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How SupplyShift Built a Foundation for Success at TechRaising: a Q&A with Alexander Gershenson

How SupplyShift Built a Foundation for Success at TechRaising: a Q&A with Alexander Gershenson

SupplyShift helps large companies understand who is in their supply chain and what they are doing across a range of issues. The Santa Cruz based company founded by Alexander Gershenson and James Barsimantov tracks supply chains so businesses can ensure that they’re not using unethical practices.

Before Gershenson and Barsimantov ran their now-global company, however, they were two environmental consultants with a good idea for a tech platform and a vague idea of how to proceed. The two participated in TechRaising 2012, and the experience proved to be foundational in getting SupplyShift off the ground.

I spoke with Gershenson about his TechRaising experience, how it helped launch SupplyShift, and how things are going at the company six years later. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

Cat Johnson: My understanding is that SupplyShift enables companies to track their supply chain so they can make sure they’re not using slave labor or unethical practices anywhere along the chain. Is that correct?

Alexander Gershenson: Yes, but it’s not just social. It’s environmental, it’s governance, it’s compliance, it’s a whole range of issues. We help large companies understand who is in their supply chain, through multiple tiers, and what they’re doing with respect to various priorities of the companies. We primarily work with Fortune 500 companies.

That’s important work. It seems smart to give people a one-stop solution so they don’t have to try to track this information down themselves.

We think it’s pretty important. It’s a complicated technical challenge, obviously, but we have a really great crew of people working with us and we’ve made some progress.

SupplyShift has its origins in TechRaising. What was your experience and how did SupplyShift grow out of TechRaising?

My cofounder, Jamie Barsimantov, and I met in grad school working on our PhDs in environmental studies. We then started an environmental consulting company called EcoShift Consulting. We worked on that for a number of years and we saw an opportunity in the marketplace. Companies started looking at their wider footprint and there were no tools that met our customers’ needs to track information.

It’s complex to track information where you’re linking multiple entities and trying to get intelligence from the data. The primary tools were email and Excel, which are incredibly time consuming and hard to get any meaningful information from.

When we had the idea for SupplyShift, we’d never built software. Jamie had heard about TechRaising and wanted to go. To be honest, I was skeptical, but we did it and it was foundational for us.

We found our first developer and found an advisor who later became an investor and introduced us to a whole range of other investors. In many ways, SupplyShift was truly born at TechRaising 2012.

How did you take what was created at TechRaising and grow it into a full-fledged company? What pieces did you have in-place after the weekend that you then built on?

We had a one-screen prototype, front-end piece of SupplyShift. Then, after TechRaising, we were talking with James Lafferty, the developer who primarily built it, and said, “Let’s keep working on it,” and James said yes.

For the next couple of years we worked on it. For all of us, it was a second job while we were building out the prototype. We ended up at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York with the prototype the next year, and were finalists.

We continued building the concept and the beta and talking with potential customers, getting feedback. There was a lot of back-and-forth asking large companies what they would like to see in the product. We did a lot of potential customer interviews. We launched into beta in 2014 and launched version 1 in July of 2015.

How much prep had you done before TechRaising?

SupplyShift was just a concept. We knew what the customers needed and we had a rough idea of what it should look like. That was about it.

What’s new with SupplyShift? What are you working on and how are things going?

There are almost 40 people on three continents involved with SupplyShift today. We have several dozen Fortune 500 customers and we’re rolling out new features once every five weeks or so. We have almost 20,000 entities on the platform reporting to companies across a range of metrics.

Are those entities vendors along the supply chain that you’ve already vetted or know something about?

We don’t vet anyone. We are a data management platform so we enable companies to collect information from their suppliers. We’re not a standards body and we’re not an auditing firm. We are a technology platform.

How would you advise someone considering participating in TechRaising this year?

Stock up on sleep and be prepared to drink lots of coffee. Know that you’ll get stuff done. You get out of it what you put in and, if you’re prepared for a solid three days of no sleep and lots of coffee and potentially going in directions you weren’t expecting, then you’ll be all set.

The key is, once you sleep it off, to continue and make sure you have a plan for after TechRaising. You won’t do all the things in those three days but you’ll set up a solid foundation. Just be prepared to continue forward. It’s a long road but it’s a good start.

I’d love to hear your big picture thoughts on the tech scene in Santa Cruz. What do you like? What would you like to see?

The state of the Santa Cruz tech scene is very encouraging. Just last year, I’m aware of at least six companies that have raised venture capital rounds, which, for our small town is pretty impressive. It’s always challenging to raise money in Santa Cruz. We have great angel groups but there aren’t institutional investors in Santa Cruz. Our venture investors are all from the East Coast, ironically.

We received a lot of help and mentorship and funding from Central Coast Angels, which is a great, amazing, local group. But in terms of venture capital, there isn’t much in Santa Cruz.

I think there’s a great breadth of companies: Two Pore Guys, Inboard, PayStand, Looker, across all sorts of sectors that’s very encouraging. I think the Santa Cruz tech scene is in a really good place. I’m very optimistic about where we’re going. It speaks to the general “Let’s get stuff done” Santa Cruz attitude.

TechRaising 2018 takes place June 1-3 at Cruzio. Tickets and more information: techraising.com

Cat Johnson is a writer and content strategist focused on community and coworking.