CROSSING THE CHASM:
THE AUTHENTIC ENTREPRENEUR
When I see what we have achieved and how many people in retail our product touches daily, it’s kind of amazing. It makes me so proud to see the scope of Zipline’s impact.
Melissa Wong often refers to herself as an “accidental entrepreneur.” As a communications veteran ten years into her retail career, she had never really thought about leaving it all behind to start something new. But in her role leading store communications for a Fortune 50 retail brand she kept running into the same problem, over and over.
“I was focused on driving better understanding and execution across our more than 50,000 store employees,” says Melissa. “But over the years, different CEOs and Heads of Stores would always express the same pain-point: that stores weren’t doing what we were telling them to do.”
Getting store teams to properly put up window posters, adjust displays, and pull inventory - all correctly and on time - was a constant uphill battle for Melissa and her team. It seemed as if access to great talent and tremendous resources still wasn't enough. After hundreds of conversations with store managers and district leaders, headquarters employees and peers across the industry, Melissa realized that the breakdown in store execution was a result of ineffective communication.
“Working in retail can be challenging and field teams often feel isolated, in the dark, and left guessing about how to prioritize their stressful days,” she says. “We didn’t have the right technology in place to align field leaders, organize work, and engage associates in an efficient and compelling way.”
Up until that point, Melissa had cobbled together disparate systems to try to reach her field audience in a consistent and compelling way. But email, portal sites and old technologies are slow, archaic and hard to use. Melissa knew that better technology could help her achieve her goals in a super streamlined, easy and engaging way. Yet no one had done it. “I couldn’t stop thinking about what the ‘perfect’ retail operations platform would look like,” recalls Melissa.
“I decided there had to be a better way. A friend connected me to my co-founder, Jeremy Baker, and we started building a better solution for store execution and engagement.” That solution was Zipline.
Making the Leap
Building with purpose
Leaving a corporate job to strike out on your own can feel a lot like jumping off a cliff. But every entrepreneur reaches that tipping point where the burning desire to take the plunge outweighs the risks holding you back.
“I had hit a wall where I knew putting in more hours actually wouldn’t result in a better outcome,” says Melissa. She sought advice from friends, colleagues, and family. “My mom said to me, ‘Well, what's the worst that can happen? You know, if it doesn't work, you can always come back and live with your dad and me.” Melissa took her mom’s words of advice to heart, realized that she didn’t have that much to lose, and decided to follow her passion to create an easier way for retail employees to work.
The fact she spent more than a decade working for major retail brands before founding Zipline gave her the edge in the market. Investors were quickly taken with Melissa’s passion for and deep understanding of the retail industry - something unique for a vertical SaaS company. Two rounds of funding later, Melissa’s original vision continues to propel Zipline to greater heights.
“My goal has always been to use technology to both engage associates as well as ensure execution,” says Melissa. To do that, Zipline automates manual processes to save time for stores and headquarters, personalizes content into bite sized pieces to individual users, and organizes information in a way that keeps track of the work that needs to be done. And of course, the tool provides easy reporting into execution. “I wanted everything to be done in a super streamlined, easy and engaging way,” Melissa explains.
Zipline’s mission is to improve the lives of retail workers. “Retail is the most populous job in America, so we believe that if we can make an impact on the way that frontline retail workers operate, we're really transforming the way the entire industry works,” Melissa says.
Building a mission-driven product starts with building a mission-driven company. To achieve this, Melissa infused her experience working in retail with the best practices of building a Silicon Valley company. “We like to think of ourselves as a technology company with the culture of a retail company. Our vision of making people's lives easier is deeply ingrained in our culture. All our employees place a very high importance on values and culture.” It’s these values that have been paramount while scaling the company in the last 24 months.
When COVID first hit, retailers and retail-focused technology companies braced for trouble. But as it turns out, the pandemic helped Zipline thrive. “Now a product that helps retailers communicate critical information when everything is changing is no longer a nice to have,” explains Melissa. During the pandemic, Zipline doubled its customer base and increased revenue by a factor of 2.5. “When I see what we have achieved and how many people in retail our product touches daily, it’s kind of amazing. It makes me so proud to see the scope of Zipline’s impact,” says Melissa.
Striking the Balance
We believe that if we can make an impact on the way that frontline retail workers operate, we're really transforming the way the entire industry works
In both her professional and personal life, Melissa is focused on being as present as possible. Whether spending time with her two-year-old daughter, getting outside in beautiful Marin (where she recently moved), or stealing away for a session on the yoga mat, Melissa prioritizes work/life balance as much as she can - and encourages Zipline’s employees to do the same.
“I’m always striving to lead from a place of authenticity,” says Melissa. “I never thought that I would be a startup founder. But I think that a lot of Zipline’s success has to do with us following our passion. I now believe that if you really have a passion and you have knowledge about something that is special and unique, you can make amazing things happen.”
Chief Executive Officer, Zipline
Crossing the Chasm: THE AUTHENTIC ENTREPRENEUR