Brad Hollister is the chief executive officer of SwanLeap, the nation’s fastest-growing private company. Under Hollister’s leadership, SwanLeap delivered an unprecedented 75,660.8% growth in revenue in the past three years, catapulting the 5-year-old software company to the No. 1 spot on the 2018 Inc. 5000 list.
A life-long entrepreneur passionate about improving the world, Hollister is the visionary behind SwanLeap’s next-generation technology. With extensive experience in transportation, logistics, and supply chain, Hollister’s leadership and institutional expertise solidify SwanLeap’s position as the leading provider of end-to-end transportation technology. Hollister is a guest lecturer for the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as a sought-after speaker on the advancement and disruption of the transportation industry.
How did the concept for SwanLeap come about?
I made the mistake of thinking that there was a problem with shippers wanting to find cheaper trucks, and set out to make a freight marketplace to solve that perceived problem. What I actually created was an auxiliary solution that was outside of the process flow and created extra work for the shipper. The idea died with the dock worker: no one wants to add one more layer to what they are doing. People want solutions that bring efficiency. This hard lesson is the experience out of which SwanLeap was born. I realized that the logistics and transportation industry needed an overhaul. It needed a holistic solution that could re-imagine a better way for supply chains to function, and one that is powered by the latest technology.
How was the first year in business?
The first year is exciting. It’s exhausting. The first year is the beginning of an uphill climb, but you still have tons of energy and passion to keep building. The difference between companies that fail and companies that succeed is in learning to sustain and multiply the energy and the passion. People always ask when we knew we were going to be successful. I always knew. Not because of any misplaced arrogance, but because of informed confidence in knowing that we were truly building a solution that would revolutionize an entire industry.
What was your marketing strategy?
Strategy? I’m not sure there was any strategy in the beginning as much as a commitment to building a product that would sell itself. A lot of products in the market receive their validation through marketing. We aren’t interested in that approach as it doesn’t feel authentic to us. We can all tell our story anyway we want to spin it, but allowing the technology and the tangible savings delivered to our customers to tell the story seemed like a better approach.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The first few years were particularly challenging. It was difficult to get the first companies to understand the different approach we were bringing to the industry. It was slow to gain traction and build referenceable clients. Rather than focus on growth, we chose to focus completely on delivering value to each and every client’s satisfaction. So, by focusing our priorities on servicing our clients over growing our business, we actually achieved a higher degree of growth.
How do you define success?
Success to me is defined as freedom. When we can deliver solutions to our clients at a competitive price that is outweighed by the value it delivers, without any external pressures that could risk our ability to execute. Freedom to do what’s right for the customer rather than what is dictated by a board of directors.
What is the key to success?
The key to success for SwanLeap is perseverance for your beliefs. It is important that we stay dedicated to the vision we have to change the industry. Often many factors make the status quo seem appealing, but we must remain diligent in pressing forward to not listen to the naysayers and continue to make progress even when it seems like the most difficult thing to do.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Learning to trust one’s instincts is a trait that is honed with age. When a person, customer, vendor, or situation does not sit just right, for instance, and your instincts tell you to remove that toxicity from your environment, it’s usually best to do so.
What are some quotes that you live by?
I really enjoy a lot of quotes around the topic of failure. Recently, a lot of attention has been on the importance of “failing fast.” Many successful leaders have come out for this mantra and others against it. The reason that failure is so important to acknowledge is because not everyone has the courage to admit they were wrong. There are countless examples in history of leaders who could not admit fault and continued down the wrong path that eventually lead to their demise.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toughest day I’ve had was the day I realized that the first business I started wasn’t going to work. I dedicated more than two years of my life to working on a solution that revolutionized the industry by completely up-ending logistics. However, one day we realized this amazing idea would not work. Although it was a good idea, executing that idea wouldn’t yield the results we want.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Adversity happens each and every day in business; the only variance is to what degree. When a difficult situation arises, I take the, “How to eat an elephant” approach…by eating one bite at a time. Most things can be dealt with by diagnosing the problem, evaluating options for a solution, then systematically executing the strategy.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Never stop learning. In every failure, in every mistake, in every challenge, in every success, there are lessons to be learned. Allow these lessons to shape how you move forward and how you build your brand and your business.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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