Keith Byrd – Co-Founder & Partner, Transportation Impact

Keith Byrd began his 25-year career in the parcel industry with UPS, where he held a variety of positions. Before leaving UPS in 2008, he served as a senior sales manager, covering North and South Carolina. In 1995, Byrd was assigned to the UPS corporate office in Atlanta, GA. Having earned numerous accolades while with the world’s largest shipping company, Keith envisioned starting a company that could leverage his industry experience to help companies minimize operating costs.

Transportation Impact has developed strategic partnerships throughout the United States to help clients find additional avenues in which they can reduce their respective supply chain costs.

Byrd served in the United States Marine Corps from 1981 to 1984 before becoming a member of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol from 1986 to 1987.

Tell me about your early career.
I joined the Marine Corps in 1981 and served until 1984, and then left the Marine Corps, and in 1986, joined the North Carolina highway patrol, where I stayed for two years. In 1989, I was fortunate enough to get a job with UPS as a driver. I drove for eight months, got promoted into management, and was with UPS for twenty years, mostly in sales. UPS taught me a lot, and most of the people that work here at Transportation Impact worked with me at UPS.

How did the concept for Transportation Impact come about?
My partner, Travis Burt, and I were both in sales, and our job was to protect the margins of the carrier. We would go out and negotiate with high-volume shippers, protecting the margins of UPS. Over time, we got to talking and said, “How would it be to do what we do, but work on behalf of the client?” In other words, offering our knowledge, skill, and ability to get the client better discounts and to share in the savings. But at the same time, we really wanted the carrier to be profitable, because if it’s not, nobody’s going to be happy. So, we had to come up with a business model that helped the client gain knowledge, get them a best-in-class rate, but ensured the carrier remained profitable. That way, it’s a win-win for everybody.

How was the first year in business?
The first year was very, very challenging. We were actually sued by the carrier. The lawsuit was settled, but we could not go into any of our old areas for two years. So, what that made us do is knock on doors and sell ourselves and our service to complete strangers instead of people we had business relationships with. It was very challenging, because we made no money to speak of and it was a lot of pressure. We both had left really good jobs, we had families to raise, we were accustomed to a certain lifestyle, but that adversity definitely made us better.

What was your marketing strategy?
In the beginning, we didn’t have a marketing strategy. I never will forget the first time we went to a trade show. It was called Parcel, and we really didn’t have the money to go, but we researched it and found out that people in our space met once a year. Back then, it was held in Chicago every year, and we went there without any kind of marketing plan or strategy. We thought we were just going to walk the trade show hallways and people would be flocking to hear what we had to say — boy, were we surprised.

When we got there, everybody had beautiful booths. I think back now how funny and embarrassing it was. We rented a regular old table, like a table that you’d see in a restaurant, went and bought a white tablecloth, and called the local sign company and got them to make us a 2’ x 3’ sign that had our name on it. We rented a space for hardly anything, because we were the last ones in and it was some space they couldn’t sell to anyone else, so it was in the back corner by the bathroom or something. So, here we are standing behind our table with no collateral and with that little sign, and you could feel everybody was just laughing at us. At that point, I knew that the game was a lot bigger than we had thought, from a marketing, collateral, professional, and presentation standpoint.

But that failure made us. To this day, in the industry, our marketing and our collateral are best in class, and we hear that from even our competitors. So, we took a negative and made it into a challenge, and we stepped up our game.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
I think the first year we grossed $14,000 in revenue, the second year it went to something like $140,000, and then it more than doubled. And then for the next four to five years, we were having anything from around 55% to 65% growth, which was crazy. We grew really fast. We started slow, but once we started getting clients and the word got out on the street about what we did and our references, our channels to market changed.

We started going to more trade shows. We got into the audit side of the business, which gained us visibility and demonstrated capability to a potential client. The audit is an invoice-based, non-intrusive recovery audit. The customer truly has to do nothing. It’s a no-brainer. Technology secures the refund, but the big thing is that it gives us visibility to our potential clients. That and we can run a free analysis to see if we can help them in the other aspects of their business. So, now we’re a leader in our industry by far from a revenue standpoint, a retention standpoint, and a growth standpoint.

How do you define success?
That’s a great question. Success to me is when our company offers a product or a service that benefits another company. You don’t know how humbling it is to be talking to a CFO and they say, “Because of the savings that you helped generate, we saved twelve jobs last year,” or “I was able to broaden my market,” or “I was able to come up with a different widget.” It’s very humbling. But how I define success is not only that, it’s also creating jobs for people. We take that very seriously here at Transportation Impact. Coming up with something that the customer can use to save money, recruiting great young talent, which we have here at TI, and watching them grow — that’s the definition of success to the leadership team here. And of course, revenue plays a part in it.

We’re very proud here at TI because we just found out today that for the second time we’ve been named one of the top 100 companies in North Carolina. And we found out last week that for the second year in a row we’ve made the Fast 40 in North Carolina, and for each of the last five years, we’ve been named to Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest-growing companies. But the one that we’re most proud of is the one we won this year for the first time: we were voted one of Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces.

So, my definition of success is to feel good about the customer benefitting, watching a young person get groomed, gaining recognition, and growing revenue.

What is the key to success?
The key to success I have found is paying attention to detail, and that’s the culture we have in our company. That’s the first part. The second part is doing what you say you’re going to do. If you walk into our conference room, by the door, before you go in, it says, “Attention to detail is what got us here.” When you exit, you look up, and it says, “Doing what you say you will do is what will keep us here.” So, I define the key to success as being different. Being different is attention to detail — you don’t really see that a lot in today’s world. People seem to get caught up or lose focus. And it’s the same with doing what you say you will do. If we say we’re going to reduce your cost by 18.2%, we do it. The other piece of it is to always be listening to your customers and your people. If you listen to what their wants and needs are and take action on those, success is inevitable.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The greatest lesson I’ve learned over the course of my adult life is to not take any good thing for granted. Whether it’s personal or work, humility is a trait I’ve learned the hard way, and it has been an excellent teacher. Great success and explosive growth will ultimately lead every person down a path where their character will be challenged. Their moral fabric will be tested. In the end, humility and appreciation for what you have will command your attention. My family, friends, and employees come first, and there will never be any exceptions to that. They are the good things I can’t take for granted.

A few other lessons I have learned:
1) Trust your instincts.
2) Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
3) Book smarts are great, and street/business common sense is just as valuable.
4) It is impossible to “shrink to greatness.”
5) The value in taking risk and failing is learning the lesson. Don’t be afraid to fail.
6) Trust the people around you.
7) Take care of your people, and your people will take care of the company.

What are some quotes that you live by?
· “Do what you say you are going to do.”
· “Pay attention to the details and the small things.”
· “Don’t forget where you came from.”
· “There is no substitute for loyalty.”
· “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.”
· “Don’t be scared.”
· “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”
· “Do the right thing.”
· “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”
· “Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done.”
· “Be somebody!”

What are some of your favorite books?
My favorite book is the Bible.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Well, the toughest was when UPS sued us. I had it in my mind that we were going to come in here and just do big things right off the bat, and that brought me down to my knees very quick. They’re a big company, and I’m out here beating my chest saying how good we’re going to be and all that. That was the toughest time for me as an entrepreneur.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I love challenges. When you get comfortable and everything’s going great, that’s when you get sloppy. When faced with adversity, I just the love the challenge of finding the root cause, finding out how to fix it, and fixing it. It’s that simple. Here at TI, we’re faced with adversity all the time. We go and lock ourselves in a room, and we bring in employees, we bring in the leadership team, and we whiteboard it. We say, “Here’s the problem,” and we attack it. And we don’t leave that room until we have at least a plan to push it forward to where we can fix it.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
When we first started, I thought that to build our company and be successful, we had to hire people who had a lot of experience in the industry. And I learned very quick that it’s the opposite. Sometimes, you put blinders on to how you think things should be. When you’ve got a 25 year old that’s never been in the industry come up with some of the biggest ideas and figure out some of the best solutions to some of the biggest problems, it’s just amazing. That’s been one of the biggest parts of our success. So, one piece of advice I would give to a young entrepreneur is they don’t have to recruit people with college degrees or who are experienced in the industry. I would also advise never to forget where you come from. UPS taught Travis and I many things, but one that sticks out for us is giving back. UPS is huge on that. We’ve brought that culture to our company, not just in funds, but also in time and effort. Don’t forget where you’ve come from and always help your fellow man out.

Who else should we interview? Nominate someone!

Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

Check out the Books most recommended by successful entrepreneurs and executives!