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Taking on Technical Challenges as a Non-Technical Founder with Julie Schulte

Taking on Technical Challenges as a Non-Technical Founder with Julie Schulte

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Until recently, doing business in medical device engineering has been analog — which may come as surprising. After all, it is an industry that produces incredible lifesaving innovations. And yet, before the medical device component marketplace, Chamfr, there was little to no digitization. 

Today, ordering balloon catheters and spinal needles from Chamfr is as streamlined as ordering a blender and a garden hose on Amazon. As a one-stop shop for medical device components, Chamfr operates like most asset-light marketplaces. While suppliers benefit from Chamfr’s deep pool of buyers, they are responsible for fulfilling sales. Chamfr’s buyers are engineers who get value from being connected to the marketplace’s vast selection of in-stock components and short lead times. 

Having spent her entire career in medical devices, Chamfr founder, Julie Schulte understood the industry — and its dire need for digitization — better than anyone. In founding Chamfr, she knew her big challenge wouldn’t be proving demand, identifying pain points, or even selling customers on the idea of a medical device component marketplace. Julie’s crux would be navigating the technical challenges of an analog industry as a non-technical founder.

How Julie chose the marketplace model 

Julie and two other co-founders recognized that engineers needed fast access to components for early-stage development but were bottlenecked by long lead times and access to medical-grade components. 

“Engineers were going to websites, Googling, trying to find a supplier. Then, they'd have to pick up the phone and talk to a sales rep. They'd have to get an RFQ, which usually took a week or two. Then, they'd get signed up and scheduled in. Lead times were anywhere from six weeks to 16 weeks. And you can imagine when you're developing any product, time is money, right?”

After conceiving of Chamfr, Julie wasn’t concerned about product market fit—that she was sure of. Instead, her bigger concern was figuring out the appropriate business model for the one-stop-shop she envisioned. She knew the end goal, but as a non-technical founder, she didn’t have the language to explain what she needed to build.

“We're in an antiquated industry that hasn't evolved digitally. How do we solve these pain points with a solution? And then we Googled and figured out it was a marketplace that we were trying to build.”

The marketplace model was the missing link to the seamless medical device component ecommerce experience she sought to create. 

Three necessary steps to launching Chamfr’s marketplace

When Julie launched Chamfr’s distribution marketplace, she focused on three things: 

Building an MVP

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a methodology for building the most basic form of your business and using it to validate your business model and generate feedback. As Julie and her co-founders embarked on building Chamfr’s MVP, their goal was to get it to market and in customers’ hands as soon as possible and by whatever means available. 

“We were like, okay, we need an MVP. So, we Googled people who could build an MVP of a marketplace. And we found somebody who, let's just say, they weren’t the same person they had represented themselves to be on LinkedIn, but they got the job done for $10,000.”

The bottom line was her MVP was finished efficiently, and she could start gathering real-world feedback — and selling it to suppliers — fast. 

Agile technology 

Because the medical device component industry was so new to any digitization, the engineers themselves didn’t know what capabilities would add to their buying experience. As a result, Julie had to ensure the tech behind Chamfr was incredibly agile. While she didn’t have the technical background to make those changes, she knew someone who did. 

“I brought over one of my co-founders, who’s a mechanical R&D engineer in product development. I recruited her from the engineering department. I said, I don't know what you need or how to figure it out, but you can figure it out. And if you can come up with the specs for components, then we'll put them online and sell them. So that's what we did.”

Signing on suppliers

Since Julie and her team were bootstrapping Chamfr,  she needed to get suppliers—and revenue—on board as fast as possible. So she dangled a tantalizing carrot to suppliers: quick and easy access to leads.

“We got [suppliers] to cut checks because I was like, I know this is the most efficient sale. This will shorten your sales cycle. It'll get you in touch with the buyer right away. It will catapult your brand awareness, brand recognition, brand equity, and you can eliminate the initial salesperson.” 

How Chamfr’s marketplace digitized its industry

Today, Chamfr has solved all the pains it set out to solve and then some. It gets 20,000- site-wide searches, 15,000 site visits, and orders from engineers in 50+ countries per month. Chamfr revolutionized the medical device component industry by: 

1. Facilitating online purchasing

The old way of purchasing medical device components was, in Julie’s words, broken. With Chamfr, Julie took the medical component industry on the digitization journey other industries have already long been on, eliminating many of the manual touchpoints involved in a sale.

“With a digital channel, [suppliers] put that product on the website. When the engineer buys it, they get a transactional email that says,’ Hey, this is the product they ordered, fulfill it.’ They put a label on it and ship it. Nobody picks up the phone. Nobody talks. Nobody has to look for it. The email goes right to the warehouse where the person has the product.”

2. Multi-vendor transactions

Engineers in the early stages of building prototypes don’t always know what they’re looking for. Not only do they have to research suppliers, but they need many samples of a component before they identify one that meets their use case. Before Chamfr, they would have to repeat the lengthy purchasing process for every component. 

“With Chamfr, the suppliers build different component combinations, and they have them in stock in their facility. When an engineer wants to look at all the different possibilities —different sizes, different durometers — they look through the site and order five or 10 in small quantities, and order them from multiple suppliers. In the end, they’ve got ten different suppliers and actual product capabilities in their hand.”

3. Product availability 

Traditional purchasing methods were prone to bottlenecks. Several suppliers would fulfill a Bill of Materials (BOM) of 25 components. The entire iteration cycle could be delayed, all because one of those components took 16 weeks to fulfill, while the others took six. Chamfr solved this problem by only showcasing in-stock products.

“You can go to our marketplace and see supply in stock supply, ready to ship within 24 to 48 hours from 75 suppliers in every product category. You're like, bam, bam, bam, one-stop-shop, click the button, and all those suppliers ship you what they've got.”

4. Supplier leads

In addition to getting engineers the medical device components they need in a faster, more streamlined way, the traffic Chamfr generates has become a significant value for suppliers because it provides access to an audience mass that suppliers couldn’t capture on their own.

 “It’s a 24/7 digital tradeshow. [...] We’re essentially a lead gen tool for suppliers.”

Lessons for marketplace operators: Have a technically savvy team

Having spent her entire career in medical devices, Julie knows the industry like the back of her hand. But when it came to building a marketplace, she had to fill in the technical knowledge gaps to make the marketplace work the way she knew it needed to. 

Her advice to other marketplace operators? Ensure you’ve got a technically savvy team.

“It's like trying to speak the same language when you're from completely different ends. Tech is a language, and it's a communication style. The whole agile process is something to be learned in and of itself. So, bless [our marketplace developers’] souls. They got us here, and we stuck through it together, but I'm very happy to have additional resources now.”

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Julie: [00:00:00] We were not tech founders, we were med tech, veterans, right? Had we known, you know, what a PIM was when we started, had we known how, uh, cleanliness of product data was super important in terms of everything that follows in, in your tech stack and really optimizing the buyer's experience, we probably would have been scared off and not started it.

Right. So we've had to literally figure it out along the way. And, and I would say, um, just within the last year, it's like, okay, this is, Where we, if we had, we had these learnings and these insights upfront, we would have started this in a completely different way.

Niklas: Welcome to Operation Marketplace, a series where we talk to the people behind marketplaces.

We dive into their mission, how they found success and talk about the hurdles that they faced along the way. I'm your host, Niklas Hallusser, co founder and CEO of Nautical Commerce.

Hello and welcome back to the Nautical Commerce Podcast Operation Marketplace. I'm Niklas Hallusser, [00:01:00] CEO and founder of Nautical Commerce. Today I've got on the podcast, Julie Schulte. I think is the correct pronunciation, Julie Schulte. I was just corrected on that. Um, who is the founder and CEO of a B2B marketplace for medical equipment.

And, uh, maybe the first thing to answer for the listeners is, uh, your marketplace is called Chamfer. What is a chamfer and why is it called that?

Julie: Great question, Niklas. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. I'm really excited. Um, I wish that I had access to a podcast like this when I started the company six and a half years ago, because, um, I've listened to a lot of your interviews and there's just a ton of, uh, Great information and insights and learnings that you're sharing with a founder operator.

So thank you. Um, so chamfer is an engineering term and I'll give you my non engineering definition, which is a blunt edge. And, um, I actually have two co founders. Um, one of them [00:02:00] is a technical founder, but having worked with engineers, my entire career, being married to an engineer and, um, being in a engineer forward industry.

I actually came up with the term. It just popped into my head while I was playing tennis after about 500 horrible names for the company. And I said to my husband, is chamfer an engineering term? Like, doesn't it mean a blunt edge? What if our tagline was giving engineers an edge? And he was like, that's brilliant.

Dropped our tennis rackets. We called my co founder from the tennis court and she registered for the domain and we locked it up right there.

Niklas: Tell us a little bit more about the story of how you got into the question of medical. Marketplace in the, in the first place. So you clearly, you had a, an idea already before you had a name.

So what was the, what was that story?

Julie: Yeah. Um, so my entire career has been pretty much in med device. Uh, I've been in med device over 20 years. I've spent the first 10 years on the commercial side in various sales and business development roles. I, I spent the. [00:03:00] sort of quarter of my career prior to founding Champer, uh, on an executive team, um, leading up sales and marketing.

I'd gone back and got my MBA in marketing and really wanted to influence the entire organization, the sales cycle, um, and participate in an executive level in the growth strategy. Um, and product road map. And the great thing about that opportunity was my first executive role, but it was also my first time at a private equity backed company and in med device.

We historically don't have huge sales and marketing budgets. Um, it's a very technical sale. The sales cycle is very long. Um, it's very manual, antiquated, um, and so the budgets had been really tight, but this private equity group said, we will give you what you're asking for, at least, you know, more than we typically would if you do something unique with, with the money, because we had a three to five year exit strategy.

And we needed to become a no name to a household name in that time period. And, you know, everybody's saying the same thing, concept to commercial, you know, we're your best product development [00:04:00] partner. We've got all the best technologies. How do we differentiate ourselves? And I'd love to take credit for it, but it was actually, uh, an ops director who was frustrated by the sales team.

Interrupting his engineers. Early in the product development cycle where the customer didn't necessarily know what they wanted, but they needed onesie twosies to do product iterations. And our goal was to get specked in early because in med device, that's absolutely critical because of the regulatory hurdles of switching suppliers downstream.

So kind of whoever gets specked into the DHF, you're there for life, unless there's a major quality issue or supply issue. So this ops guy said, I'm just going to overrun a bunch of products. And I don't care if you give it away for free or put it on a website and sell it. And I was like. Hmm. That's actually brilliant because it solves a lot of the pain points on both the supply side and the buy side.

Um, engineers were going to websites, googling, trying to find a supplier. Then they'd have to pick up the phone and talk to a sales rep. They'd have to get an RFQ, which usually took a week or two. Then they'd get signed up. Scheduled [00:05:00] in which lead times were anywhere from, you know, six weeks to 16. And you can imagine when you're developing any product, time is money, right?

So speed to access just to iterate, um, was, was super critical and it was very, um, broken the process essentially. So we, we launched the first. single vendor e commerce store, um, for component sourcing and med device. And to be honest with you, half the executive team was said, this is crazy. This is a boondoggle e commerce doesn't belong in med device.

Everything's custom. And I said, but it's custom because there's nothing on the shelf. Like the engineers are telling me, I don't know exactly what I not want yet. I don't know what I need. I need something to get to the point where I can. Solidify the design. So I said, if we, you know, we know that devices are built in, you know, these different French sizes.

It's not like there's an infinite number of sizes. So let's create the components to build into that device so they can play and iterate, um, in the lab. And I actually brought over one of my co founders for the business is mechanical R [00:06:00] and D engineer in product development. And I recruited her from the engineering department.

I said, I don't even know what you need or how to figure it out, but you can figure it out. And if you can come up with the specs for components, then we'll put them online and sell them. So that's what we did.

Niklas: And so just to reiterate a little of what you said. So the, the way that the, your customers engage with you is they have to go and make a new medical device.

I won't pretend to know that I know what they are, complete blood cell counter. And. And they want to design a CBC and they are trying to find as much as they can off the shelf that matches the specs would fit into their goal of the kind of CBC they're, they're trying to build or, or, or shape or whatever else.

And so the goal is that today. You know, what do they do today before, [00:07:00] before, first of all, did I get that right actually is maybe the more important question. The second question then, then if I did get that right. You know, what did, what do they do today to figure out where all these parts are and what fits and, and, and, and how to put this thing together?

Julie: Um, I think the best use case example is a mechanical device because you have components that go into mechanical device. If you think about building something and then you need it to have a certain performance or functionality or actuation to navigate like the tortuous, uh, anatomy. You have a myriad of combinations of the components, like if you think about a shaft, you know, different durometers of tubing, different materials, and then you have, you know, pull wires.

Um, they have to use all these, play with the combination of components to get to the end result and the end performance of the device. And this is an iterative process. And so what was, what they would have to do, uh, before, you [00:08:00] know, Champer or e commerce was introduced, a digital solution was introduced is again, they'd have to either know the supplier or Google the supplier, then get somebody on the phone.

Then once they confirmed, they actually had the capability to deliver what they did. And a lot of times they don't know. So again, it's like, you might want 10 samples before you even know which one, um, meets your use case, then they'd have to get a quote from that company. They'd have to get. put into their capacity planning and then wait for a lead time to get the component.

And this is just one onesie twosies. So it's not, it's not efficient for the buyer. It's not efficient for the supplier. Um, and it really distracts from running the core business. So in with Champer, the suppliers build, um, different component combinations, and they have them in stock in their facility. And when an engineer wants to look at all the different possibilities and maybe some different sizes and some different durometers, they look through the site, they order five or 10 in small quantities.

And they can order [00:09:00] them from multiple suppliers. So now they've got, you know, 10 different suppliers, actual product capabilities in their hand. They can play with them in the lab and then follow up with whoever they want for the next iteration or the custom version of that. So it speeds the product development process and it makes it totally digital versus, you know, the old school way of doing it with pen and paper and phone calls and people.

Niklas: And you, you clearly knew, this flow or a chunk of this flow from where you would work before, how much of what you knew or what you had seen in your org ended up being transferable, or that was sort of the same for everybody else once you went to market? I mean, how much of a learning was there for you?

Um, uh, for how to generalize this into a marketplace?

Julie: I mean, I think the workflow for buyers and suppliers, frankly, are pretty established. Um, and that's a great question because when I've been listening to other people's challenges, you know, it was more around product market fit for us. Like we, [00:10:00] we confirmed it, but that wasn't the hardest part.

The hardest part was. It's understanding the digital world and how to like, have a vision for tools that could take our industry on the journey that every other industry had already been on, right? And so, and also just sort of the, you have this voice in the back of your head that is like, if this is real, why hasn't somebody done it yet?

You know, you start to question yourself, you're like, it seems like common sense that we should be moving in this direction, but if it's common sense, then why hasn't anybody done it yet? 

Niklas: Right. One of the other things that I noticed just, just. You know, playing with your marketplace a little bit. Is that you are very upfront about who your suppliers are and, and the source of those things.

So you, you, you know, you don't try to, it's called a hide that, right. You're very open about it. Um, which is an interesting decision. I'm sure many people, you know, you, you, you thought long and hard about the question of intermediation and things like this. [00:11:00] What do you need to provide to your buyers in terms of value?

That makes it possible that they don't have to worry that you don't have to worry about the fact that suppliers are, you know, that you can be open about suppliers.

Julie: Yeah. So there's, I mean, you always have to be worried about it, right? Because again, like the, the buyer can go direct and they do in many cases.

And, and for us, I think typically when people look at getting into med device, You know, the high volume, uh, the stickiness factor is downstream at commercial, right? And basically we look at the ecosystem differently. We are really focused on phase zero and phase one because that's the iterative process for engineers, right?

That's where the pain points that we were trying to solve existed for both sides. Um, it was very difficult to get to the decision makers early on in the design process because it was either gated by supply chain or the R and D engineers didn't know What they should ask for. So it's like they were sort of not clear about [00:12:00] what they needed.

And so we were trying to match our capabilities with them at that point in time. Digitally. Now they just get to scan all right now we have over 6, 000 components. They get to look at all the different suppliers. It's basically an R and D toolbox, right? And in order for that to happen, there's a couple reasons we consciously chose to have transparency to the supply.

Um, one where we're, uh, you know, we're focused on medical device. And there is sort of a requirement at some point, you have to be able to meet the quality and regulatory system requirements to participate in med device. Right. Um, we, we had, when we had our single vendor e commerce store, we actually tried to sell on Amazon cause we said, great, the leads are coming to us.

We don't care where they come from, but nobody was buying medical device components, you know, with lawn chair and lawn chairs and diapers. So we said, there's clearly an opportunity here for a small scale, Amazon like business. Now you need to have, uh, visibility to the supply again downstream, but [00:13:00] also bringing that to the forefront differentiated us from some of the other, uh, sort of people that were offering e commerce like distributors or people who primarily sold into industrial, but wanted to get into med device.

Um, there were a couple of people in our space who did not have transparency to suppliers. The engineer said it's very difficult for us to get specked in with them long term because we don't know who owns the design on the back end, right? So while it, while it's okay in the early phases, long term, they need that.

The other reason we did it, frankly, Niklas is because having transparency then brings, you know, the, the supplier brand, the responsibility of quality delivery, customer service. Um, and really our ultimate goal again, focused on the buyer was to elevate the awareness and knowledge of. All the tools they could have in their toolbox to get the best design in the fastest time possible.

Niklas: That makes sense. And so understanding then that much of the value that you bring [00:14:00] is in them sourcing the correct stuff for the correct project and with the correct guidelines. Um, I think in some worlds they call this, there's a term called parametric filtering. How do you get enough data from your suppliers to be able to provide all the, what I would expect, dimensions and complexity of information, potentially matching of that information To your buyers, you know, what's the exercise there?

Julie: Well, my hope is that in the future, it's, it's done through AI, to be honest with you, and they can just speed up suggested, you know, specifications for components, because a lot of the suppliers are saying to us what we'll sell. Right. And that's where really having, um, you know, my co founder Katie, who's a mechanical R and D engineer on the team, she was able to say, okay, if you're building a seven French catheter or five French catheter, you know, the various components, regardless of [00:15:00] durometer or material, um, have to be within this made up.

So if you look at all the different configurations and you just bump it up, you know, by a thou in this direction and that direction, you can kind of do that infinitely and still be able to match and marry components. So if you look at just when we started out the company that we started, um, the single vendor e commerce store was also an interventional.

We had six of the component categories, uh, vertically integrated internally. So we had in house capabilities for it. So we created, basically Um, a list of, you know, as many variables as we could, that would go into building these devices for the engineer just within that single framework. Right. And what we realized is like, there's use cases on the end.

It, it gave us insights into different markets. We could be selling them because we didn't know everything. The engineers were using it for us. They were actually able to tell us that. Right. And so it's a combination of just industry experience. I mean, she's been doing it for 15 years. We have other people bringing technical inputs.

We collaborate very [00:16:00] closely with the supplier. Supplier, they're the experts. Um, we can marry that component to like a device. I don't know if geometry is the right word, but you know, a full device spec, but they understand what, what sweet spot their capabilities are in and what markets, how they're looking to access the market with those sweet spots.

So it's a very collaborative process. We do use insight, you know, from search criteria on the site to inform future product expansions, um, both in terms of categories as well as size ranges. And our goal is to just. You know, fill it out entirely, um, in every direction that the engineers are looking for, frankly.

Niklas: Now, this sounds to me like a nightmare of a PIM problem, a nightmare of a categorization problem, and a nightmare of a, of a, of a vendor, of a vendor data collection problem.

Julie: Yeah. I mean, I will, a nightmare seems strong. I mean, it's certainly complex, which again, I think is why people who under, if, you know, we were not tech founders, we [00:17:00] were med tech.

veterans, right? Looking to do this. And I think it's one of the reasons that, um, you know, it's not a space that's easy to get into. It's like, if you're going to pick problems to solve, is this, are you going to go like high, high mix, low volume? Are you going to go, you know, infinite number of skews and combinations?

Or are you going to go, you know, hammer out the, the, Center point and just reprints and repeat. And so had we known, you know, what a PIM was when we started, had we known how, uh, cleanliness of product data was super important in terms of everything that follows and in your tech stack and really optimizing the buyer's experience.

We probably would have been scared off and not started it. Right. So we've had to literally figure it out along the way. And, and I would say, um, just within the last year, it's like, okay, this is where we, if had, we had these learnings and these insights upfront, we would have started this in a completely different way.

Right. I mean, we really just said, here's the pain points on the supply and buy side. We're in an industry that is [00:18:00] antiquated and hasn't evolved digitally. This is the way of the future. How do we solve these pain points with a solution? And then we Googled and figured out it was a marketplace that we were trying to build.

So we created an MVP just to solve the pain points, not thinking about PIM and product database and attributes and all that stuff modeling on the back end.

Niklas: I mean, honestly, often a good way to do it, right? Like get in the door with something. Just to test it out and learn, don't go overkill. There's always a day in the future when you can go and rip it all up and go crazy and, and hire a bunch of engineers and everything else, but I think it's typically a good approach to go and just get your foot in the door.

Do you pay your suppliers or do your suppliers pay you to be an option In the design flow.

Julie: Oh, they pay us. Um, it's, it's, it, the, the site is only monetized through the supply side. And, um, you know, I was in charge of the sales and marketing budget at my companies. I was boots on the ground sales. I was in charge of all the marketing investments.

And that's why I [00:19:00] had a lot of confidence in honestly starting the model is I knew that the ROI, um, for inbound lead generation and a digital platform was. You know, far exceeded any other opportunity or channel strategy that I had seen in my entire career. And again, you know, you don't need the hunter gather.

In fact, a lot of times in med device or this type of slow product development process, the hunter gather is just somebody out there, literally just raising brand awareness, trying to keep you front of mind. Hoping somebody will call at some point before somebody else suspect in, it just was not an efficient or a good use of time.

And when we saw how this could dial it in to get the right buyer at the right time for both them and the company and offer up a solution, and then the staff. The technical sales starts to say, okay, how did that work? What do you need? How can we iterate on that? How can we help you through the design development process?

I mean, it just honestly was a no brainer. So yeah, I mean, we are essentially a lead gen [00:20:00] tool for the suppliers. We are, we have access to an audience that they cannot get. Um, in the old school method, it's like a 24 7 digital trade show. Um, now we've got, you know, 15, 000 site visits a month. We've got people ordering from over 50 countries.

We've got 20, 000 site wide searches a month. So the amount of the access to the audience through us is unparalleled.

Niklas: and how do you balance, maybe you haven't gotten to this question yet, but I assume at some point. The um, the buyers, first of all, there's an opportunity with making recommendations and maybe there's something a little bit financial around that, right?

Um, so advert, you know, advertising spotlighting suppliers and things like this, but I assume your buyers will also want to be in a place where they say, okay, there's a reputation to a specific part or to something like this. How do you, or how do you expect to balance the. conflict of incentive or [00:21:00] the conflict of interest with being a tool that showcases suppliers, but also wanting to, um, give the buyers the best experience to design as the best experience of, of having data, like, you know, reviews of parts and quality of parts and things like this.

Julie: Um, if I understand the question, I mean, I mean, I don't see it as a conflict of interest because I think, you know, if you're a supplier, even whether, even in the old models, I mean, your reputation is your reputation. Quality is number one, especially in med device. It's critical, right? So a lot of people are selling based on quality and that's fine when you're creating marketing documents.

But if you can't follow that up with how you're delivering, that becomes, is. pretty quickly communicated to the community, right? So people are talking anyways, especially, um, there's ways to do reviews on companies and suppliers in other digital channels. So the, the bar is there and it's already set pretty high for med device.

Um, [00:22:00] so if you have that type of performance, you're going to want that visible, right? And on the buy side, In fact, we haven't matured as much as we'd like to, but we obviously have a vision for moving in this direction eventually, especially as the supply gets deeper. It's like, how do you, how do you choose if you've got multiple options?

Right. Um, but on the buyer side, especially at this stage of the process, I don't want to say quality isn't an issue because they want. To know long term that again, it's a supplier that's, you know, ISO 13485 FDA registered, um, which we do have visibility to on the site. Um, but in the short term, it's about speed.

It's about quick access to components and delivering on what you say you're going to deliver on. So that's a very transactional relationship at that point. And I think that's how they'll make their decision. We do have some visibility to that now, but it's, you know, in the product detail spec, and we plan to move that more to the forefront.

Niklas: So let's actually pause on, on, on speed, because speed is clearly important, right? Especially in iteration phase, if the whole goal is shorten the [00:23:00] iteration phase as much as possible, speed then becomes an important input. Um, Are you drop shipping all these components? Are you doing it on consignment? Do you maintain your own warehouses?

What does that look like?

Julie: We don't. It's all shipped directly from the suppliers to the buyers. Yep. And there's a couple of different reasons for that. Um, I mean, inventory shifts. And like you said, it's, it's high mix, low volume, right? So you want the supplier to be able to replenish. We do have some automated inventory controls and alerts set up so that the suppliers know when inventory is getting low and they can replenish based on high runners, they can replenish based on different data.

And the nice thing about them from an operational perspective is that they can actually plan when they have capacity. Um, Open versus when the engineer is requesting onesie twosies. So it was very disruptive to manufacturing and a lot of suppliers tried to have a separate R and D lab, but then those resources always get pulled in, in other directions.

And so this [00:24:00] allows the supplier to plan ahead, to really, um, deliver on the product fulfillment when it works for their, their team operationally. And so. And they get more control over that part of the process and they still get, again, the insights of what the buyers are looking for. And they can get, this is a, you know, an option for a higher price point.

Obviously they can get insight into the analytics of what the suppliers are, or the buyers are searching for on the back end as well.

Niklas: And have you found that they're sophisticated enough on the OEM side? To on the manufacturer side to consistently provide quality fulfillment, or is that something you've had to work with them on?

Julie: Not every use case is the same. Uh, but the problem is exists, whether they're servicing the buyers through our channel or another one. So I think they're motivated, definitely motivated to do it. And again, I think when operations hears, oh great, there's a new marketing initiative, you can just hear the deep sigh.

But once it's implemented, [00:25:00] they're, they tend to be a really big advocate because again, it puts the control in their court to say, here's how I'm gonna replenish. Here's when I'm gonna do it. Here's the skews that I'm gonna do it for instead of. Imagine an engineer coming with a drawing that they've created because there's no other way to communicate what they might need, but more than likely won't.

I mean, everything that's built into the legacy process is non value add, essentially, except for when the component is delivered. And to your point in product development, you got a BOM or a bill of materials of like 25 different components and the entire, Product development team and, you know, iteration cycle is paused because one component is taking 16 weeks versus the others are taking six.

So when you can go to our marketplace, you go to chamfer, you can see. Supply in stock supply, ready to ship within 48 hours, 24 to 48 hours from 75 different suppliers in every product category, where you want to iterate to build a device, you're just like, bam, bam, bam, put it in right away. [00:26:00] One stop shop, click the button and all those suppliers ship you what they've got.

And honestly, I had a, uh, one of the other companies I founded before, um, was a co founder of before this was a product development consultancy for MedDevice. So we were focused on bioelectronics and interventional. And my engineers were saying, Help us access. Who should we call for supply for this particular component?

In this case, it was silicone tubing. Who are the suppliers like they don't even know a lot of times. So they're googling who does silicone tubing, right? And then you get 10 different websites, but it's you have to pick up the phone and call each of them. Can you make this this this silicone tubing in this spec range?

And then they find it on a website. And say, great. These guys say they have a stock list and they call and try and get somebody on the phone to ship it. And the person who answers the phone when they finally did would say, I, yeah, I don't know who's, I don't know who controls the inventory or where it is.

I'm not sure. I mean, it was just a very broken process and it was so frustrating because you're missing, you know, Client deadlines, you're, you've got the whole team waiting for this one particular component. [00:27:00] When, you know, it's in their building somewhere. now with the digital channel, they put that product on, on the website.

When the engineer buys it, they get a transactional email that says, Hey, this is the product they ordered, fulfill it. They put a label on it, ship it. Nobody picks up the phone. Nobody talks. Nobody has to look for it. The email goes right to the warehouse where the person has the product. So it's just solved a lot of pain points and completely accelerated.

Um, both the, the design process as well as, you know, streamline the, the sales cycle on the supply side, frankly.

Niklas: You just mentioned a wonderful little flow there in terms of sending it straight to the sellers. You built this all yourself or you and your team?

Julie: Yeah, I was like, I physically didn't, but yes, we, we did.

Um, you know, we, we started when we divested the company. What's interesting is I heard somebody else say like, what made you start a company at the height of your career? You finally, you've worked for 20 years to, you know, get on the executive team. You're finally getting the paycheck you deserve. And then you're like, I'm [00:28:00] just going to toss it all to the side and start from scratch and You know, bootstrap a company for six years.

And it was for me, it was that we divested the company. Um, and I had a really restrictive non compete. I was basically like outside of med device for a year. And I was going to, my husband's like, you've been grinding it out, stay home and take care of the kids. And I was like, that's a great idea. Two weeks later, I was like, that job is way harder than any job I've done in the last 20.

So I sort of was like, what am I going to do with this time? And I had people saying, come build the same single vendor e commerce store for us. You went. You were very effective in becoming a household name in a short period of time. Um, our, our sales, we were able to show that the leads then translated to long term, uh, commercial volumes, you know, 12, 18, 24 months later.

So our, our product pipeline was very robust and we could stand behind that that would translate. So it was very successful exit for us. But I said, I don't want to do the same thing over and over again. I'll be bored. And also, As a product company, like a component technology company, I [00:29:00] don't want to spend half a million dollars to become e commerce experts, right?

Like I'd rather focus on my core technology, owning the technical side of it. So if we built a platform and we could operate as an extension, all of these people in med device can convert much faster. And that would serve the buyer, which is ultimately our true North is like, what will make the engineer's lives easier?

Right? Because that is the customer we're trying to serve. So, um, Um, so yeah, we, we just, we dove in, we built the business plan and we just got kind of obsessed with the idea. And we Google, you know, we're like, okay, we need an MVP. So we Googled people that could build an MVP of a marketplace. And we found somebody who, you know, Let's just say it wasn't the same person as they had represented themselves on LinkedIn, but they got the job done for $10, 000.

We built an MVP and we went out and just started selling it to people suppliers. And we got them to cut checks. Cause I was like, I know this is the most efficient sale. This'll shorten your sales cycle. It'll get you in touch with the buyer right [00:30:00] away. It will catapult your brand awareness, brand recognition, brand equity, and you can eliminate the initial sales person.

Right. And then just focus on the technical sale. And you supplier own all the, the long term value of the customer. And they were like, brilliant. We're in, they cut us a check. And I remember the moment we got the check, Katie and I were like celebrating at one point, and then we were like, oh shit, if we cash this, like there's no turning back now, it's like, this is our, our career for the next 10 years.

Niklas: There are two moments in a, in a company's history. Is when you get your first customer and your first and your first check.

Julie: Oh, the customer too. We were like staring at it during beta and we're like, is anybody going to order? Is anybody going to order? And then when it came through, we're like, it worked.

But yeah, so we had a single dev, um, and just to, to, you know, like I said, I'm, I didn't, we didn't have a tech background. So, um, we did have in house devs at our prior company where we, um, launched the first single vendor e commerce store in our [00:31:00] space. And I think we. I want to go back and tell them I, I didn't say thank you enough.

And I didn't appreciate what they did because we would just say, Hey, we want this and like magic, it would appear a couple of days later. So we're like, this can't be that hard. They just, so we were like Googling what platform to use. Um, you know, whether we do an off the shelf platform at the time, it was like Shopify and Magento, um, or whether we do it from scratch.

And honestly, we made the decision to do it on WordPress because it was the cheapest, quickest way path to MVP. And we were just like, we just need something so we can go out and make sure that, you know, we're not just dreaming of this, that this is real. And then once we had people convert, we kind of continued to build off of that.

Niklas: Okay. And so you're still on the, that core thing that you're developing for build for 10, 000. Have you, since

Julie: we're in the process of evolving, I will say to, uh, more of a headless model. 

Niklas: that makes sense. And, uh, so here's the question. Do you think of yourself as a technology company, a medical device company? Or a distributor? [00:32:00]

Julie: Great question. Um, distributor really doesn't cross my mind because I see us as a much more integrated part to the ecosystem in, in several areas, not just marketplace, meaning like supply of product long term. But if you'd asked me that question, Maybe in the first five years, I would have definitely said I'm a tech company.

Today, the answer is a tech company for sure. And unless we get into that mindset, you know, we're not going to be successful scaling this business and, and really providing the solution that we're looking to long term for sure.

Niklas: And so if you don't mind me asking, because you know, the question is always is, is, is, does your self view reflect the business, then what share of, of what you spend as a business today goes into technology? So your, your underlying tech stack.

Julie: Um, a majority of it. I would say, I mean, realistically, if I look at the spend between our devs and our tech stack versus, you know, other resources, I mean, which is a majority of the spend is [00:33:00] labor, right. Or, or marketing and advertising, I'd say it's about 50, 50.

Niklas: Okay. That makes sense. Um, and now you've built this business up, you found a niche, uh, and you've made something out of nothing and you've been through the ringer, what would your advice be to folks? Building, you know, both a business and marketplace and particularly a marketplace regulated space like yours.

Julie: I mean, I wouldn't recommend going into a regulated space. Again, we've sort of carved out a place in the ecosystem that's pre regulatory. So pre, you know, The design freeze, it's phase zero and phase one, as it relates to the product development life cycle for my device. 

Um, the advice that I give a founder operated in any environment, whether it's regulated or not, is make sure you've got a technically savvy co founder on your team.

I mean, I absolutely, I've met throughout my journey founders who are doing it alone. And that just blows my mind. That's [00:34:00] next level. I was like, if I didn't have co founders to collaborate with, um, you know, again, one, we all had different skill sets. We all had different backgrounds. They were very complimentary of each other.

Um, one of the co founders, as I mentioned, mechanical R and D engineer in med device, the other one, 20 years of branding and marketing. Um, the three of us really were able to, uh, you know, grow with each other, had support through a lot of the ups and downs, the challenges, but also just find creative ways to be scrappy and leverage our network and find solutions.

And we, we did bring on, um, we just started raising money in the fall for the first time. We bootstrapped the business to date and we just realized we needed a different skill sets than the three of us had at that point in time, in order to, to really be a tech company and not a med device company to our previous conversation.

Um, and so we went out and got, uh, another, you know, brought on a minority co founder that's, uh, has a technical background, a software background, and one with digital marketing expertise, 15 [00:35:00] years in, in building e commerce. So now we kind of have the dream team. Um, and I'm ready to see, but the fact that what they both said when they joined is how did you guys do this without a technical founder on your team?

And it's like, We are poor software developers, which we'd had to switch several throughout the years. It's like trying to speak the same language when you're completely from different ends of, you know, the text, it's a language and it's, it's a communication style. And, you know, just the whole agile process is something to be learned in and of itself.

So, um, bless their souls. They, they got us here and we stuck through it together, but I'm very happy to have, um, the additional resources.

Niklas: Somebody whose job it is to own software, build and manage software. I always like to repeat that owning software sucks. It Breaks. There's always some update, something falls out of the sky.

It's a day zero bug. It's a. [00:36:00] It's a God knows what, and there's never, and

Julie: then you have a non technical founder like me saying, just fix it. Why, what's, why is this all happening? What's going on? It's like a secret.

Niklas: Yeah. Well, I really appreciate your time. Um, uh, if I'm, uh, if somebody is interested in, in, in, in getting in touch with you in getting onto Chamfer as a, as a customer or a buyer, um, where do you recommend that they, that they get in touch with you?

Julie: I mean, the best way is, you know, go to our website. It's chamfer, C H A M F R. com. No E it's intentionally misspelled so we can own all the spaces. Um, or, you know, follow me on LinkedIn, connect with chamfer on LinkedIn. I'm happy to, to follow up with any questions, founders, engineers, suppliers. Whatever makes sense.

Happy to help. Thank you for the opportunity. This was really fun.

Niklas: Really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you very much and best of [00:37:00] luck.

Julie: Take care, Niklas. Bye.

Niklas: Thanks for tuning in to Operation Marketplace. This show is brought to you by Nautical Commerce, the end to end marketplace platform. If you have any questions about optimizing or starting a marketplace, hit the link in the description.

We hope you enjoyed the show. See you next time.