Queen's Return on Innovation Podcast

In this episode we interview MaxSold CEO Sushee Perumal (whom holds an MBA from Smith School of Business at Queen's). MaxSold, with operations across North America, is in the re-commerce space (for customers downsizing their home, for example, MaxSold will photograph contents to be sold via in on-line auction process).

Show Notes

Hear about one of the fastest growing companies based in Kingston, Ontario.  In this episode we interview MaxSold CEO Sushee Perumal (whom holds an MBA from Smith School of Business at Queen's). MaxSold, with operations across North America, is in the re-commerce space (for customers downsizing their home, for example, MaxSold will photograph contents to be sold via an on-line auction process).

Sushee was an engaging interviewee whom shared the founding story of MaxSold, creation of a minimum viable product, finding product market fit through their recent $16M+ financing together together with plans to continue their corporate growth.

For more information, please follow MaxSold and Sushee Perumal on Twitter (@maxsold and @susheeperumal, respectively).

For Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Resources at Queen’s, please see:
-          Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation - link
-          Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre – link
-          Smith School of Business – Centre for Business Venturing- link

What is Queen's Return on Innovation Podcast?

Hear lessons learned and success stories from innovators and entrepreneurs from Queen's University and Eastern Ontario.

Host (00:00):
Welcome to the Queens returning on innovation podcast. This podcast is about sharing the success stories and lessons learned from experts and entrepreneurs from Queens and Eastern Ontario. Okay. Welcome everyone to this episode of the Queens return on innovation podcast, we are thrilled to have Mr. Sushee Perumal join us for this interview. If you haven't heard about MaxSold, they're probably one of the fastest, if not the fastest growing company, that's headquartered in Kingston, Ontario. As CEO of MaxSold since its inception Sushee and his team have built a unique marketplace in the re-commerce space, employing over 600 people in the US and Canada. MaxSold has processes that are built to scale globally to serve those downsizing, settling their estate or clearing a business reliably, efficiently and safely. Sushee holds an MBA from Queens, so go Queen’s, and a degree in electrical and computing engineering from McMaster and is also an avid pilot with a commercial and instrument rating. Sushee welcome to the podcast.

Sushee Perumal (00:58):
Great. Thank you for having me, uh, here, Jim, happy to be here and happy to spread the entrepreneurial bug.

Host (01:05)
I'd like you to star, if you could, just give us your snapshot of MaxSold as it stands today.

Sushee Perumal (01:11):
You'd hire MaxSold to sell everything from the cleaning supplies under the sink to the Ferrari in the driveway. And you'd use as if you're downsizing, settling in a state and Hey, it's spring so if you want do a Spring clear out, and we do this, Jim in over 2000 communities from Boston, Massachusetts to San Diego, California with the team of, you know, 600 people and growing. Initially we established as an industry leader in the auction business. And now with our recent series B financing, we are transforming into this re-commerce powerhouse, if you will, and creating a big, massive impact to the landfill avoidance cause, because our purpose it's right, nicely articulated in there is that we extend the useful life of things for new generations to love.

Host (02:06):
Certainly in an era where we're worried about climates and having things go into landfill and things like that. This also seems to be like a great contribution to not having things end up in landfills.

Sushee Perumal (02:18):
Totally, and you know, if we make it, uh, frictionless and that's our goal, how do we make re-Commerce fun, approachable, easy, frictionless. And, and that's, what's going to create massive pervasive use for people to engage in things like thrifting and antiquing and, and all of these things are amazing, but it, people just don't have the access to it. So we bring access to it.

Host (02:42):
Your service is a one stop shop, so if somebody was moving out of their larger home, into an apartment, they could call MaxSold, they'd come in. And I guess, inventory the contents they wanted to sell or get rid of you put those things online, there's a bidding process, things get sold. And then as I understand it, the process is there's a pickup session that's managed by somebody on your team. Is that an accurate description of the way the workflow works?

Sushee Perumal (03:09):
It is, uh, there's, there are so many steps in the process and so many moving parts and that's what makes it all work. Customers have a massive, a massive friction. You know, when they're trying to list things on Craig's list, Facebook marketplace, Letgo. It may be incredible for millennials and, Gen Y. But, but most of us, when we are face to sell an entire volume of items, you know, the question is like, how do you price it? How do you, how do you take good pictures? How do you describe things? Well, how do you market it beyond that platform? So that's where we come in. So you you'd hire us. If you have a whole volume of things to sell, even if it's spring cleaning, you know, we can look after it, we know with our minimum fees and, and also without duty yourself process.

Sushee Perumal (03:56):
So we take a lot of that frustration out by if you had to hire us to do it for you, Jim, we would send a team to photograph catalog measure and describe and everything from that cleaning supplies and any everything to the Ferrari in the driveway, everything gets cataloged. And then we open it up for an auction which lasts one week typically. And during that process, we go out to town to market the items. It's like an election campaign, we get as much eyeballs on your items as possible by advertising on Facebook, Instagram, Craigslist, Kijiji. And, also we have a deep, local following for our auctions. So people are notified through our own email distribution lists, people bid on the items, things get competitive in the last minute. And when the auction closes, you would know when to come and pick up the item. It's typically over three to six hours, either on an evening or on a weekend. So you'd come in, take the item away. So it's, it's hyperlocal and it keeps a goods and the money and the local economy,

Host (05:07):
That's an amazing business model. So would you describe it as somewhere between an auction, a garage sale, eBay and an online marketplace, like Facebook marketplace? How would you describe where you fit?

Sushee Perumal (05:20):
Yeah. You know, we used to describe it as a, as a live auction replacement, but obviously, you know, many people haven't been to a live auction, so they have no idea what I'm talking about. So I think what, the way you described it, it say if eBay and and Craigslist had a baby, it would be MaxSold.

Host (05:38):
I think we've been talking about it. The first question I always like to go through is what is the pain point and the problem being solved. And you've already used words like customers are frustrated, and we're always trying to remind students and entrepreneurs that, you know, in any business you want to be a painkiller, not a vitamin. Talk to us about the pain point or the problem you identified early on as the Genesis, I guess, for MaxSold.

Sushee Perumal (06:01):
Like I'm a big fan of that analogy as well. Is it a pain killer or, or a vitamin. People are overwhelmed by the amount of things they gotta clear out. That's when they wonder, well, there's gotta be a better way. And, and they go online and search for an estate sale company. That's typically how people find us. They search for an estate sale company. They search for a liquidator. We could turn on a platform tomorrow that sell, you know, one item at a time, right? So it's easy, but, but we are not, we are not solving a big bleeding neck problem. And there are so many other platforms that sell one item between Letgo and and Offer Up. They had raised a billion dollars to be able to compete with Craigslist, Facebook marketplace, very pervasive. We are not, we are not competing with them either.

Sushee Perumal (06:52):
So we wanted, we wanted to create that differentiation that we are one stop shop, fully managed, done for use service, to be able to sell everything. So that, that was a friction because people get overwhelmed and they just called 1-800-GOT-JUNK. I just had the call just a couple hours ago with the chief operating officer of 1-800-GOT-JUNK. And he said, half the calls that come to him are, could you buy this stuff? Could you take this away and, and give me money? And he's like, no, you call one 800, got junk. right. Like we take it to the landfill and it's gonna cost you money. I would see as, an alternative to get things to the landfill and, and to put money in people's pocket. So it's a nice win, win, win solution for the consumer, for the planet and for MaxSold as well.

Host (07:41):
It's probably a lot of secret sauce you've need to develop in terms of creating that two-sided marketplace, having the technologies to be able to go in and, cost efficiently inventory and place these things on the market. I'm assuming a lot of research on figuring out where the best place to place ads are to attract the people that to me, instead of going antiquing garage sale to garage sale, this would be a much faster way to look for those cherished items that maybe collectors and antiques are looking for. Is that a fair way to describe the way the machinery inside MaxSold's really made this model to a place where you're really looking to scale it with the recent financing, by the way, I should mention congratulations on more than $16 million of financing recently, that's a large number for a company based in Kingston.

Sushee Perumal (08:26):
It is, and, and we are gunning for between 50 to a 100 million in the next six to six to 12 months. If I maybe as bold to say that, because we know, as you mentioned before, we have that secret sauce and, the scale up capabilities is what we are building product market fit. Is there the market, you know, demand is clearly there. So what we are developing right now is that is a really nice clean go to market that we could go in and scale up every single region, every single community in north America.

Host (09:03):
Let me turn the, the clocks back. So we've talked about the problem that you're solving. Go back to the founding story of MaxSold. How did the company come into being who were the founders?

Sushee Perumal (09:13):
It was actually a Queen’s connection. Uh, Jim, through my, through the networks and Queen’s met with somebody named by the name of Brad Ross. And he was officially part of Queens as one of the RELIKS, retired executives living in Kingston, you know, it aggregates to RELIKS. I'm sure that was by design right. And the takeaway there is, you know, you never know, no, you don't, you don't go out the door saying that today’s a day, I'm gonna meet my wife. It just happens. You know, you obviously need that intent that you want to meet a partner. And so similarly, you know, you go out with the intent that you want to create a business or an opportunity or something, and the universe has some way of, of making that happen. So similarly, you know, I went out and said, you know what?

Sushee Perumal (10:02):
Like my entrepreneurial ambitions is to create a, a business that has a global scale, you know, so big that I'm able to fly a Gulfstream jet. And as you noted before, I'm a pilot and what could be better than getting a Gulfstream jet and shooting, going places, you know, instead of, uh, getting into my Cessna as I get in now, you know, you, you can get, get to places much faster and, and build more business. People meet more people that way. I, I was in a process of, uh, launching another business, uh, that does point to point air travel. When in other words, that's trying to start an airline and not ambitious at all. right.

Host (10:42):
No, it's just a small business to get into!

Sushee Perumal (10:45):
Uh, completely. So during that process, I ended up working extremely closely with, with Brad Ross who reviewed my business plan. So gave me input, won a couple of business plan competitions slowly here in Kingston, and ended up putting that business on hold with the financial crisis that hit, you know, especially to start an airline. You know, it costs a hundred million dollars to start a start a service. So put that on hold, went into consulting. But Brad Ross, uh, knowing me, uh, well knew that I wanted to get back into entrepreneurship. So he made an induction with the local business person who used to do who, who is, who was doing live auctions at the time and knew that this concept has legs. He wanted to get it, get it tested. So I raised my hand and met with them. They had met with, they had, they had met with several other people.

Sushee Perumal (11:36):
And I said, you know what? Like, I I'm, I'm happy to join to be part of this team. And I will work for no salary for the first six months. Still. We figure out whether there's a fit here or not. And the, and the money saved through my consulting, you know, enabled to pay for that for that six month break in not, um, not having to, um, earn money. So, you know, sometimes you have to take some risks and, and this is a risk that I took, and that gave me the open the door to this partnership, to this conversation, to get what max so does. Now today,

Host (12:14):
It's a fascinating story. And I guess for budding entrepreneurs, listening to this, networking is so crucial. But interesting that using some networks and being persistent, I guess, some of the keys for being entrepreneurs, you were connected with people that had identified a problem that you identified with to start this company.

Sushee Perumal (12:32):
No, absolutely. I knew nothing about, you know, Royal DAS or Hummels or, you know, this problem even existed, but you, you really need to find partners that have either the execution, the ability to execute and scale or the ability or, or somebody with that deep domain experience. So being young, the listeners don't have that domain experience. There are partners people out there that have that deep domain experience. They need somebody to take it by its range and get it launched. The nice thing about not being married to an idea, just like how Starbucks founder, you know, he, it wasn't his idea, but he didn't that didn't, uh, deter him from creating a multibillion dollar global enterprise.

Host (13:20):
Yeah. I think that's great advice Sushee because we sometimes keen entrepreneurs really embrace an idea and maybe not let it go at a time when it isn't enough of a pain killer, it's more of a vitamin or whatever the reason may be. So being flexible and pivoted till you're sure you've found something that has a compelling need. So let's move on and talk about that. So you connected with the folks from the auction group and founded the company. What was the pathway to an MVP? How did you start trying to test this out?

Sushee Perumal (13:48):
And I looked at it as a, as a series of MVPs. Initially we needed a phone number, a website, an email address and, and everything, obviously, you know, being the, being a one man show came to me and, uh, I actually transferred, uh, the airline startups phone number over to over to MaxSold at that time eBID Local, and the story there was, we couldn't incorporate the name, trademark, the name eBID Local in the us because of trademark with, with this other company called EBID. So we came up with this other name, founded.com, made this all happen, but also, you know, the point of the MVP is just not being afraid to use crazy glue and duct tape to make it work. Because I see so many entrepreneurs, uh, spending their hard, earned money on things that isn't going to bring them their first customer or, or to create a product where people can put up their hand and say, yes, I need it. And it's gonna take several iterations. So for us, it did take tons of iterations. And, and even to, to this day, we are ha figuring out the most efficient, scalable path to that global world domination and, and it's, and it's all a series of MVPs that, that you have to, that's a, that's how we have to approach it.

Host (15:13):
And if you can do everything else manually with Excel or whatever, whatever you need to do to help you solve their problem, that's important. And because we'll see sometimes entrepreneurs make the mistake, at least in our opinion of, you know, of coding out an entire software platform and then launch it, then wonder why they're not getting traction versus starting with the, you know, the most vital component of the customer journey, solving that. And then iterating, like in any engineering, right, you're graduated an engineering degree, almost any device really needs many cycles of iteration to get to a final product that meets the end user's needs.

Sushee Perumal (15:52):
Yeah. And, and especially being a marketplace and a platform, every market we went into, you know, we had to solve the chicken and egg problem over and over again. So we couldn't say, oh, let's get the buyers first. And then find a seller. We had to figure out a way to get them both simultaneously. Otherwise we'd be spending a fortune to, to get the, get the buyers, to acquire the buyers, um, or we'd be spending a fortune to acquire the sellers. So that's what makes marketplaces so hard because you had to build them both in parallel and zigzag between the two and it has to be repeated over and over again in every new market we enter. So for the first, um, well even, you know, it, it is a lot of hustle. It is a lot of grit. I'm looking back to see how, how on earth did it. We create all these markets and it was just one step at a time with a lot of, uh, focus and, and keeping in mind what's important and what what's not like, what, what problems should we solve today? And what problems should we just differ to another to another year or two or three?

Host (17:02):
Yes. In some ways two-sided marketplaces can be the most challenging businesses to start. Because as you've said, you've got to balance the people on the demand side. So to buy the items from these auctions, but you also need the people to host their auction items on your platform. So that's got to be an interesting balance. As you say, you, you work on it a little bit and recreate it. Each time you move into a new market segment. One of the things we always talk about with entrepreneurs is trying to find product market fit. It means different things to different people. Could you describe for us in your mind what you think it is? And when you started to realize you had it at max, hold

Sushee Perumal (17:39):
The product market fit, you would instantly know that you have it. When people say, take my money. you see those cartoons that the drawing that says take my money. You know, when, um, we could, for the life of us, like, you know, could not generate, could not get a single sale in the us. So it, it had been a couple of years of us doing everything we possibly could. Then we met with this or we, we picked a niche and we started attacking this niche. And that's when we knew we had that instant product market fit because this group of individuals that, um, sell things for the older population, they just instantly said, we need your service because they were, they were straddled with the headache, with the burden of having to sell everything. And they knew they, uh, their time was far more valuable than listing things. One by one on Craigslist or, or, or on let go, or any of these marketplaces. So they said, when can you start? Like, when can you come and do this for us? So that's when instantly we knew, you know, we can't go too abroad. We have to niche and niche down until you find that audience and that instantly want your service.

Host (19:04):
Wow. Sushee you're giving us a textbook of walking through the lean startup methodology for MaxSold. Would you say that if an entrepreneur has to ask if they have product market fit, they probably don't have it.

Sushee Perumal (19:14):
Exactly. Yeah. It's going to, you know, if you have it, your product is gonna fly off the shelf and if you don't have it, if it's too hard, because there isn't enough money in the world to, to create awareness, right. That's just, it's just so cost prohibitive, especially in the consumer space to be able to go and market your product and just marketing alone, isn't going to create that product market fit, right. It has to be, it has to be a bleeding neck. Otherwise we are not Coke or Pepsi to be able to sell brown sugar and convince people. They need it, but it, it just, you have to find that niche and you have to be very specific on who your co-market is and, and the problem you're solving for them with just one feature, not, not a, not a whole laundry list of features.

Host (20:08):
I often reference, uh, Paul Graham from Y Combinator. And probably you've heard of Y Combinator where he says at the earliest stages, startups really need to be doing things that at their initial outset don't seem like they'll scale, which you've talked about, where you've niche down, found where you've found that gold vein, I guess, of a customer that really wants to move forward. Would you say that's a fair statement early on at a startup?

Sushee Perumal (20:29):
Oh, completely. I was going door to door knocking, putting, putting door hangers on driving to, to see our clients, things that does not wouldn't scale at all, but, but it had to be done because I had to get belly to belly with every customer. I had to understand their concerns. I had to really assess what about this product. They value they don't value. And it's an ongoing thing. Like, you know, until I was on the road for the last three weeks and meeting with partners, meeting with customers and, and really trying to understand what are the bottlenecks or what are the, where is our next inflection point going to come from?

Host (21:09):
So let's move from, you found your niche to now you're raising funding to really scale, describe some of the challenges and opportunities that you've had in moving MaxSoldl to the scale up stage. So that probably means putting in many more processes, hiring many more staff, all those kind of things. Right. So how do you have you you've been able to manage that growth and how do you plan to do it in the future? Give us a snapshot of what that looks like.

Sushee Perumal (21:34):
Oh, you know, it, it's, it's radically different. You at the beginning, you do everything. Uh, you need to be a generalist. You need to be able to take and do every everything that you possibly can because there isn't an, there isn't an accountant. There isn't an HR person. There isn't a, a marketer, there's no sales people. So, but as, as time goes on, you know, you're hiring people that are smarter than you, that can, that are experts in their domain. And it really becomes about team building and really getting out of their way, but holding them accountable, aligning them on what the, what the vision is. And it it's a, it's a, my job description changes every single year as I keep handing more and more of my responsibilities. And it doesn't mean the workload gets lighter. It changes in, in very different ways. So, you know, right now the description is to create a culture and being able to influence the teams working 3, 4, 5, 6 levels down. So, you know, that's what I think about, well, how do I influence this person in, in San Francisco who's cataloging today? You know, how do we influence that through our culture, our shared values, uh, how do we create that departmental alignment so that everybody's working towards unfolding our strategy. So it's, um, it's a very different job description from, and it's gonna new to change.

Host (23:07):
So when you think of the 600 people that were mentioned in the introduction, give us a overview of how, what the distribution of those folks are at Maxwell.

Sushee Perumal (23:17):
Yeah. A hundred of them are support people if you will. Um, it's HR, it's finance. It's our, it's our call center reps. It's our sales, marketing tech and, and 500 of them are, are boots on the ground that are going to photograph catalog the items. And out of the a hundred, about 50 of them are, are frontline call center type employees, you know, that provide the buyer support that provide the seller support. And, and 50 are the finance, the HR, the tech, the marketing.

Host (23:48):
And with those 50, you just mentioned at the, the end there are those largely in Kingston or are they spread across north America?

Sushee Perumal (23:54):
Yeah, largely in Kingston. Um, well, mostly in not Ontario, we have, um, we have, we have a dozen or more in, in the GTA. We have a few in, in, in Ottawa, we are, uh, doing a bit of hiring in the us as well. We have gotten our first few employees in the us full time.
Host (24:11):
I'd like to, I guess we're getting towards the end of our time here, sushi, talk about the innovation ecosystem in Kingston. So it's absolutely wonderful. Your headquartered in Kingston. And we hope you stay here forever. What is, what can the innovation ecosystem be doing to promote more companies like Maxwell to start and stay in Kingston? And if there's anything the innovation ecosystem support group can do to help MaxSold. Now, it sounds like you're on an absolute rocket ship, so probably don't need much outside help, but I'd love, love to know where your thoughts on those two things.

Sushee Perumal (24:39):
Oh, totally. I totally need help. there's one thing I'm good at. It's probably asking for help. It's, you know, and, and that changes Jim, with every, every stage of the business, you know, in my early days at MaxSold or even being at Queens, I really needed that encouragement. I needed somebody who could say, you know what, just do it, just dive in, just do it. What's the worst that can happen. You know, I would've scratched my entrepreneurial edge. I would've figured out whether this is, this is it, or this is not it. And, you know, list the listeners. This is probably gonna be the best time that in their life, because they're not good. They probably don't have a lot of commitments. They don't have, you know, they don't have a mortgage, they don't have family, they don't have kids. They don't have, you know, lots of, uh, they don't have that lifestyle that makes it harder and harder to start a business with E every passing year.

Sushee Perumal (25:36):
So this is the time to do it. So if you're listening and, and thinking about something, just do it, you know, give it six months, give it a year. It'll be the best learning opportunity that they've ever had. And being able to put all the amazing things that they've learned at Queens to, to use and, and being able to leverage the network that they, that they had developed at Queens. So that's at that stage. And then fast forward, a few more years, what we really need help with this talent, you know, being able to get the, the team, everyone we have. I don't know. We, we could, we probably have about 50 jobs that are advertised right now from, uh, from a COO, um, all the way down to, you know, the call center, call center, account executives, sales.

Sushee Perumal (26:26):
So we need, we need an army of people. And that is the biggest challenge that we are having right now is, you know, being able to, if, you know, because we are on the process of scaling to north of 200 million within the next 12 to 24 months in, in terms of revenue, you know, and sales, how do we, how do we find the talent, right. To be able to help us get there? It's, you know, we, we have had jobs advertised and it's been sitting for weeks and I'm like, well, if it's sitting for weeks, you know, maybe we need to think of our go to market strategy or scale up strategy, right. Maybe we need to go to south America or, or to Europe or, or somewhere that we can access, um, or Utah right. To access, to access that employment employment base. So that's, that's where we are right now is, is saying, okay, how do we, how do we tap into this, into this funnel of, uh, people who can contribute,

Host (27:23):
But we'll make sure we put a link to your careers page in the notes for this podcast, so that if we’ve got Queen’s or St Lawrence students or RMC that are staying around in town, looking for a, a career, make sure you check out Maxwell to see if there might be something that's a fit with their background.

Sushee Perumal (27:39):
Yeah. We do have a lot, lots of Queen’s and St. Lawrence students, uh, that are working for us right now.

Host (27:43):
Oh, that's great to hear. Excellent. Well, Sushee, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. I guess my parting comment will be, I'm kind of glad that the city of Kingston extended the runway too, I think, is it 6,000 feet? The longest runway
Sushee Perumal (27:56):
They did? Yes. Yeah.

Host (27:58):
That we'll be able to hear your jet flying overhead in the not too distant future. Sushee thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

Sushee Perumal (28:04):
Great. Thank you, Jim.

Host (28:05):
And with that, we'll conclude this episode. Thank you very much for listening. If you enjoy this episode, please share like, and subscribe to this podcast. If you're interested in learning more about research innovation and entrepreneurship, please see the show notes for a full list of programs and services available here at Queens university.