By Theodora Yu The Sacramento Bee
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Anh Tran is the founder of "Notifii", a web-based package management software designed to make sure you or the person receiving your package knows when it arrives.
The Sacramento Bee
The number of Asian and Pacific Islander business women is on the rise nationwide.
A report by the Asian Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship shows AAPI women-owned business grew by between 76 percent to 108 percent in 2017. As of 2016, about one-quarter of women-owned employer firms were minority-owned, and among them, more than half were Asian-owned, according to a 2018 statement published by the Census Bureau.
This week, we spoke to Anh Tran, founder of Roseville-based Notifii, a web-based package management and notification software designed for universities, on-campus housing, apartment complexes, corporate mail rooms and mailbox stores.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background.
A: I was a (University of California) Davis microbiology major and business minor. I thought I was going to get into health care, but I always have had an entrepreneur mindset to run a business. In my third year of college, I ran into a talk about the Sacramento Entrepreneurship Academy, and with it I got the opportunity to network through the program.
James Corbett, who founded the program, gave me honest feedback. So I went to the academy after graduating from Davis. I wanted to get into business to understand how it works. I got an opportunity to meet with Buzz Stryker, an alumni at SEA. I worked for him in POS Portal, an e-commerce service based in Natomas, for 15 years. I learned the ins of how his business grew, which started from 22 employees to 200, along with two site locations. He sold the business two years ago.
Q: How did you come up with your business idea?
A: With that time frame, my business partner and I started a for-fun business. It is called the PDO store, which sells accessories for portable devices like the iPod, the new hype back then. It was an expensive portable device. My friend bought me one when I graduated from college, and I wanted to protect it and keep in good condition. However, it was hard and expensive to get cases to protect it. Then luckily, I found some cheap options in China and double marked them up to make profit. We later sold the company.
It is an experience with e-commerce -- which we ran at our house, with inventory in the garage, but we rented a P.O. box because we don't want business mail to be delivered to our house.
One time, there was a package for us that said "urgent." I thought to myself: Why didn't the post office notify us about the urgent package? They could have just sent me an email or a text letting me know that we have a package, so I would have known to pick it up! It is pretty important when you get a package.
So in 2009, my business partner and I decided to tap into the market of mom-and-pop stores that are consumer franchises of UPS stores and other retail shipping service centers with P.O. boxes to rent out. The small business owners, many from the older generation, are watching every dime they spend and are not tech savvy, so it was hard to penetrate the markets.
Then we focused on apartments, colleges and corporate mail rooms that would have a need and trend. The business kicked off in 2012 and started launching.
Now, Notifii is a cloud-based package management and community. We market it toward corporate mail rooms and residential buildings to assist property staff and on-campus employee or facility managers in dealing with recipients.
There are a lot of packages ordered online that are stolen from people's porches and they therefore have to have them delivered to their offices. The influx in volume of the inbound packages in the offices sees the need for a tool to manage the packages and inform recipients to come pick it up.
A lot of users are using Notifii via our app. They (facility managers) will log into our system by just scanning the label and recipient names. Once they log that in, our systems will send the recipient a message to tell them to pick up their packages. Then the staffer who manages the packages will have the recipient sign for the package. If one says that he or she has never received the package, the staffer can go into the system and check for logins on the date the package arrived. We try to make it (the app) intuitive and easy for the users.
Q: What are the challenges and opportunities you faced as an entrepreneur?
A: The challenges right now... it's like being in a tunnel. I am always looking for other opportunities. Initially when we launched, it seemed like the store owners were not adopting this niche idea of ours and I thought we should just close it down. We couldn't really penetrate the market. I then tried to think of other solutions, look for other places, bearing in mind to not just focus on one market.
When facing challenges, people often focus on one direction and will end up digging into a hole. But is there something out of the norm or outside the box that you could use? Luckily enough, we thought of dorms, of kids buying things online and the same goes to residents living in apartments. So it allowed us to see other verticals or markets. You just have to think out of the box to see other verticals that may have that same need.
The challenge of running a business is finding talent. When you are an entrepreneur you want to be the nose, but you have to be willing to let go and trust others to allow the business to grow. It is about recruiting and having people with other perspectives. So I used my resources in the academy to get feedback.
You'll have competitors when the market becomes mature and the problem becomes more known, and you are always on the lookout to keep your "enemies" close. You have to know what they are doing. For us, because we are a small company, we have to be on the edge and be ahead of the game. The challenge is making sure that we are ahead of the game, reading and seeing what is out there.
It is definitely a challenge also to find a business partner whom you can trust. I met mine in freshman year. He is more on the technology side. We were living in the same dorm and became close friends. He is like a brother to me.
When you get into business, (people say) there are three acts you should not involve in business: families, friends and fools. He is a good close friend whom I (sometimes) have tension with, and a fool to invest into our business. Sometimes, I didn't want to get too personal because I know him well enough. We always chatted about what businesses to start. There were days when I wanted to strangle him and days when he wanted the same for me. But we have mutual respect for each other to move forward.
We have been pretty fortunate in terms of funding our business. We are self-funded and have been able to build it into a cash model and take the revenue to reinvest and grow the company. So today we are investing what we have been profitable from. We have seven full-time team members on site and ten outsourced members.