In late 2021, Keith Varga joined uShip as its Chief Technology Officer. Keith brings a rare combination of technical, business and logistics experience to uShip that includes technology leadership roles at Pitney Bowes and Newgistics. LinkedIn: Keith Varga.
We sat down with Keith to ask him five questions about himself, his views on company culture, and the opportunity in front of him as one of uShip’s C-level executives.
Tell us about you and how long you’ve been in Austin?
I’m a lifelong Texan. Born and raised in East Texas. I earned my bachelor of science degree in Computer Science at Texas A&M and worked for IBM in Dallas after graduation. I later earned my MBA in Information Systems at UT-Arlington. I lived in the Dallas area until 1995 and transferred with IBM to Austin where I’ve lived ever since.
I have spent the last 20+ years in the logistics and e-commerce space, most of that time at Newgistics, an Austin Ventures-backed company initially focused on returns processing. Newgistics evolved through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions into a key player in the returns, delivery and fulfillment e-commerce space. Pitney Bowes acquired Newgistics in 2017 and is now a significant part of its global e-commerce strategy.
Company culture is a significant part of what makes uShip uShip. As head of the largest division within the company – Engineering, Development, and Product – how do you engender culture in today’s hybrid work environment?
Culture was actually a big topic of conversation when I was interviewing with the executive team at uShip. It’s one of those important factors in a company that you can’t throw money at to artificially create. No HR-driven program will instill it. No executive directive will establish it. You just can’t buy or manufacture culture within the four walls of a building or Zoom window. It has to happen organically.
From what I’ve seen and felt since joining, it’s one of uShip’s real distinct intangible assets, centered around its core values of Respect, Collaboration, Execution, Authenticity, and Grit.
Hybrid work environment or not, my answer is always the same. It really comes down to true respect and collaboration with everyone we each work with each day. I have always been a true believer that “if you do your job and do it well, everything works out.” Respect is the fundamental pillar for that.
True respect enables a strong foundation for the team to collaborate/execute each day with high expectations of each other resulting in a prepared, present, and engaged team working together as trusted partners.
What intrigues you about uShip and the opportunity ahead?
Consumer expectations around parcel delivery have forever changed. They expect fast low/no-cost delivery, and every major logistics provider is investing heavily in their systems to squeeze out every bit of inefficiency to meet buyer expectations.
Those same expectations are now bleeding into big and bulky shipments – which uShip has done very well for nearly 20 years. Businesses of all sizes need to respond – and I feel uShip is well-positioned to significantly improve the services offered to enable a more efficient and reliable process coupled with speed, accuracy, visibility, transparency, and communication around large-item delivery.
Stepping in as CTO, I see my role as continuing to guide the great work uShip’s technical teams have accomplished in the last 18-24 months around modernizing its business platform to enable high-volume shippers to meet customer demand, especially in less-than-truckload and in-home delivery. I believe our focus and execution in this area will lead to tremendous success.
Getting the opportunity to join the team is an honor and I am excited to see how we can grow the company.
As a first-time CTO, where do you want to take uShip’s tech platform?
As you look under the hood of uShip’s ongoing platform modernization, we absolutely and fundamentally need to ensure our systems and capabilities deliver a superior experience. The need and the demand are here and now, so naturally, speed is a huge factor. It comes down to “do what we say we do really, really well” and “solve the real problems,” Increased focus on our APIs and partner integration capabilities will remain high on the priority list.
Plus, the logistics data uShip has accumulated over 20 years is an enormous advantage. Data is the lifeblood of every company today. Whether its pricing data that appears on an auto dealer’s website or tracking data that shows up on an Etsy buyer’s phone or forecasting data for a major furniture reseller, how we architect the system and put this information to use has huge implications not just for uShip, but for our shippers (businesses and consumers) and providers (transporters, drivers, etc.).
Naturally, AI and machine learning will be big factors enabling improved listings, pricing, matching, routing, and exception management capabilities to further solidify our position in the space.
What do you think it’ll take for the transportation and logistics industry to truly and fully adopt technology and freight matching at scale?
When it comes to technology in logistics, drones, robots, and driverless trucks seem to attract a majority of the big headlines. All those things will eventually, in one way or another, play a role in the delivery of goods, but the here-and-now may not be as sexy but it’s equally as important.
Why? Because faster, cheaper, available, visible transportation is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s now a requirement because of buyer expectations and no longer is limited to parcels. Parcel carriers are now able to pick and choose clients and specific parcel characteristics that “fit” their network and model and are investing heavily into the automation and visibility related to the demand.
The industry can’t ignore the need to move the larger items that parcel carriers don’t want to handle but businesses need to ship. The manual paperwork and phone call heavy processes need to be simplified enabling more efficient utilization of the transportation capacity available.
I see uShip playing a key role in technology adoption among smaller carriers and even small businesses who may not have the tech resources like the big guys. uShip has seen SMBs getting increasingly comfortable with a touchless, tech-driven shipping experience. When these companies see the efficiencies that come at scale, adoption will scale on all fronts.