Sherpa founder, Ben Nowlan

Ben Nowlan: What’s it like at the helm of a tech start-up?


When we’re ready to go with a new business idea, we’ll conjure up a whole raft of questions (as you should) like – How will I validate this? How will the product be developed? And perhaps most importantly; How’s it all going to be funded? These questions are all incredibly pragmatic, and they are – without a doubt – some of the gatekeepers to progress. But there’s another fundamental consideration, often overlooked, or perhaps dismissed as too crude: What’s it actually going to be like day-to-day, and will the reality of running a business in this space really suit you? So what’s the best way to find out? Get some insight from someone already walking in the shoes you’re about to put on.

Here, Ben Nowlan tells us what it’s been like so far as the founder of his tech start-up, Sherpa – a start-up in the logistics space, providing on-demand and same day delivery for businesses and users.

“The space here in Australia is extremely tough with a very incestuous and complex web of existing relationships to overcome. As well as a target market that is just waking up to impact of controlling delivery to their customers,” says Nowlan.

“Add to this a difficult investment landscape and I would say the last two years have not been easy but of course that's par for the course.”

So what’s the usual daily routine?

I personally set daily goals and themes in terms of what I want to achieve. That governs my entire day; if it’s not in line with what I need to do based on my core objectives, I don’t do it. Apart from that, every day is about getting the team motivated and selling, selling, selling.

What do you enjoy most about your business?

The team; we have such a great bunch of people, so talented and driven. We wouldn’t be where we are if it was not for the team. Additionally, I actually enjoy the industry of logistics as it’s so exciting right now. There’s loads of innovation in the space and thematically, logistics is a core industry that will continue to receive a focus and the lion’s share of investment due to the importance of it in changing consumer needs and with the role it plays in things like self-driving cars, drones etc.

And the least enjoyable?

Disappointing a customer when their delivery is late. We are the best in the business but we still have deliveries that run late. Other than that, Australia has a very incestuous industry with not many people willing to challenge the status quo.

When do you feel most challenged?

Being present enough to focus on the horizon whilst you are fighting in the weeds. People are also the biggest challenge but in a good way. You have to show up each day and lead and some days that’s easier than others.

What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had on this journey?

How much I didn’t know about logistics. Actually that doesn’t surprise me. I’m not surprised by much but I guess I was a little surprised how little innovation there was in the Australian courier and logistics space. Less than I thought, which had made a huge opportunity for us.

What do you find most rewarding?

The feedback you get from customers and seeing my team work late nights/weekends just because they are passionate. Being a tech startup is all about delayed gratification in some ways but I get huge rewards out of the task; the process. I love owning my craft and refining it each and every day.

How would you describe the people you work with?

Amazing. Strong values, self-governing and smarter than me. I’m big on values and self-awareness so the people we hire need to have those as a non-negotiable. This is because these are some of the pillars of a successful person; someone that leads themselves, contributes to the outcome of the company beyond ‘turning up’ and challenges themselves and those around them to be better.

How’s the work/life balance?

Not bad. I exercise and meditate early in the morning which sets my mood and tone for the day. I’m always working but I find time for other things I’m passionate about in my life. I try to set boundaries for when I let work in or I’m on my phone; sometimes I’m good, sometimes I’m terrible. Like everything, it’s something you’re always working at.

What are the most fun and most boring parts?

Fun part is I get to do what I want every day and there are no boring parts. Impossible to be boring. I love building products that have an impact so I find that fun. I find it fun, generally, the challenge of building a company; proving concept, finding capital, getting traction…it’s all a part of the game.

Does it (or will it) pay well?

No, us founders pay ourselves the least in the company as we should; the payoff is if we can sell of IPO. Of course the odds of either of those are low so really we are gamblers.