Decision Dialogues - Episode 02 - Keeping Ahead of Changing Times: Taking a Risk - Chieh Huang

On episode 2 of Decision Dialogues, Mark Willoughby and Jennifer Faherty of Modera are joined by Chieh Huang, Co-Founder and CEO of online bulk grocery supplier Boxed.com. Chieh talks about how dissatisfaction with his life as he saw it unfolding at a big law firm, coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit and his group of “a bunch of tech geeks,” led him to start looking at the cutting edge of retail trends in the modern world.

Starting with the iPhone 2G, Chieh and his business group wrote social gaming apps. Having established themselves as startup specialists, they moved on to their next big project, again inspired by the growing proportion of individuals using smart phones: Shopping for essentials online, using an app. Boxed was thus born, and thanks to Chieh’s timely and prudent decisions to tough the growth of the company out for many more years than he expected—the COVID pandemic arrived and Boxed has been able to serve people in dire need of essentials, people who would otherwise be facing great personal risk by going to a brick-and-mortar store themselves.

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Transcript

Thanks for joining us on Decision Dialogues—we’re thrilled to have you along. My name is Mark Willoughby, and I’m a Principal and Wealth Manager, and the Chief Operating Officer of Modera Wealth Management LLC. Today, my colleague, Jennifer Faherty, who is the Chief Client Experience Officer at Modera, and I will be chatting with Chieh Huang, who is the CEO and Founder of Boxed, which is a New York-based online shopping club that delivers groceries in bulk sizes. Welcome everyone to the show, and I will hand it over to Jennifer.

Thank you, Mark. And thank you, Chieh, for coming on the podcast today. We are thrilled to have you.

I’m excited to be here. I’m here live in sunny New Jersey, so, you know, there’s very few places on earth that are nicer than New Jersey. So I’m all smiles.

That’s great! Great to have you on the show. And you know, I’m sure most people do know what Boxed is. But for those listeners, who don’t, could you give us a little sense of the company. And also, I’m so curious to just hear how the idea started?

Sure. So Boxed is an online warehouse club where you can shop for shelf stable, mostly, everyday essentials in big sizes, and we ship it all over the country, generally, in two days or less, to the lower 48 states. It started in late 2013, and now years later, millions of customers, fulfillment centers around the country. And it’s just been a wild ride since those early days.

Amazing. I did hear that you actually started it from your garage. Is that correct?

Yeah, that’s correct. It sounds really awesome and sexy to start a company in your house or your garage until you actually do it, and then you’re like, “Wow, it’s like, it’s harder than I thought.” So you know, especially because we didn’t move out for for a little while, and even as the business saw its initial surge—and when I say surge, I mean a few hundred orders a day, not like a real surge these days. Just operating out of out of my garage. You know, we had the unruly garage doors and neighbors were angry. Just things that you don’t realize until you actually do it.

Yeah, no, I can imagine. But I mean, really—how did you come up with the idea to even start it in the first place? And then also, once you have the idea to then realize, “Okay, this is actually worth me starting a company in my garage, and maybe quitting my job for”?

Yeah, I would say there’s always—or not always I would say, it’s just how my mind thinks, it’s “What is the business opportunity, and what is the problem you’re trying to solve?” On the business opportunity side of things, the co-founders and I were very early in social games on what we now call smartphones. And so at that time, the iPhone 2G had just come out, and all the co-founders, and I, you know, we bought the iPhone 2G and we all kind of, you know, connected over it and thought that all these Facebook games that were getting made at that time in ’07, ’08, ’09, “You know what, this iPhone thing is pretty powerful, and we feel like not a lot of people have it now, but more and more people might buy this thing, and so let’s build social games for it.”

And so after we did that, we raised a little bit of money, found some early success—we ended up being acquired, and then the company that acquired us ended up going public. We stayed there for a few years, but overall, we felt like, “Wow, we got on this consumer wave maybe just at the right time, but maybe a little bit late, and so how do we go after something even larger in terms of the price and not just social gaming?” And we thought mobile commerce was the biggest opportunity. And it sounds like a no brainer now probably like Bitcoin does at $20,000, but this was like the days when Bitcoin was like 10 cents at that time, meaning that when we tried to raise money for Boxed, most people that gave us money were—they were blind checks, based upon our track record of our last company, thinking that the current idea was a dumb idea. So that was the business side of things.

Well, I remember that to be honest. Yeah. Even with Amazon when that first came out, I remember, “Are people really going to buy a book online to not go to the bookstore?” But you really hit on an innovative idea at the time, right? It was very—it was not even heard of this these kind of bulk shipments to your home.

Yeah, you know, for anyone listening that wants to call BS on this, like go back in your email and check the first time you bought essentials on a mobile device, if you have.

So it was an uphill battle, in 2013, going up and down, even deep in Silicon Valley, we’re out of the gates of Stanford on Sand Hill Road pitching VCs, who were the most forward thinking folks, perhaps in the world. And time and time again, we would hear that, “I don’t know, man, like, I usually browse on my mobile device, and I check out on my desktop, but even if I did imagine I would buy things on my mobile device in the future, I don’t know if buying Tide Pods would be my thing. You know, like, I don’t know if that’s ever gonna be a thing.” And so, and but here we are, right? Like, no brainer, seven years later, the middle of pandemic, but, you know, it’s kind of like a “seven and a half year overnight success” I would say.

Yeah, exactly. That you had to have some kind of some confidence in the idea, right? Because, as you said, when you’re even just going through that, it wasn’t a proven thing. I mean, we’ve interviewed people on the podcast that started a business, but they were established industries already. This is the kind of paving a new path. So how did you, I guess, go a little bit deeper into—how did you kind of walk yourself out of those moments of doubt?

So, you know, just to close the loop, and it kind of is a great segue into that question was, you know, I mentioned that there is the business kind of opportunity side of it, but also the kind of problem that flicks you as a consumer. And so for us, it was that, you know, if you lived in the city, or if you didn’t have a car or didn’t have the time, the means, or the patience, as we used to say, you couldn’t access kind of big wholesale packs online. Growing up in the burbs, moving into the city, realizing I was getting ripped off by buying peaches at Duane Reade or wherever else. Because you know, they’re hyper convenient—I love Duane Reade. But it’s not the most cost efficient way to stock up on toilet paper.

So I remember just calling my parents and say, “Hey, don’t you want to see your your only son? Bring the toilet paper,” you know? And so, we looked around the table, and everyone just felt like, well, mobile commerce is a theme—but this seems like a really big opportunity that not only us, but millions of Americans probably have now in terms of a problem, but certainly will have over the next decade. That was kind of how we how we went through it. And it ties into kind of what you just asked in terms of, “How do you get through kind of the rough patches?” is that remembering kind of why you went on that path to begin with. And rewinding to those early days and just thinking, “Man, that team wasn’t that dumb, and they certainly saw something with this, so what would they say to the team now?” And sometimes for me, that gets me out of some of the darkest hours of running the company.

I love that. You know, that’s the idea of the business and how that crew—but I’m wondering, before this, I know you had mentioned you had this other startup that you had launched. Let’s rewind even more. Were you always thinking of being an entrepreneur? Is that something that, like, as a young boy, you thought that this was something you’d always want to do? Or did you have a different career path in mind?

I can’t BS you. I feel like when you’re in your 20s, you’re just trying to figure it out. So I thought the easiest thing was, “Can I be a doctor?” And the answer was no. “Can I be a lawyer?” The answer was yes, and so I went to a law firm. And then what I found myself doing was staying late at night, and already at a big law firm, you know, early evenings are like 9pm, and so you’re late at night, but I would actually say a little bit longer, of course, turn off the billing kind of clock, and just read the stories of the entrepreneurs we were representing, and the stories of the companies.

I felt like the single thread was not that they were smart. And they were—they’re all smart, very capable people. I always thought it was, “right time, right place, took risks.” And those factors kind of added up, and so it then made the whole thinking of being an entrepreneur a little more approachable. And so I think that’s where I was—the bud of an entrepreneur was really formed

When you were practicing law, Chieh, the types of firms that you were working with, was it a diverse spread of industries you were in, or was it one particular industry? It sounds to me like you got lessons from a number of different industries.

Yeah, absolutely. So it was like general corporate law, so everything from sports, all the way to, you know, biotech companies with zero revenue. So it was just fascinating. So I felt like that diversity of thought and, and kind of backgrounds really helped for my thinking.

So it wasn’t necessarily the fact that you were looking at technology companies and you decide, “ah, that’s mine,” it was more of the entrepreneurial stories that you’re reading from each of your clients’ situations.

That’s right, and it ties together with kind of how I embarked on the journey in gaming is that, you know, I got a call from middle school friends that I knew saying that, “Hey, did you buy this thing called the iPhone and you know, we’re thinking about making this game for it. ”And at first I was like, “That is the dumbest idea ever. I went to law school, how much debt I accrued in law school, I made it to a big firm, there’s no equity in this job in the middle of the Great Recession.” This was like ’08, ’09. But the more I thought about it, Mark, you know, it’s just the fact it was like, “Okay, we’re living in a time where there’s great and turbulent kind of change in the world happening. I just felt like, there are changes in the world that we could take advantage of, and this mobile device thing, let me think about it. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought, you know, why not give it a try?

I know, that’s probably not the best Wealth Management advice I’ve ever given to someone but but that at least that’s a true kind of my story of it.

Was it one of those things where you prepared for it and like eased into it? Or did you just kind of quit, and launch into the gaming idea?

Luckily, I had thought that I probably was not built to be, like, a partner at a law firm. You can make a lot of money, and it’s great. It’s great living, if you can make it up to the corner office. I just, for whatever reason—passion, my own skill, like, it just wasn’t for me. So knowing that, I began to save some money. I felt very comfortable in making any move after I had about a year’s worth of personal runway. So I couldn’t, you know, I’m not I’m not going to pay for everyone’s drink anymore at a bar, but like, you know, like, I didn’t have to give up my apartment, certainly couldn’t eat out as much, but I could keep my apartment and didn’t have to go back to the college days, for a year, and I felt like that would give me a real shot.

So you were making the sacrifices intentionally?

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

How many years into your corporate career when you decided to pull the plug?

Oh, I was at the ripe old age of almost three years into a law firm.

So you probably didn’t have your college debt paid off, either?

Oh, no, not at all. Not at all.

Wow.

I look back and sometimes the decisions you make, when you’re like, twenty-something, you look back, you’re like, “Oh, I hope it all works out.”

I felt that way when I got married. I’m like, cross your fingers, hope this works out!

There is no parachute. Let’s put it that way, right?

Yeah, there’s no parachute. But you know, luckily, with that one year runway, I always felt like I could give it a real try for a full year, and if it didn’t work out, then I would be satisfied that I gave it a try. A real try.

Oftentimes you find entrepreneurs, they don’t have any savings, or they have very little, they branch out, and it’s exciting until day 75 comes in, they’re like, “Oh, my gosh, my savings are dry, I’ve got to start doing a side gig.” And then the side gig takes away the whole time aspect of why they quit their job in the first place, and then you know, pretty soon they find themselves needing to go back to their day job. So I wanted that, that kind of runway to say, “I gave it a full year’s try. If it doesn’t work out, then, you know, I’ll sleep easy at night.”

That’s great. And of course, as a wealth management company, we love that advice about, you know, try to save a bit before you make those decisions as soon as you’re in a better position to be able to take those risks and try and make those trade offs as you go. So that’s really great.

So let’s switch gears a little bit and talk a little bit more about Boxed. I’d love to hear, you know—people listening to our podcast don’t have the benefit of seeing you right now, but we see some of the background of the boxes being shipped and moving around the warehouse. So talk to us a little bit about where the company is now, and what kind of decisions you’ve had to make recently, especially at this time during the pandemic.

For everyone listening to this, I’m sure you know, it’s like, anything I say will be an understatement in terms of what we’ve all been through. I think for us, the hardest part was the people aspect of it all, both on the corporate side, and how do you try to continue to engage a team. We’re not a party culture at all in the corporate office, but we are a culture where people enjoy having meals together, there’s constantly people going out to coffee. I’m having coffee with at least one team member not in my immediate team, but across the company at least once a day if I’m in the office, and so all that leaves. And so, you know, between Zoom fatigue and everything going on, that’s been a real challenge.

On the fulfillment side of things, you have the opposite challenges. It’s like, you can only do this in person. There’s no virtual fulfillment of your boxes. Most people who take a tour of the fulfillment center, they’re like, “Wow, I never knew this is how boxes get fulfilled.” Because they feel like little magical elves just like, you know, pick and pack a box, it actually appears. No, a human through the aid of some automation is picking and packing that box, and so I still remember like, “Wow, you know, this is getting real bad. How do we make sure that people are safe? And how do we make sure that people are motivated to come into work when they see the entire world around them grinding to a halt?” So that was, you know, I feel like still a challenge that I’m so proud of the team to get through.

How many people were you so motivating, Chieh, at the point, the pandemic, you know, the lockdown started happening?

Yeah, so in any given week or any given pay period, you probably have five, six hundred people on kind of payroll in the fulfillment centers. So, you know, that’s your that’s your pool.

So it’s a real challenge.

Yeah, absolutely. It’s from a functional perspective, how do you keep people safe, just like refreshing the CDC guidelines every day, and just like, “What are they saying now that we should be doing?” And then also making sure that you have the credibility to tell people that you will be safe, and sticking by it.

So we did it through a variety of means. One is, the shorter term perspective, or shorter term solution was that “We are going to do everything that we can do to keep you safe. And to back that up, we’re here with you.” So throughout the worst of the pandemic, I don’t think there was at least a few days, where a member of the staff was not on-site in one of our bigger fulfillment centers. So you say it’s safe, like, you don’t see anyone there, you’re like—

—put your money where your mouth is.

Exactly, and I think that that gave a lot of people some confidence that like, “I see that dude in that room, you know, like, we’re all breathing the same air, so I hope he’s rational and trying to make himself safe, so that as a result, everyone is safer.”

On the flip side, is that we treat our employees quite well in the fulfillment center. So between life-changing benefits to $500 emergency funds to free health insurance, we had built up a track record of credibility in treating folks well, and doing the right thing, when, quote, unquote, we didn’t have to. So going above and beyond. We deposited into the piggy bank, and this was a time when we had to draw down on it and say, “Listen, guys, like, you got to just trust us on this, that we always tried our best, and that we will continue to.”

That is great. And first of all, congratulations and kudos to you, because that really speaks to those early decisions, as you said that where you invested in the company, the company culture, your employees, you know, and then were able to kind of draw on that later, when you really needed it. And you had that confidence and that trust. That’s really great.

I’m wondering if too, they were maybe motivated? Did they feel more motivated because of actually the company’s—what you do? I mean, you’re providing supplies to people who need it, need them, I’m sure that was somewhat motivating as well, just naturally.

Absolutely. And I still remember, like, I couldn’t get through the whole letter—I still get a little bit emotional thinking about it—just like reading these letters. People thanking us. I read that in front of the company, when we did like our fulfillment center all hands, so that they can know what they’re doing. They’re not just like, we’re not picking and packing PlayStations here, you know, it’s like, these are essentials. And the people writing in are not just folks who just out of convenience wanted it delivered. Of course, there are some folks, but it’s like, “I’m immunocompromised, I can’t leave. And I got it on time, bless your hearts,” like that kind of stuff. And I feel like, definitely, it made people understand that it’s not just a job at that point, that they have some little tinge of a civic duty, that they’re also fulfilling by showing up to work.

That’s great. Good job. And was Boxed always focused on essentials? Or were—did you ever think of expanding to other areas?

Yeah, absolutely. So we started with essentials, we’re still like 95% essentials, but you’re definitely gonna see us expand out of it. So building the trust, and the very difficult muscle of picking and packing essentials, allows us, I think, to expand our share of the digital wallet. So once you’re good at packing potato chips with, you know, a 30 pack of sparkling water, without crushing both, then the other stuff gets a little easier to ship. So you’ll see us expand.

And that makes me think of just all the learning curves you probably have to think about as a company and go through as a company, right? So in the beginning, it was packing potato chips in the right way. Or, you know, what’s the most efficient way to pack three cases of seltzer. What are some of those other kind of learning curves you had to go through as a company? I’m sure there’s so many. But what are some key ones that you can think about?

From the initial team, like the first ten people that that were working in my garage, including me and the co-founders, the only retail experience was one of the guys had worked at Abercrombie at the mall before. The only retail experience!

I’m trying hard not to laugh out loud.

So yeah, it was real learnings. But, you know, I felt like that certainly had disadvantages in terms of, as we were transitioning from distributors to actually reaching out to the manufacturers directly to form relationships—pure outsiders in an industry that generally if you’re in the industry for twenty years, you’re like a newbie. So geez, like, “Who are you? What garage are you in? Like, how much you want to order? Yeah, no, thanks,” you know.

That was really challenging, but the advantage was that we can build our systems from the ground up. So then now between our pick pack software, even our automation hardware in our newest fulfillment centers, all built for our needs, because we learned the hard way that some off-the-shelf stuff just isn’t really made for essential shopping online.

So on the operations guide, our firm, Chieh, and I’m assuming you got outside technology firms to build those softwares for you, based on your specifications.

No. So the lucky thing is that we started off with this thesis of a tech company. So probably over 90% of the software fulfillment center, hardware included, is all built in-house.

So you guys were a group of tech geeks, not retail people.

100%! To this day, that is generally true, except for the retail people that we hired as adult supervision in the retail business.

Wow!

It might shock you to learn that out of the our headcount, if you take fulfillment ops out of it, corporate headcount by a factor of two, engineering is our biggest department.

Hmm, interesting.

Do you see that changing?

Uh, maybe the ratio will change. But I don’t mind engineering being the biggest, because there’s a lot of things that require kind of constant upkeep and innovation for us to stay ahead.

It’s more like a technology company than a retail fulfillment company.

Yeah, because you know, at the end of the day, that’s our advantage. Like, we’re not so full of hubris to feel like we can out-retail, or out-think the retail minds that have been doing this for forty years. You know, a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of Silicon Valley based entrepreneurs or Silicon Valley technology entrepreneurs, just think that way, but certainly, I feel like, you know, there’s no hubris like that here.

And given that, though, were there any, like, real early mistakes that you saw that you’re because you didn’t have that retail experience?

Oh, my gosh, how long is this podcast? Oh, gosh, I mean, there’s so many I can’t even I can’t even like—first one was just mistakes in the box. Now everything is checked, triple checked by weight, by UPC. It’s really hard to get a wrong order these days, compared like as a, as a percentage of our total orders, it’s minuscule. But that was not the case early on, so even our first quality control system was,—and this was in the garage—you are not allowed to seal a box, unless someone else double checked the box. So that was one of them.

The second set of eyes, we have the same, we have the same approach at Modera.

Really?

Yeah, two sets of eyes.

I feel like it sounds so mundane, and so like, ”no duh.” But we learned the hard way early on, we got a lot of mistakes on it. And just even having someone else double check it. Yeah, we caught a lot of errors.

That’s so funny. I mean, you know, as you said, you make mistakes because of that, but in some ways, not having it allowed you to maybe, you know, come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things because you didn’t—so it’s like the balance of having the experience and not having experience. It’s really important.

Yeah, and then even like, inventory management—the first time we miscounted what we bought and disappointed customers, because the inventory was still up, even though someone over-received certain items that you know, we were like, ”Okay, we need to get to build better software on the back end to help us double check this.” And that started to begin our venture down inventory management as well as our own ERP systems.

That’s amazing. So thinking ahead, you talked about maybe going into other areas, besides essentials. What other challenges do you have in terms of Boxed and its growth? And where do you kind of want to see it in the next two years?

The challenges have always been there, but they’ve definitely been heightened. We’re definitely seeing a massive tailwind, but also, the tailwind also is for everyone in the industry. So maybe that we’ve always competed not against the largest retailers in America, but the largest companies on the face of the earth. So that has continued to be obviously at the top of our minds.

And then because of COVID, everyone wants to get into the online essentials game. Even folks that don’t sell online essentials suddenly are thinking “Well, I get how user behavior in e-commerce is beginning to evolve, is that if you own the top of the funnel, and people who are coming back every week are constantly going to a particular destination, then it’s easier to sell the things that are downstream from them.” Whereas if you’re selling a longtail item, it’s not necessary that they will then trust you to buy their Doritos from you, you know, or they’ll just buy Doritos from you. So that heightened kind of concentration of entrance at the top of the funnel is something that definitely we want to make sure we solidify, and keep an eye on, in the coming months and years.

And I imagine as CEO and also Founder, you know, the types of decisions that come across your desk. I can’t imagine how many different categories of decisions you have facing you every day. Do you have like a process of decision making, or approach to your decisions, that have helped you, or any advice around decision making that some of our listeners might benefit from?

Yeah, I feel like some days it feels like first come first served. But that’s not scalable, so we’ve been trying to get away from that. Where people know certain things, I just don’t get involved in it, because it just propagates politics and incentivizes people to come straight to me, and that’s not scalable. And so definitely, that’s something we’re trying to get better at.

As you mentioned, as one of the co-founding CEOs, it’s just every little detail, you feel like rests on your shoulders. Like, you know, how big is the logo? What color is the box? What’s going in the box? What is the nomenclature that we’re using in the in the emails? But over time, you realize that there’s people—for one, you just don’t have the bandwidth to do it anymore, and then two, there’s people more qualified than me to do that kind of stuff.

And just as an aside, since you mentioned your logo, and since I’m on the marketing team with Anna—I love the logo and the box. It’s great, and the colors are great. So whoever’s doing that job is doing it well.

Yeah. And, you know, for anyone that orders from us, if you—a certain box size has my face on it—please don’t think that it’s ego-driven. It was actually one of the designers as a big F-U to me, put my face on it, knowing that I would veto it, they’d already printed it. And so I was like, dude, we’re clearly not doing this. They’re like, well, let’s you want to throw away a million boxes. And I was like—

That is good to know! Just to clarify, so if you order a certain amount, you get a special box with your face on it?

Yeah, the biggest box size that we have, one of the panels is my face. Actually, yeah, it’s someone—it’s one of the co-founders. Because we did this, we gave every designer in the company, a panel they could design. So when you open the box, you know, as an artist, they could feel like there’s millions of people seeing their art. And one just didn’t want to do it—one of our co-founders, he’s like, “This is dumb, I don’t need additional work.” So he just slapped my face on it, and I was like, “Oh, gosh.” Which is fine until you’re walking in York City at like 1am, and you just see like your face on the side of the street, in a box. You’re just like, “This is why I wanted to say no to this.”

It was a gutsy move on the part of the person to print a million boxes.

Yeah, exactly. Oh, gosh, things that don’t happen anymore.

That’s kind of funny, though. It might incentivize people to buy a bigger order. So they can just see that box.

I’m afraid it might disincentivize them! But I don’t know if that’ll ever change. We hope it’ll change, but we’ll see.

That’s great. So do you think that there are other businesses in your future in addition to Boxed that you’re exploring or thinking of getting into?

Not at the moment, I feel like seven and a half years in, for better or worse, it’s like, you kind of want to see it to completion. So whatever that means, you know, I just feel like, we’ve been working so hard and to see kind of the world finally shift towards the thesis that you started the company around. Gosh, like, you know, things should start to get exciting now, versus like, finding an outcome. So that’s frankly my motivation every day. It’s like, we bet on it. I thought it probably would have happened three or four years earlier than it did. Certainly not because of a pandemic. But here we are.

Like, I think after shopping online for a year for essentials, a lot of Americans are not going to go back. Well, they’ll go back to in-store, but not in the same frequency as they used to. It’s just because they realize it’s like the first time you touch an iPhone, the first time you’re sitting in an electric car. It’s like, “That’s different. It’s not bad, you know?” Like there’s chances you’ll go back when you see fit, when things are needed, but for the most part, like people don’t usually shop online and feel like, “Well, that was dumb.” Now we’re a year in almost, I feel like that’s the new habit, and you have to break that habit to go back in store like you used to.

So would you say that what got you up out of bed in the morning is the same as now? Or has it changed in any way?

It’s changed massively in the sense that, well, there’s two things I want to say. One is like, I could count on a single hand, how many times I truly laid wide awake, thinking about the company at night. And that might surprise people. At our first company in the year, it was like, virtually every night, but I realized that it was detrimental to me, detrimental to the company and no—like you’ve never been able to solve, no one ever feels like they come up with the solution at three AM, just staring at the ceiling. It’s like “Ah ha, you know, my brain is so refreshed from being up for like 21 straight hours, you know?” And so I go home. I lay it all out on the on the court, as they call it, and then I have a good night’s rest.

On the point of waking up every day, of course. there’s the excitement that I mentioned before. There is a time if you operate a business long enough, I think for most entrepreneurs, you’re going to realize that it’s no longer about building your personal wealth or doing what’s right and best for you and your family, it starts to be more about the people around you. At least when you start from the ground up. My motivation these days is, I got all these folks in this mess, I better make sure that it was worth their time, these seven and a half years. eEen if you just joined yesterday, that’s the responsibility that gets me.

That’s wonderful. And yeah, I mean, it’s really about the people, as you mentioned before, and I also love how you mentioned that, you know, you don’t get to stay up at night, because there’s this perception, you know, that you have to—once you’re in startup mode or an entrepreneur that it is always, you know, kind of taking over your life. So it’s refreshing to hear some work-life balance there as well.

Yeah, you know, the unfortunate thing is like, when I’m up, it’s like, you’re at it for like, 12 to 14 hours straight every day. But once the phone is done, like 10, 11 PM, like, I’m done thinking about it. Like, I’m just thinking about how do I get a good night’s rest?

And we do have one final question, Chieh: What was the last non-financial related decision you had to make today?

Oh, today?

Just today. Happens to be a stumper for people.

Yeah, because I feel like as a CEO, like entrepreneur, you make like four billion decisions a day. Um, yeah, I’ll give you one: Whether I should have a diet soda or not.

What was the answer?

Yeah, one of my guilty pleasures is Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi. We sell both. They’re both delicious. So if you work at Pepsi or you work at Coke, we love you. But a diet cola, if you will, is one of the habits I was trying to give up over the past year or two. But it’s just so refreshing, and like on a Friday, I probably ate a high calorie meal that I shouldn’t have for lunch. It just goes so well with the soda. But as you can see, as people listen to this cannot see—I went tea instead. I wanted to fight.

Okay, great. Well, thank you so much for joining us.

Thanks for having me.

And thanks very much to Jennifer Faherty and to Chieh Huang for letting us listen in on their conversation. We appreciate their time and perspectives. And thank you for tuning in. We hope you’ll join us next time on Decision Dialogues for more stories from successful business owners. So long for now.

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About Chieh

Chieh Huang is Co-Founder and CEO of Boxed.com, a company changing the wholesale shopping club landscape by enabling bulk item purchases online or via mobile app. Forbes Magazine has named Boxed one of the next “billion dollar startups.” Started in Chieh’s garage in 2015, Boxed now has hundreds of employees in facilities all over the United States. Since growing out of the garage, the company has sold hundreds of millions of dollars of products and has raised over a quarter billion dollars in funding to date.

Chieh’s personal honors include being named to “Bloomberg 50”, Bloomberg Businessweek’s 50 people to watch in 2018, to National Retail Federation’s list of People Shaping Retail’s Future, as one of Crain’s 40 Under 40 and Goldman Sachs’ list of “100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.” In addition, Entrepreneur Magazine included Chieh on their list of “The 50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs.”

Prior to co-founding Boxed, Chieh worked as an associate attorney at Proskauer Rose, LLP in their New York City office. He earned his bachelor’s degree from The Johns Hopkins University and his law degree from Fordham University.

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