Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Justin Arnold, CEO of Blocklight, which is a data & analytics platform for e-commerce businesses.
What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?
Before pursuing Blocklight full time, my career had primarily been in the Chicago food industry at a co-packing company. My path began in manufacturing and industrial operations before transitioning to the IT, finance, and strategy side of the business, ultimately arriving in the continuous improvement leadership position. It was here that I learned the foundational components of business and how all of the pieces fit together — from operations management to monthly accounting reconciliations and everything in between.
It was also at this company that I was introduced to the world of startups. After five years with them, I was asked by management if I knew anyone who would be interested in taking the company’s internal quality software to market. I thought, “why not me?”, and after expressing interest in the role I joined three others tasked with bringing the software to market. What. An. Experience. We wound up building the company out of 1871 and I jumped feet first into the technology scene — I mean I couldn’t get enough; seminars, workshops, trainings, networking — I was addicted. Fast forward two years and the software was being used modestly across the midwest. However, the experience as a founder and exposure to the community I received during those 2 years was invaluable.
As I was exploring what to do next, I came in contact with a few owners of e-commerce stores who expressed difficulty running their (fast-growing) shops. Their non-technical nature, budget limitations that kept roles like business development and data analyst unattainable, and time restrictions given their non-work obligations was the catalyst for the creation of Blocklight. We knew that we could bridge the gap when it came to simply having business data and extracting actionable value from it.
What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?
Organizing business data, understanding it, and then taking action based on what you discover is a difficult, time-consuming task for the already overwhelmed e-commerce store owner. Blocklight helps these store owners visualize their entire business in one place. We break down traditionally disparate data silos and help stores organize their sales, marketing, and financial data customized to their business.
I get excited to work with our team and the businesses we serve. Our team’s passion for helping small businesses with the tools we create always helps keep my tank full. I also really get excited when we meet with these businesses — getting them to double down on something we’ve done right or put us on notice about something that’s not providing value gives me a recharged desire to help. Maybe it’s proximity placebo, maybe not, but I always feel the best and most energized when we’re doing tight iterations in short cycle times with our customers.
Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?
Our biggest challenge was a founding team issue/disagreement. I truly can’t stress the importance of making sure you are thorough in vetting and understanding your potential partners. These relationships should be viewed similar to a marriage — you’re going to be together at least to the company’s event horizon and maybe even beyond so due diligence can’t be underestimated.
Radical transparency and resilience are how we overcame it. I’m a firm believer in the entire team having a vested interest in the company’s trajectory and not being in the dark about anything. In my experience, this level of inclusion leads to a very loyal, open, and positive culture. When the team has a voice and is informed, the bond of the team becomes impenetrable and all threats, internal or external, are able to be overcome. The caveat to this is that it can’t be something fake or surface-level — your team knows the good and the bad too.
Where do you see your company headed next?
Our mission is to give businesses self-reliance by way of their own analytics. In the short term, we will continue to enhance our analytics platform to provide more value and tools to drive growth even easier. We’ll also soon be launching in the Shopify App Store. In the mid-long term, we’re going to empower the businesses we work with to solve even more problems that plague the e-commerce industry with their business analytics profiles.
Give us a tactical piece of advice that you’d share with another founder just starting out.
Be prepared to get creative and uncomfortable, but don’t lose your North Star. Being a startup founder is admittedly one of the most difficult (if not the most difficult) thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I know I’m not alone. You’re never going to be fully prepared for everything you will encounter, it’s impossible; you’re the sales, marketing, product, finance, HR, and customer service department. Be confident in your ability to analyze and creatively solve any problem, listen to those who have experienced the challenges you’re going through, (try to) never burn a bridge, and treat everyone you encounter with the same respect you’d like to receive. Remember, a brand is nothing more than a promise delivered — so always remember your promise and don’t ever let the noise make you forget why you got started in the first place.