“Bring passion, infectious passion! If you’re the biggest hype in the room, people gravitate towards you” : Interview with Jack Williams, Co-Founder and CEO of Selazar

Founded in 2018, Selazar is a Belfast-based startup disrupting the ecommerce industry, specializing in getting products from A to B quickly and easily. Through its end-to-end fulfilment service platform, Selazar takes the headaches and fuss out of ecommerce operations. In November 2021, the startup picked up £20 million (€23.8 million) and is on track to open new warehouses across the world – including in the Netherlands, Ireland the US, Mexico and Colombia! 

While the ecommerce sector is booming across Europe, Belfast is marking itself as an up-and-coming tech hub and startup city. Selazar is one of the newest stand-out success stories from the Northern Irish capital.

We chatted to Selazar CEO and Co-Founder, Jack Williams about the company’s fast-paced growth, what’s next for Selazar (including its sustainability commitment) and why Belfast is a great place to launch a startup.

Jack, you’ve had quite an interesting entrepreneurial career. You exited two tech companies in the digital logistics industry before founding Selazar in 2018. What is your founder story?

Even as a youngster, I was grafting. In school, I learned of the wonders of overseas bulk buying and made some tidy pocket-change following a few industry trends at the time. That’s probably where my eCommerce journey started; little did I know that it would go this far. I always liked to see a challenge, a problem to solve and find an interesting way to approach it. A new way, my way – or now, the Selazar way. One time, the family kitchen was refurbished, and the old flooring was left in the garden. While many people would see this as a waste disposal problem, for me, it was a challenge. By the weekend, I had a functioning bowling alley in the back garden – ball return and everything. 

Fast forward, I found myself becoming a technology-first company founder because there was a problem that needed solving in the eCommerce industry, which I thought could positively impact a lot of people, all over the world. I believed my ideas could really help. When you find something like that, you pursue it – so, I founded Selazar. In 2019, I was nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year at the Digital DNA Awards, in recognition of my work to date.

Now your main focus is Selazar, can you tell us about the company?

Selazar is the UK’s most accurate end-to-end fulfilment service. It is essentially an eCommerce enabler, allowing businesses without much prior online experience to challenge big brand names with intelligent, automated and efficient fulfilment. Through our easy to use end-to-end fulfilment service platform, eCommerce brands and retailers can maintain their fulfilment operations – from stock management, picking and packing, to delivery and returns.

We have taken an old-fashioned business, an industry that was traditionally very email and spreadsheet-driven, and overburdened with manual processes, and given it a shake-up. We are revolutionising the sector with unprecedented levels of technology, with far greater levels of intelligence and automation, especially in that final mile fulfilment area. The pace at which eCommerce has evolved in recent years was accelerated as a result of changing customer demands and the pandemic. Cutting-edge fulfilment technology plays an integral role in ensuring rapid delivery to customers.

The ‘lightbulb moment’ for Selazar came through developing another eCommerce business, actually. At a point, we found ourselves with 100,000 different products and we held 10% in stock. We were very reliant on an efficient fulfilment and supply chain operation, which presented real management and governance challenges. Additionally, we were overspending on numerous pieces of technology that didn’t work very well together, which in turn created inefficiencies, a lot of human error and required a lot of manual data input. At that point, I realised that there must be a better way to organise and automate fulfilment and eCommerce operations. I started looking at how we could do things in a different way, via a unified single platform that could digitalise all aspects of eCommerce fulfilment. This was the genesis of the idea that grew into Selazar, a tech-first company.

Our overall vision is to provide a robust, user-friendly, end-to-end technology platform for any business’ eCommerce fulfilment needs. In simple terms, everything that happens after the consumer hits the eCommerce “buy” button – we are building something to help.

Selazar was founded in Belfast in 2018, and now also has offices in London. The Belfast startup scene is growing at the moment. Do you think it could become a startup star location in the future?

We have seen many startups starting from Ireland, but also big companies opening offices there over the past couple of years, so it’s definitely on the way to becoming a technology hub. There’s a couple of key factors to consider here: a well-educated workforce pool, growing every year from some top-notch universities; also, the cost of living makes it a compelling city along with a bustling nightlife, like in the Cathedral Quarter. So, it’s great for employees and businesses as it can avail of grants and incentives to help them grow quickly, just like we have. 

Our funding is thought to be the biggest outside investment into a Northern Ireland start-up. We’ve seen lots of other businesses booming around us, and for me, Belfast is a star startup location today. In Belfast, you can get everything you need, from space to staff to funding, close to Europe, at affordable costs – something that London can’t offer. 

You recently got a £20 million investment – congrats! What are your top tips to get funding?

Come up with an idea that solves a market-wide problem. Keep innovating and looking at how you can level the playing field and enable companies to grow with technology, and create a network and community to support them every step of the way. 

Find great people – on your own team, and others. We had lots of help, from great mentors to dedicated finance teams, and everything in between. If you want to do something big, you’re going to need help. Getting that support in the right places, early on, goes a long way to securing funding. 

Finally, bring passion, infectious passion! If you’re the biggest hype in the room, people gravitate towards you. They respond to the energy that helps articulate and solve the problem they knew about but didn’t see the value proposition for. 

What’s next for Selazar? 

We’ve evolved as a business, as founders and as technologists, to meet the needs of our expanding team. I had a vision of maybe 30 employees one day; as it stands this year, we are set to grow closer to 100 people and that’s certainly a shift in my thinking. I’m really enjoying the culture-building aspect of company life.

Our major focus will be to continue to develop our technology and refine our offering, making it even more customer-centric. We’ll keep building a truly global fulfilment service that will help our customers expand into new markets quickly, making cross-border inventory management truly seamless – offering them the same service across the globe. Things like late dispatch, multi-courier options and custom fulfilment capabilities at highly effective prices per region are a huge undertaking, and there are so many new partners to find. That’s where we are focusing now: it’s about building a truly one-stop-shop for eCommerce sellers in the UK and across the globe, by ensuring we get the best strategic partners in every region we operate in.

The more time we dedicate to the task, the smarter our system gets and the more fringe use cases we solve. That’s the beauty of the tech-lead approach; once a problem is solved, it’s solved for everyone, always – it’s repeatable in any of our warehouses. We will also continue building on the 4 pillars for alternative, eco-friendly ways that retailers can run their eCommerce business: Eco Packaging; Waste reduction; Intelligent routing; Efficient returns processing.

Do you have a motto that motivates or inspires you?

As a technology company that is focused on innovation, we subscribe to the motto ‘Fail, But Fail Fast’. Experimentation leads to success but of course, failure is part of the process – which is a good thing. It’s how you respond to failure that’s key. The quicker you pick yourself up and dust yourself off, learn from it and move on, the better. What you learn from failure is more important than the fact something failed. 

The other tenant that’s been born from failing fast is Keep it Simple; it’s not a new idea but it’s one worth learning! The more complex the beast, the less understandable it becomes. We’re building with scalability and modularity in mind, meaning each component needs to be simple and agnostic of the rest of the system. There is only so much simplification you can do with logistics, but that’s where the innovation comes in. That’s the challenge, the inspiration, the motivation that drives me as a founder, to keep creating human-centered solutions in a technological way.