The COVID-19 pandemic has not been the only hurdle for Maze Freight Solutions, said Jy Maze, and it certainly won’t be the last.
“People think because you’re a CEO of a company that everything is gravy. No one knows about the bloody knees from praying, the begging for money, nobody giving you a shot — no one sees that,” said the founder and CEO of Maze Freight Solutions.
Maze founded the Overland Park-based, third-party freight logistics startup in 2017 after leaving her position as a freight broker at Freightquote. Quickly after starting the business from her attic, Maze Freight experienced rapid growth, she recalled — noting she felt a sense of worry rather than excitement.
“Tim [Barton] told me that, ‘Sometimes when you grow too fast, you can fail,’” she shared, referencing her serial entrepreneur mentor and close friend. “I’ll never forget that, because all of us want quick microwave growth; we want microwave results — but then we can’t handle what comes in.
“I remember being in the office with Tim, and I had a vision of Maze Freight taking off fast and becoming a global company,” she continued. “I looked him in the eyes and said, ‘I don’t want to fail.’”
Barton — the co-founder of Edison Spaces and Melo Food and Beverage, as well as the founder and former CEO of Kansas City-based Freightquote — simply told Maze she would have to do everything in her power to not fail, she shared.
Click here to read more about Maze Freight Solutions and the transportation industry.
Crawl before you walk
When Maze started out as “the new kid on the block” in the industry, it was a major learning process — even after working as a freight broker, she shared.
“We still don’t know everything, and we’re learning as we grow,” Maze said — noting that her husband, Gerald, works alongside her. “It’s like a toddler; you have to crawl before you walk, And before toddlers can walk, they’re going to fall many times. … But toddlers are very ambitious. They don’t take no for an answer, and they don’t give up.”
Comparing entrepreneurship to the spirit of a toddler became the theme of Maze’s 2019 book, “Finding Your Toddler Ambition: A Different Approach to Entrepreneurship.”
She wrote it after one of her greatest falls: Getting stuck in an $80,000 debt after a customer cheated her company. At the same time, Maze Freight had lost major customers because of unanticipated clientele mergers and shutdowns. Remembering Burton’s words, “You can’t fail,” a stubborn Maze pushed forward, she said.
The cost: she and her husband lost their house and cars, filing for bankruptcy, she recalled.
“If you’re not going to make a sacrifice, who else is going to believe in your company?” she asked. “… I didn’t wait for opportunities to come, I got up and made them. I was adamant that I did not fail. I am adamant about Maze Freight being the best solution when it comes to freight shipping.”
And Maze, who was recently listed on Forbes Next 1000, didn’t fail — not through her run-in with debt or the current pandemic.
“When we were stuck with that $80,000 bill, not having any customers and needing to completely rebuild, Jill Hathaway [from ScaleUp!] taught me how to get out of a bad financial situation. I listened to and did everything she said. And we came out on top of zero debt.”
For entrepreneurs who are just starting out, Maze recommended connecting with experts like Barton. Having people nearby who have gone through the same struggles allows a person to go around some hurdles versus jumping over and falling, she said.
And if you fall? Someone is there to help you up, Maze added.
Guided by faith and culture
The pandemic was an obstacle no one saw coming, Maze said, though previous challenges helped make Maze Freight better able to overcome COVID-19’s worst.
While she doesn’t see the freight industry fully bouncing back until 2022, Maze anticipates increased online shopping and the subsequent shipping will continue.
An emphasis on culture sets Maze Freight Solutions apart from its competitors in the crowded market seeking to take advantage of that uptick, Maze shared.
“My husband and I came up with the vision, and we set the culture and the camaraderie,” she noted. “… We are breaking barriers to create diversity in the supply chain. I am an African American woman. We need to usher in diversity because freight moves for every one of us from all walks of life. Everyone needs goods, so we have to service the entire country and eventually, the globe.”
Maze and her team often go to the Bible and pray together in times requiring a decision, she said, explaining that their faith fuels them to keep going.
“It’s crazy how this works, but we all believe in the same Jesus, the same God,” Maze said. “The reason why it works so well is because we’re Black. And we know that being Black, we have to work harder to prove ourselves. So with the hard work and the faith and the dedication and the culture — we are a family.”
A stigma around Black companies, even today, still needs to be erased, Maze said.
“To be a Black company, to rise to the level that we have risen, I know that God is behind us. We have a secret sauce, and it’s called Jesus; it’s called faith. That is what’s working for us.”
The Maze Foundation
When Maze and her husband are not working on Maze Freight Solutions, they pour into their organization, The Maze Foundation — which advocates for children in need through an annual coat drive.
“Before we even started Maze Freight, we saw a bus of children — and it was very cold at the time — who only had on small jackets and sweatshirts,” she recalled. “They were part of a group home. After doing some research, we came to the conclusion that there are several orphanages that need resources.”
Having children of their own, the couple became passionate about helping the kids the saw in need. So, they started a coat drive, Maze said — noting that they wanted to provide new, high quality coats to the children.
Gaining attention from other organizations, the Maze family officially launched The Maze Foundation in 2019.
“Now we’re planning on moving to bigger things like transitional housing for the group home attendees who are aging out of [traditional group homes],” she shared. “They usually end up in prison, dead or on drugs because they have no guidance.
“Through the way that God has mapped us and guided us with Maze Freight, we want to be that same guiding light for these children who are transitioning out,” she continued. “… We will provide that place where they can live for a year to learn new skills, so they can be upstanding citizens in the community.”
Click here to learn more about The Maze Foundation.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.