Raj Bharti, WG’15, is using his Wharton knowledge and network to grow his Seattle venture, Lastmile Leaders, a delivery service partner business with Amazon.

As a management consultant at Microsoft, Raj Bharti, WG’15, came to Wharton’s EMBA program to fill in knowledge gaps and propel his career forward. He also wanted to explore entrepreneurship and marketing.

“I come from an entrepreneurial family of small business owners. I was the only one in my family not to start a business until 2006, when I launched a wireless business in Seattle followed by a tech startup in 2010,” he explained. “Although I went back to management consulting, I realized that I have a burning passion for entrepreneurship.”

At Wharton, Raj focused on areas that would help him as a founder, such as marketing, operations, and entrepreneurship. After graduation, he stayed at Microsoft in global product marketing and management for a few years before taking on the role of vice president at a management consulting firm. During this time, he kept his eyes open for the right startup opportunity.

“In the summer of 2019, I was flying to Sacramento for a yoga retreat and saw an advertisement for Amazon’s Delivery Service Partner (DSP) program. I had lived in Seattle for 15 years and hadn’t paid that much attention to this program, but during that flight I researched the program and became extremely interested,” said Raj. “By working as a delivery partner with Amazon, I could start my own independent company and have Amazon as my exclusive customer, which would guarantee consistent demand for my services.”

After being accepted into the partnership program with Amazon, Raj launched Lastmile Leaders last fall with support from his Wharton classmates. He recalled, “One of my classmates helped review my legal agreements over a weekend, another classmate was an initial investor in the business, and many others helped provide feedback and encouragement.”

October of 2020 marked the venture’s one-year anniversary. “When you see Amazon blue and gray vans in the Seattle area, some of those are mine. I currently have over 75 employees, and we’re headed to 100 employees this holiday season” said Raj. Also, he recently participated in Amazon’s launch of new custom electric vehicles to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

He observed that operating this business during a pandemic has been quite challenging. “I need to focus on health and safety, disinfecting the vans every day, and ensuring employees are socially distanced. In addition, I have to manage staffing when people are quarantined as well as deal with long delays when the vans need repairs as the parts come from Michigan and China.”

He added, “Fortunately, our customers have been extremely thankful for our services during these difficult times, and they recognize our frontline workers’ efforts by thank you notes, drinks, and snacks.” 

Starting a Business During a Pandemic

Wharton, Raj noted, has helped him overcome the challenges of starting a business, particularly during a pandemic. He pointed to several aspects of the EMBA program that are adding value in his venture:

Managing and Developing People

“I use lessons about managing people every day. For example, I built the incentive program at my company based on what I learned at Wharton. If you expect people to do A, then do not reward for B. I make sure my expectations align with the incentives. I also think back to leadership classes about the importance of delegation and developing other leaders. Leaders need to give people responsibility, trust them to do the work, and then verify that it is done.”

Simplifying and Streamlining Operations

“This is a business where the rubber meets the road every day, literally. If the vans and drivers cannot operate, then packages do not get delivered. I think back to my operations classes all the time, especially the lessons about keeping things as simple as possible. Every variable added in operations makes it exponentially more complicated.”

Building Company Culture

“At Wharton, I learned how culture is the DNA of a company. This is critical to me as a founder. I am designing the company to ensure that we are the most diverse delivery service partner at our location. In addition to employing people from all colors and ethnicities, I have many LGBTQ employees, pregnant women, and women in the leadership positions at our company. At one point, I had a 77-year-old delivery driver, who decided to leave because of the pandemic. I strive to create an inclusive and respectful environment where everyone feels safe and welcome.”

Leading under Stressful Situations

“I participated in a Leadership Venture at Wharton about leading in stressful situations. This 10-day venture involved sailing a tall ship off Tahiti. While that may sound like a lot of fun, we operated 24/7 with only 4 to 6-hour shifts for sleep, and team members often were incapacitated by sea sickness. We had to figure out how to delegate tasks, chart the course, motivate everyone on the team, and keep the ship running in a resource-constrained environment. It was an unbelievable experience in which I learned a great deal about leadership under pressure.”

Looking back, Raj described Wharton’s EMBA program as “worth its weight in gold.” He said, “In addition to the knowledge and skills needed to launch a successful business, I have a strong network of friends who I can call any time for advice. These are lifelong friends who will support me throughout my career.”

Read more about Raj’s Tall Ship Sailing Leadership Venture.

Read about Raj’s Global Business Week trip to Spain.

— By Meghan Laska

Posted: December 10, 2020

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