Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Charlie Youakim, CEO and co-founder of payment platform Sezzle, shares what companies can learn from Amazon’s COVID-19 strategy and why going public was the right move for his company.
Name: Charlie Youakim
Title: CEO, co-founder
Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?
Not necessarily an industry, but I think Amazon has been masterful with its supply chain during this pandemic. They were proactive by pushing to hire an extra 100,000 employees, which not only helps their warehouse issues but stimulates our economy. They’ve had to add additional days to shipping, but they’ve done a great job of messaging the delay to consumers. It’s all about transparency during this time period. Amazon Prime isn’t as quick, but they’ve made up for this in their swift reaction to the issues at hand. I think apparel is doing well with this, too; most retailers I have encountered have prominent explanations on their website regarding the effects of supply chain on shipping.
Do you consider yourself a typical consumer?
I guess that depends on what the “typical” consumer is like, but I’d think so. I shop mostly online, especially in these Minnesota winters; a trek to the store isn’t always worth it. I do buy a decent amount of apparel, along with electronics and home goods. If we’re not counting the company purchases, my consumerism is pretty standard. The only thing “atypical” about me is that I pretty much only shop online. It’s rare you’ll find me in a physical store. So I’m your typical online consumer.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
I always prefer companies that have a strong mission that does more than just provide a product or service. Patagonia, for example, donates 1 percent of sales to environmental groups and only uses organic cotton. They have a mission to implement solutions to the ecological crisis, but more importantly, they follow through on that. Ultimately, companies winning me over with their mission-driven approach to their business model is what led Sezzle’s mission of financial empowerment to be the pillar of our product.
What’s your typical uniform?
We like to keep it business casual in the office. You can usually catch me in a Sezzle T-shirt and jeans—weekday or weekend. Admittedly, this quarantine has quickly led to the transition of jeans to sweatpants, and I have to say “guilty” when it comes to the new WFH uniform.
Which fashion era is your favorite?
I’m going with the athleisure era we’re in now; it fits my COVID sweatpants look.
Who’s your style icon?
Growing up watching old movies, I thought Al Pacino was the coolest. Whether he was playing a mob boss or a corruption-fighting cop, he had this effortlessly cool and gritty style that I was confident my 10-year-old self would be able to emulate. And who else rocks a leather trench coat like that man?
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
Last summer, we took a leap of faith by becoming a public company, and I think it’s the best decision we’ve ever made. At the time, Sezzle was half the size we are now, and we weren’t sure what the outcome would be by putting ourselves on the Australian stock exchange. By going public, we forced ourselves to grow up. Being public has raised our exposure and increased our odds of attracting talented employees and has helped us expand our business tremendously.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
Sezzle’s culture is one of the best things we bring to the table. We have this fun, inclusive and exciting energy that can be felt around the office. Our team is made up of brilliant and diverse minds from around the globe, and we come together with the shared determination to financially empower our consumers. Our office itself breeds the same energy, giving employees the opportunity to take a break to jump on the swings, play shuffleboard or just chat in the kitchen. I think it’s these authentic relationships and shared devotion to Sezzle that make our product shine.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
Considering the crisis that we’re living in, apparel needs to focus on e-commerce. With the majority of brick-and-mortar retailers closed, companies will get left in the dust if they don’t jump online. For retailers that are already online, they need to prioritize their e-comm solutions. Whether it’s through digital marketing, new products or a more advanced SEO, e-comm should be the priority of every retailer right now.
What keeps you up at night?
Honestly, I’ve slept well lately, mostly thanks to how well Sezzle is doing right now. I’m always thinking about how we as a company can improve, how I can improve and how our product itself can improve. It’s a constant thought cycle of asking myself: What can we be doing to be even better and serve our consumers better? But I think it’s these thoughts that put the devotion into our product. Everyone on the team is consistently iterating on what we can do to advance.
What makes you most optimistic?
Seeing our user reviews makes me incredibly happy. Our team is continually sharing real shopper stories that give expression and voice to how our product is helping users get the things they need to get through this pandemic. These real stories and genuine appreciation of Sezzle are what keep me and the team so optimistic and grateful we’re able to make a difference in our shoppers’ lives.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction/service:
We have a few amazing things in the pipeline. Just recently, we started issuing virtual Sezzle cards that can be used at certain in-store retailers. That way, consumers can go shopping in-store and still use Sezzle at checkout. We’re also working on a really inspiring project that is taking our mission into fruition with our consumers and product, focusing on financial knowledge, so stay tuned.