup is an app for your smartphone. There is a whole world of innovators and entrepreneurs starting companies that make and distribute actual products.

We know a little about startups from our company’s continued engagement in the St. Louis startup scene. In fact, over the last two years, Flat World Holdings co-founders Kirk Ferrell and Jeff Rothermich have served as judges for a business plan competition held at a startup incubator near Flat World headquarters in O’Fallon, Missouri.

While several startups in the competition have been software companies or mobile apps, others are in the business of making actual products that need to be shipped and transported around the world, including a manufacturer of BBQ accessories and the makers of nursing supplies for new mothers.

(It’s a competition with diverse companies serving a wide variety of customers, which reminds us a lot of our own client base here at the Flat World Holdings family of companies.)

Judging the competition inspired us to share a little advice with new entrepreneurs, so if your startup plans to make products that will have a real, physical supply chain, here are three things you should know.

1. Reliability and dependability matter for every business—but they are especially important for new companies.

If an established manufacturer of grilling supplies has a track record that shows they consistently deliver on time, one error won’t doom the company. However, if a startup BBQ accessory company fails to deliver inventory to a retail outlet that gave them a chance—despite their startup status—the new business can be doomed.

Follow-through always matters.

But it’s especially important for startups that have no track record. If your startup fails to keep its promises, your big break might be your last break.

Which is why you need to…

2. Plan your supply chain as early as possible.

Startups often develop their product, make commitments to investors and customers, and then figure out their supply chain later. That’s a mistake. The suppliers and partners you choose to work with will play a big part in determining whether you’ll be able to follow through on your commitments. Trying to retrofit your supply chain to your go-to-market strategy is a good way to increase your stress level—and potentially damage relationships with customers and investors.

Apple didn’t build a mountain of money simply because its phones are prettier. Apple built that mountain of money in large part because the company put its supply chain at the center of its strategy.

Your startup should do the same.

3. Work with a supply chain partner who knows what it’s like to be a new entrepreneur.

Eleven years ago, our founders left their corporate jobs to start Flat World Supply Chain. They believed they had a better way to help shipping departments increase efficiency and visibility within their supply chains, and they took a chance on their idea. What started with two guys on laptops in a coffee shop has grown to a company with five distinct brands, and locations in multiple cities in the United States as well as a presence in China.

In other words, we know what it means to believe in yourself.

We know what it means to take a risk.

And, frankly, we know how scary that is—and how the difference between success and failure can come down to the smallest detail.

Whether you’re a startup designing parts for the coming wave of self-driving cars or you’re looking to be the top BBQ retailer on Amazon, we would love to see how we can help you succeed.