The article is written by Aaron Michael on his personal blog, republished on TheLowDown with the author’s permission.
When people say that good things never last, it’s not exactly true. While yes, a lot of good tends to have an end, much like the bad, but good things don’t always end just like that. Sometimes, it needs to end to be replaced with something better.
Hello folks. How are you? A lot of you may have known me from my past consulting career, or from Aersure, a startup born on the 21st of August 2018 on the (mostly) sunny island of Singapore. Today I want to talk about the journey that I’ve had with Aersure and close this chapter of my working career.
While it is a sad occasion, and we can go into different topics of what is driving the departure, I’d like to focus on some positives of Aersure and its legacy that I am leaving behind. If it is of interest to anyone, we can revisit the not so good things that drove my decisions.
Aersure started from nothing
In August 2018, I embarked on my startup journey for the very first time. I remember after my stretch with Ninja Van, leaving and trying to work through how to run a startup and do what I do, without resources.
It’s worth noting that while I may be able to optimise operations, implement good operational practice and turn operations and business around during my consulting days, it was always backed with enough resources to achieve meaningful results. Starting Aersure with only a few thousand dollars in capital, was not the kind of resources I am used to having.
We started out with only 1 client. A Korean logistics company who was exporting goods for a big name Southeast-Asian marketplace into Indonesia. For about 3 months, that was the only client and lane that we had. It was the only client and business that kept the company afloat in the early days.
We had no product. We had no official offering. Everything was barebones. Service was all we had. At that time, I was also running the company solo. A month after we started, I chanced upon an old friend who happened to have an old friend who wanted to move big time into Indonesia. That coupled with interest from Ninja Van to move into Vietnam, we now have enough traction to keep going.
From nothing, together with a new out-of-pocket hire, we set off to build Aersure, the hassle-free shipping experience. Thanks to my partner, Ingrid, we planned, designed and built the Aersure product. Aerdash, a central dashboard for everything Aersure. With real-time tracking, parcel management and API, we were ready.
Aersure’s product is now up, operational and serving more customers!
Sadly, the deal with the mutual connection didn’t go according to plan and even though there was a trial shipment (during my vacation in Melbourne), that deal stalled. For twelve months. Three months was what it took for us to rush the product and be ready for the trial shipment. Nine months was how long it took for them to finally start shipping with us.
In between that, we built Aersure further. Achieving 8 country coverages within the first 8 months of operations, we now have something.
The struggle of 2019
While we were off to a decent start, we were not at a point where we had significant volumes to sustain operations. Around the end of Q2 of 2019, we hit a major roadblock that pushed us five steps backwards.
The major e-commerce marketplace, backed out and started doing their logistics solutions in-house; leaving us in the dust with bleeding revenue.
Needless to say, with that client gone, we started bleeding. We were down in revenue, and even more so, no longer profitable enough to sustain the company. We tried everything. From trying to cold email and call every e-commerce store and brand out there, to pushing the mutual friend to start shipping. We did everything in our power to keep going and to stay afloat. The problem with that was that we were still a 2-man startup, and while Ingrid was helping with the product, we were in trouble of losing money and not being able to stay operational.
Cashflow helped, but with the unstable volumes, we had limitations.
Queue a merger and acquisition. It was down to the wire, it was either we (a) fundraise, (b) accept the acquisition, or (c) shut down operations.
It was a difficult decision and a horrible crossroad to be in. While I could’ve easily wound down the operations and go back into consulting or get a job, we negotiated the M&A and came to agreeable terms. Now, Aersure was a subsidiary.
It was not long after that, the mutual friend came back and told me that we were a go. Amazon was using our services. While I don’t share the same fanatic love for Bezos, everyone has to give him credit for getting Amazon to where it is today. At that very moment, a small, young, logistics startup is working with the largest e-commerce marketplace there is.
That feeling was insane. I was ecstatic, doing cartwheels if I knew how…
We started growing meaningful numbers and at this point, the Aersure team has grown from 2 to 4.
The pandemic year
Right before the pandemic, we repositioned ourselves to capture more marketshare and grow the business even more. From 4, became 6, and it eventually became a strong team of 8 individuals, who unfortunately got their legs cut out from under them when March 2020 came around and the Coronavirus reared its ugly hind.
Even with a parent company supporting us, we were back to struggling. If someone had told me that this was Startup Life, maybe I would’ve thought twice…
No pain, no gains right?
We were now bleeding revenue yet again with COVID-19 disrupting not only supply chains but businesses. We saw a client owe us a significant chunk of payables that was never paid back (that write off was painful). Not only that, but we saw clients decrease their volumes, so significantly it was unbelievable to see. Everything was almost surreal. I couldn’t believe myself.
From lockdowns to grounded flights, we struggled. Furthermore, pressure to be profitable was increasing and there was no way for us to do it without taking a big swing. We tried everything, even with limited resources, we were throwing as many punches as humanly possible.
Long story short, we did it. We went back into the green. We even closed out the year of 2020 with over USD 3 million and a super healthy profit margin to boast.
Boy was I proud, and so was the rest of the team. We worked tirelessly and the effort poured into the company to achieve what we did was astounding.
It’s time to leave…
We’ve had a good running, Aersure and I. This company, this journey, will be one that I will never forget for the rest of my life. From the crazy things we did to keep the company going to the hell of a year, showing Coronavirus who’s boss.
The year we closed wasn’t big in many people’s eyes. In fact, to all you 100 million dollar startups and companies, we’re just change. However, for a team of 8, in logistics, during a pandemic, I’d say the year turned out to be fantastic.
However, much like what I said at the start of this piece, good things must all come to an end. Which is why, my departure is happening.
The last day with Aersure will officially be the 14th of April 2021.
It has been a hell of a ride, and it has come with so many life lessons. With a heavy heart, I bid the company, the team, the partners, and the clients farewell. I truly hope that the experience that I’ve built for everyone was meaningful and hassle-free.
May we meet again.