In our experience helping founders build great financial models, we’ve worked with startups that focus on SaaS, ecommerce, import/export, fulfillment, and logistics. But we had never worked with one startup that does all of those things until we met Lily Chan and her co-founders Derrick Chen and Jerry Vuong at Cenports Commerce.
As a co-founder at Cenports Commerce, Lily Chan wears many hats, to say the least. She’s part of a small team that has built a staggeringly complex business. And that may be a bit of an understatement.
Cenports’ financial model is one of the most complicated models we’ve ever built. It has certainly been a challenging and rewarding experience for our team. We’ve had a front seat to watch Cenports grow, and we’re expecting to see great things happen as they launch a new Wefunder campaign to raise capital to grow their team and prepare for global expansion.
Here at Forecastr, we work on startup financial models all day, every day. When it comes to revenue forecasts for different business models, we’ve seen it all. Or at least we thought we had until we met Lily and the team at Cenports.
Building and maintaining Cenports’ financial model has not been easy. In fact, we’re not ashamed to admit they’ve given us a run for our money! Keep reading, and I think you’ll see why.
Cenports may not be a household name, but there’s a good chance they’ve handled some of the products inside your house. They facilitate every aspect of marketing and distribution for many international drop-shipping brands.
Their customers sell products through ecommerce platforms like Amazon, Home Depot, Wayfair, and Overstock. Cenports acts as an agent to both domestic and international manufacturers, managing and optimizing the branding, pricing, and fulfillment for online retailers and wholesalers in the US.
Cenports’ fulfillment team packaging table legs
It’s a complex business, but we’re here to help you navigate it. When you break it all down, Cenports has five separate revenue models in play.
Freight Cenports sells containers and ocean freight services. They manage the movement of large volumes of products from around the world to their hub in California.
Logistics Cenports operates a physical warehouse in Hayward, CA, where they stock inventory for more than 150 manufacturers. They handle high volumes of furniture, home furnishings, outdoor appliances, and more. They provide packaging, shipping, and return services to comply with more than 60 online outlets.
SaaS Through the &Makers brand, Cenports provides an online interface for order management, inventory management, market research, and go-to-market strategy. They also provide tech-enabled services to help their clients succeed with branding and messaging in the US marketplace.
Retail sales Cenports collects revenue as a percentage of its clients’ sales through online retail platforms.
Wholesale sales Cenports collects revenue as a percentage of its clients’ sales through wholesale marketplaces.
We meet a lot of founders who need to forecast complex revenue streams. But we don’t meet many who need to forecast five completely different revenue streams, each with its own constraints and unit economics.
So, how do they do it? How have Lily and her co-founders managed to build this infrastructure, provide this level of service, and do it in a way that fosters loyalty and growth in their customer base?
As Lily will tell you, it’s all about your outlook.
Lily with Director of Sales Marketing, May Nguyen
Enjoying the Journey
Lily began her career as many of us did, putting in long hours to climb the proverbial ladder. She found success in the retail industry, where she worked her way up from the sales floor to the C-suite.
After years of dedicating herself to her work, she decided to walk away from it all when she realized that something important was missing.
As Lily shared, “I remember one specific event. My team and I had to build a showroom. We were there working until two in the morning. We were almost dying at that point! But I remember everyone’s faces and how they were so passionate about getting this done. The teamwork was flowing, we heard each other without much communication. In retrospect, it should have been an enjoyable moment. But I was just so stressed that I never took the time to really enjoy it.”
Lily left her retail career behind and became a certified yoga instructor. It was during this time that she adopted a mantra that serves as a guiding principle for her and her co-founders at Cenports, “Enjoy the journey.”
That simple phrase helps Lily maintain poise and positivity through the most hectic and demanding days. “Sometimes being a founder is hard. You have to wear different hats and learn new tools and sometimes you just feel like, ‘Oh my God, am I doing this right?’”
Identifying the best tools to accomplish their goals has been a critical part of Cenports’ success. And we’re very proud to say that Forecastr is the tool and the team that Cenports leans on for financial guidance.
Cenports founding team enjoying the journey
Finding Success Through Partnership
When Cenports met Forecastr, their founding team was still figuring out which metrics would be the most impactful for them to track internally, and which would make the biggest impression on potential partners and investors.
As co-founder Derrick Chen explained, “We’re not a traditional SaaS company. In the early days, Forecastr could not even handle our business model. We worked with Logan (Burchett, co-founder of Forecastr) to figure out unit economics for all of our different revenue centers. But we couldn’t use the software yet, because our model was a little bit too complicated. So, Logan built us some really nice spreadsheets to use until the product caught up with our business model.”
This early collaboration between Cenports and Forecastr was certainly a sign of things to come, as Cenports became one of the first companies to sign up for Forecastr’s CFO Services offering when it was released.
Lily summed it up nicely, “We don’t have a full-time CFO. Today, we’re able to use the Forecastr tool, but even more, we lean on Logan’s advice as our Fractional CFO. Where we are today as a company, our focus is on raising funds. Logan has given us a lot of good advice on that side of things. I would say that the CFO services have been even more valuable to us than the Forecastr software.”
And it was Logan who introduced Lily and Derrick to Wefunder, where they are currently raising a community round with an equity crowdfunding campaign.
Cenports team in their CA warehouse
Raising Funds for Continued Growth
While Cenports’ business model is impressively complex, the resources that the founding team has used to build its infrastructure are surprisingly limited. To date, the company has only raised a modest amount of funds from angel investors – mostly friends and family.
As Lily and Derrick launch their equity crowdfunding campaign through Wefunder, the founding team is looking forward to making some key hires to accelerate development and enhance their service offerings.
As Lily explained, the partnership with Forecastr has been a key resource during this process. “We asked Logan to review our campaign and our numbers before we launched, and we’re leaning heavily on him as an advisor.”
At the end of the day, Lily ties it all together by returning to her mantra. “Sometimes we need education, sometimes we need resources, and sometimes we just need a motivational boost! Having Logan on the financial side has been very powerful for us. He provides those things when we need them, and that allows us to enjoy the journey as we grow.”
If you need to build a financial model for a complicated business, reach out to Forecastr today. We have the team and the technology to help any startup succeed.