After Google, INSEAD MBA Drives Startup 'Shutl' Into Business Orbit

Sean Cornwell had one motivate for studying an MBA at INSEAD: to break into Google. Now, he is an entrepreneur, helping to run a tech startup, Shutl, which has just been acquired by Ebay!

Nine years ago Sean Cornwell arrived at Boulevard de Constance, France, with one goal: to break into one of the best tech-employers on the globe. If an MBA from INSEAD Business School, the sixth-best b-school in the MBA Rankings, could not help get him into Google, then what would?  

“I joined INSEAD with the express intention of working in Google,” he says. “They were the company to work for at the time, especially globally in tech, and to do that in Europe I needed an MBA.”

A quick flick through Sean’s credentials reveals that he has all the pre-requisite to see any company recruiter bite his hand off with enthusiasm. He founded his own online news website, worked for the Financial Times, along with a number of start-ups for around five years – all before even beginning the MBA admissions process.

“I got to a point after working for different start-ups where I realized something was missing,” he says. “I realized that there was only one company at the time I wanted to work for: Google.

“It was the INSEAD alumni network that got me in. I reached out to an alum who worked at Google, and I then got invited to an interview.”

As INSEAD is one of the best in the business in Europe, Sean’s younger years in education are just as admirable. He studied at Eton College, the crème of the British education system, before reading Social and Political Sciences at the University of Cambridge.

Already involved in several SMEs, the INSEAD brand gave his CV extra fire-power - although what he learnt on the MBA program was not strictly relevant. “As with all b-schools, what you learn is pretty irrelevant,” he explains.

“If anyone is frank they will tell you that all the functional, hard skills; yeah they are great to know. But ultimately, you are not really using them for the most part in your roles afterwards.

“What is far more valuable is the MBA experience, the network, the softer courses and the different perspectives the MBA offers you. That is by far the most useful.

“Whenever you call on a prospective employer, the fact that you have a high-power MBA brand-name is important. It makes a difference.”

But it did not work. He may have spent three years at Google, but his passion for entrepreneurship was too strong a lure. He now runs Shutl day-to-day, a London-based tech start-up that has just been acquired by Ebay. He left Google many years ago, working at eHarmony and a raft of online companies along the way before becoming the COO of Shutl, an SME launched less than a year ago.

As is often the case with MBAs, after studying, your perspective is changed. Sean left the big online players behind and became the non-executive director of Love Home Swap and took up a position as a Venture Advisor at MMC Ventures, helping fellow entrepreneurs make their businesses a success (positions he still holds today).

You would be forgiven for thinking that Sean has been involved in a great number of startups. But isn’t that the trait of a successful entrepreneur?

I sense that Sean won’t be taking off from Shutl anytime soon. As well as being acquired by Ebay last month, the company raised a total of $8.69M from UK Angels alongside Hummingbird Ventures, UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund, e.ventures and Notion Capital, figures from last month snow.

The company offers retail delivery services with a difference, and brands itself as the “world's fastest and most convenient” delivery option. Although competitors have cropped up in the last twelve months, Shutl is considered unique because it offers customers who buy products online a specific, one-hour time window for delivery to their homes.

“We are a marketplace for the spare capacity within local carriers,” Sean says. “When you go and buy something online from one of these retailers, what happens is that one of the couriers in our network will go to the store of that retailer, which is nearest to the consumer, which has the item in stock.

“They will pick it up and bring it to you, and that’s how we can do it so quickly: because we are shortening the delivery distance between where you physically are as a consumer, your location, and the nearest store. No warehousing is involved.”

Shutl has swelled to around 45 employees in bases in San Francisco and London, operating with 30 retailers that cover around 80 per cent of the UK. They are growing rapidly and hope to work with retailers in the US this year.

Most of the company’s trade may be in the British Isles, but Sean sees Shutl taking off across international waters. “We are an extremely fast growing and ambitious start-up,” he says. “(This area) is one of the stand-out pieces of online e-commerce that is broken and that needs fixing.

“There is a really significant opportunity here to build a multi-billion dollar business around local-delivery; to be the PayPal for deliveries.”

Shutl looks like it may rocket across the online world, and transform the retail delivery network as we know it. Sean may have dreamt of launching a career with Google, but nine years after studying an MBA at INSEAD, he is aiming for the stars.

Investors seem to share Sean’s vision. Ebay see the potential, too.

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