How to gather valuable user insights to drive product innovation

Gophr is a marketplace made up of two sides: couriers and customers: supply and demand. Startups working in the on-demand delivery sector tend to be well funded enough that they only tend to think about keeping one side of the equation happy; the customers.

Although we haven’t raised an insubstantial amount of cash, unlike some of our competitors we haven’t had enough to subsidise paying riders and drivers to be on standby. This has forced us to think about how we can deliver value to both sides of the customer/courier equation. Thankfully the traditional B2B courier space hasn’t generally done a terrific job when it comes to taking care of their couriers either.

To get an edge on our competition we knew we had to make feedback loops an absolute cornerstone of our approach.

What we’d discovered after a year of doing courier and customer interviews – before we’d even written our first line of code – drove this thinking.

We spoke to customers who had companies of all shapes and sizes to understand what it was they found frustrating about dealing with courier companies.

And on the other side of the equation, we interviewed lots of couriers to understand what it was that they loved (and hated) about their work to see how we could improve their day-to-day experience.

This set out the overall direction and vision for the problems Gophr would solve on both sides of the equation.  However we also wanted to make sure we had plenty of opportunities to understand whether we were on the right track. This meant building lots of feedback channels to increase our chances of being exposed to insights that would drive product and service improvement.

Today we have a number of different channels through which customer and courier feedback is gathered. It comes into what is effectively Gophr’s central nervous system – Slack (more on how we use Slack here).

I’ve placed them all in one handy list:

  • Customer messenger chats or phonecalls: Intercom (or any other CRM system) is great for this. Both in terms of getting feedback  there and then through live chat or automatically prompting users to give you feedback via email. We tend to do this after thanking them for booking regularly. It’s a surprisingly great way to get nice responses. And again, having actual conversations with customers is a great way to get some deep insights into the product.
  • NPS: we use an app called AskNicely, it’s pretty expensive for what it is but we’re kind of locked in given the data we’ve gathered to date. Personally if I were to start over I’d just use an automated email with the ‘Pro’ version of Typeform. Cheaper and more or less does the same thing.
  • In-app feedback: easy one. This mainly comes in when a job is done, whether its been delivered or cancelled.  If a customer cancels we want to know why. Similarly, if a courier is given a low rating we want to be able to act on it
  • Google reviews: Pretty obvious, there for all the world to see
  • Trustpilot reviews: See Google reviews above
  • Courier chats: Either face to face or via messages. We’re very courier focused and they are brilliant for telling us whether there are any bugs or where we should go next. We’ve set up a private Facebook group for this too.

Once gathered the feedback is either dropped unfiltered as an idea in its own right, or it sparks an idea which is then shared with the team. Over time we’ll find that the same idea keeps coming back, or ideas start to group together as themes or projects.

Over time these layers of ideas can build up into one ultimate solution, or can spark an entirely brand new approach to solving the problem.

These new approaches tend to be of the ‘silver-bullet’ kind in that they kill many different problems with a simple or elegant solution. As opposed to a collection of ideas which can be quite big in scope.

The sheer number of channels we have for gathering feedback gives us a very good idea of what jobs need to be prioritised next. Given that we are still a small team it’s also useful to have this additional layer of guidance. It helps to keep us focused even when it’s a struggle to prioritise at times (it all seems so damn vital!).

I’d say the single biggest barometer of whether we are doing a good job are our NPS scores. They’ve never been lower than over twice the industry average for the parcel delivery sector (26) at any time (yes, including Christmas). The highest they’ve ever been is over three times that much (78.8). We’re aiming to permanently stay over that number for 3+ months at a time as we move forward. We’ll keep you posted on how we get on with that ambition.

So here are some real-world examples of the stuff this feedback has produced:

  • Gophr courier app, specifically:
    • user interface
    • manifest (how the jobs are displayed and in what order)
    • dynamically rearranging the manifest based on location and time deadlines
    • ETA’s
    • sign-off screens
    • map functionality
  • Gophr customer webapp:
    • UI
    • Team functions
    • Live tracking
    • Multi-drops
    • Printing address labels (thanks Lovefone)

As ever, if you have any questions do hit us up in the comments section/tweet/live chat us and we’ll be more than happy to help in any way we can.

 

Multi d-d-d-DROPS! How and why we made them, and how to book them

Apart from the a handful of messages we’ve received about a few of our couriers, no one ever finds logistics sexy.

If you are expecting me to change your mind with this blog post, please prepare to be disappointed. Nonetheless, we are super proud of what we’ve managed to achieve with our latest feature rollout. This thing touched nearly every facet of our product line. Our customer mobile app remains unchanged as our webapp bookings still dwarf our mobile app bookings so it always takes priority.

The whole project took about 12 weeks to complete and necessitated a complete restructure of how our backend works, as well as webapp UI and courier app UI.

So what are multi-drops and why are they such a big deal?

Basically, multi drops are the ability to book one courier to go to one pick up to gather lots of packages to be dropped at multiple delivery points – hence ‘multi-drops’ (also applies to multiple pick-ups going to one delivery point). This leads to more efficiency and therefore a cheaper price for the customer.

Our entire backend platform was geared toward optimising for single jobs, both at the point at which they are assigned as well as when they are in progress (more on that here). Having this set up means the system is set up for fluidity. So dropping a daisy chain of multiple pick ups and drops as part of one job is a little like running a set of train tracks over some sand dunes. In other words; hard.

Added to this, we had only ever designed our booking process for one job at a time. And because we don’t have controllers to manually sort out the most optimal routes for any given run, all this needed to be handled during the booking process itself, adding another layer of complexity.

So we needed to completely rethink the user interface whilst making other improvements we’d been meaning to do for some time.

So why did we do it?

  1. It was one of the only aspects of our service where we still couldn’t compete with traditional courier companies
  2. We were getting a lot of requests from existing clients for this feature
  3. Because of 1 and 2 there’s no way we could get to the kind of volumes we want to unless we actually sorted it out

So how does it work?

A big downside of our previous UI was users could only receive a quote at the very end of the booking process when they’d entered all the details of the job they were booking.

We’ve now improved this by providing a quote as soon as the first pick up and delivery points are submitted. And you can keep submitting pick up and delivery points before optimising the route to get the best possible price. Only at that point do we ask for contact and consignment details.

The rest of it works more or less the way it used to. Now that I’ve written that last (and very short) paragraph out I’m wondering how we managed to make something so complex look so simple (it wasn’t). Such is the beauty of software development.

If you have any questions about this (not related to backend and routing etc, secret sauce and all that 😉 do let me know in the comments or get in touch at yo@gophr.com

 

How Slack is central to how we work

Tracking everything that is going on all the time related to what you do in any given business is huge pain. Even on a personal level I tend to mute a few of the WhatsApp chats I’m in simply because it can all get to a bit too much. Slack can be a distraction machine like that, however on the balance of things it’s been invaluable to how we work here at Gophr.

It’s no exaggeration to say it’s underpins everything we do. Enabling everyone in the company to understand exactly what’s going on at all times.

I thought it might be useful to share some insight into how we use Slack here at Gophr. How it drives feedback loops and spark off ideas that affect and improve our product development cycles.

We’re still a relatively small team (8 strong) so not all of these approaches may apply to your company. However I think our approach is broad enough that any organisation should find something useful in here.

We’re very lucky in that when we started the company some 2.5 years back when Slack was starting to hit everyone’s radar.  The inherent genius of making a chat platform easy to integrate with other platforms has been well covered elsewhere, contributing to their meteoric success and record-breaking growth.

The timing of Slacks emergence couldn’t have been better for us. It’s become central to Gophr’s company culture since our inception (as I’m sure it has for many others!). I’ll share how our channels are set up, what they are for and list out integrations where relevant. Some of these will be self-evident by the names 

  1. #bugs: tracks bugs or blockers that may reported by couriers and customers alike
  2. #competitors: competitor and industry news, posted by the team
  3. #copy-requests: where the team can request copy to be written. Or they can drop existing copy in here to have it reviewed, proof-read  and signed-off
  4. #customerservice: Intercom integration, gives everyone an oversight as to what’s going on our customer service channels. Also enables us to discuss customer service issues without having to delve into Intercom itself
  5. #design: similar to copy, but for designs. Anything from UI to header images  
  6. #dev: this is very specific to our dev teams conversations. Could be anything from solving a problem to sharing updates
  7. #feedback: gathering customer feedback. This includes customer NPS, customer ratings of couriers and/or apps, feedback delivered via email or over the phone which we keep for posterity along with any courier feedback we receive.
  8. #goodreads: good articles on the industry sector, new tech, internal processes or just generally random stuff that we read and liked
  9. #growth: tracking growth stats for the business. Also good for sharing relevant articles pertaining to growth hacking
  10. #ideas: submitting ideas on improvements. Generally sparked by some sort of interaction with customers, couriers, the back end or other team members
  11. #jobs: this is specific to us and tracks the number of bookings we get in a given day.  Backend integration.
  12. #leads: Pipedrive integration. Keeps track of all our sales leads and what stage they are at in our pipeline
  13. #progress: specific to work, and how much of it is getting done on any given day. Plugged into Asana
  14. #warnings: Back end integration. Server outages, failed customer requests and payment requests and other assorted random stuff. It enables us to make sure we can deal with any situations that may arise

This leads to the entire team understanding what’s going on with the business right across the board. Giving the team a deep understanding of which areas need improvement. And the context to understand where those improvements should sit within our list of priorities. The two channels that are the most valuable from this point of view are #feedback and #ideas.

Everything we’ve shared in those channels has formed the basis for our customer and courier facing product roadmaps, as well as how we see the long-term vision of Gophr playing out. It gives everyone  in the company an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way.

There’s not one us who has yet to share some thought on how to improve our product, current systems and processes for the greater good.

How did this first kick off? We were inspired by a blog post we read on Kissmetrics and latterly Freshdesk and as a result we insisted that everyone in the team including developers should be get involved in solving customer and courier issues so which drive solutions that will save us time in the long-run.

These ideas (and a lot of hard work) have led us to develop a platform that has a level of depth that we don’t believe is rivalled by anyone else in our space (more on that here).

If you have any other suggestions for using Slack let us know in the comments section, email (yo@gophr.com) or Intercom. And if you have any other interesting things to add please share in the comments.

 

What the Uber verdict means for Gophr

I set out our position on the state of the courier industry this time last year in my one and my first ever Medium post, so it feels somewhat circuitous that I find myself a year later writing on the same subject because of the recent ruling against Uber, and the upcoming tribunals against the ‘Big Four’ courier companies that have been brought by the IWGB.

I’ve already outlined how both Uber and courier companies could be seen to fall foul of HMRC’s guidelines on self-employment in part my previous post last week. I figured it was only fair to apply a frank assessment of how we stack up against those same guidelines. I also go into what the challenges have been for us when operating in this space, and how I believe we can continue to build Gophr into a successful business going forward, no matter what the future operating environment happens to be.

As per my first post where I scored Uber and the Big Four same-day courier companies, I’ve taken HMRC’s guidelines on self-employment, added comments that are specific to how we do business and then given them a score, giving a point if we are meeting the guidelines, and a zero if we are not. I’m happy to be challenged on this by any courier who has worked with us, the IWGB who we have had many conversations with since we attended their very first meeting in January 2015, or other courier companies who might take issue with what we’ve written below or in our previous post.

Here are the guidelines again:

“Someone is probably self-employed and shouldn’t be paid through PAYE if most of the following are true:

They’re in business for themselves, are responsible for the success or failure of their business and can make a loss or a profit

Like Uber, we could argue that we are sitting within the bounds of the rules here because the couriers success or failure depends on how much work they agree to do. However I don’t believe that sticks to the spirit that this guideline was written in because it should not come down to how many jobs a courier accepts but down to their ability to affect how much work they can win in the first place, and get paid accordingly. A more loose interpretation could be the self-employed person in question has a clear path to progress that unlocks the ability to make more money.

Although we have seen this in play already with some of our more entrepreneurial couriers getting clients to book them regularly for certain jobs, and others bringing in business to Gophr. We intend to encourage couriers to do more in this area. However I’ve never heard of anyone scoring points for good intentions.

Gophr score: 0

They can decide what work they do and when, where or how to do it

Again, as per the previous post this three separate points so I’ve split them up, with a point for each

What work they do and when they do it

Similarly to Uber, our couriers can log in and out whenever they want. In fact most of the them do because for the vast majority of them we are not their primary source of income. They work for other courier or delivery companies. They can reject jobs and incur no penalties as a result of doing so. After they accept a job they can call us to have the job reassigned to another driver, without penalty. The job notification they receive tells them where the pick up and delivery addresses are and exactly how much they will receive for completing the job.

Our system will not assign a job to a courier if their vehicle is not suitable. Neither will the system assign jobs to couriers if they unable to meet the required deadlines unless all other options have been exhausted, usually at times when we are very busy. Any delays are immediately communicated to the customer through ETA’s. The courier receives contact details for the customer and can manage the job directly. They have the ability to refuse jobs at pick up if the items do not meet the specifications described on the booking, or call us to change the specs to reflect the work being carried out, with the results properly reflected in the final price of the job.

We provide the couriers with the most efficient sequence to do pick ups and deliveries to meet their deadlines, however they are free to the deliveries however they feel is best.

If they don’t deliver on time because they haven’t moved quickly enough, or simply bitten off more than they can chew then customers will inevitably give them a poor rating, complain directly to them or to us. If it is communicated to us we feed back to the courier and suggest ways they can improve.

Persistent poor performance can lead to being suspended, however this has only happened a handful of times. Nearly all our couriers are experienced professionals who’ve worked in the industry for several years and know what the job entails and what is expected of them.

We have a couple of couriers on ‘guarantee’ (more on that here) who’ve been with us from day one. They are normally relied upon to cover work that cannot get done by others but they are free to turn us down if they want, and have done in the past.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that we should score a point each for what work they do and when they do it.

Gophr – 2

Where they do the work

Other than couriers on guarantee, whom we pay Living Wage, we have no control over where they do work. That is entirely down to what the customer defines as the pick up and delivery. We don’t even show couriers the areas that are busy at any one time like Uber. Although our couriers have told us they would find it a useful feature.

Gophr – 1

They can hire someone else to do the work

We have a couple of couriers with their own companies who have set up other couriers to work for them on Gophr, and all work gets paid into the overall courier company account. We have no issue with this as long as it doesn’t become an impediment to getting work done and we can still deliver the same level of efficiency and transparency back to the customer as we do with everyone else working directly on the platform.

Gophr – 1

They’re responsible for fixing any unsatisfactory work in their own time

This generally only applies to times when packages have either not been delivered properly or cannot be found at the point of delivery. Couriers generally deal with these issues directly and packages are usually found quickly.

Gophr – 1

Their employer agrees a fixed price for their work – it doesn’t depend on how long the job takes to finish

We have set rates that are aimed at the SME market and enable us to pay what we believe are the best rates in the courier industry. We have discussed our rates with the IWGB to ensure they are fair, as well as shared data with them on average payment per job, per vehicle type. We have not changed these rates to date (apart from the price of cargo bikes and waiting times for motorbikes and vans which rose). We will not change these without discussing and agreeing it directly with our couriers.

In addition, couriers know exactly what they will be paid on the notifications we send them. If a customer sets a short deadline to complete a job (therefore reducing the time they have to do the job, and as a result reducing their ability to accept other work on the way) we charge a premium to the customer that they can see at the time of booking and pass that directly to the courier after we take our commission.

In order for us to stick more closely to this we could allow couriers could set their own rates directly in the app. We thought long and hard about this at the very beginning and were worried this would cause competition between couriers to set low rates, whilst slowing the booking process down for customers who’d need to choose between couriers based on the varying costs. We don’t believe either of these are desirable for couriers or customers.

We have agreed a fixed price for work, our rates compare very favourably to the competition within the B2B space so I think we are good here. However we do charge a premium for how long it takes to finish and so… – 0.5

They use their own money to buy business assets, cover running costs, and provide tools and equipment for their work

Yes, couriers buy all their own equipment and take care of it’s upkeep. We have provided t-shirts and cycle jerseys to couriers but haven’t charged them for them. This is the section that we are all being accused of exploiting for gain however it is strictly sticking to guidelines.

Gophr – 1

They can work for more than one client

Absolutely. In fact we encourage it. We want to have as many couriers on our app as possible so that it’s likely that when a customer orders a job to be done we will have someone in the area. As we are a growing business however we may not always have enough work to become the couriers primary source of income. As we get bigger this will change but we will always be happy for couriers to work with other courier companies and as we move forward we want to encourage courier companies to work directly with us, as some already do.

Gophr – 1

So in summary that makes our score (according to us) a 7.5 out of 9. Putting us 2.5 points ahead of Uber and X ahead of courier companies.

We could of course be accused of being biased, however it’s important to note that we wouldn’t be so close to these guidelines if we hadn’t of designed ourselves to be that way from the start. We were in contact with the IWGB before we even launched.

And of course, if you have worked with us and believe we are being too generous with how we score ourselves please get in touch or simply reply below in the comments section.

So more importantly; how has this tactic of sticking to the self-employment guidelines, as well as working with the The Living Wage Foundation and the IWGB worked for us? (full disclosure: we used to have IWGB accreditation, eventually we asked them to remove it as it was proving too difficult for us to meet the pretty extensive, and expensive requirements they had for meeting the accreditation. We nonetheless wish them every success with their case).

The main challenge has been the market itself. Trying to stay competitive in an industry sector that is in a race to the bottom when it comes to setting rates is difficult, particularly when you are building a marketplace (already a hard task), in a very competitive space, whilst building a highly complex tech platform that needs to be engaging enough that both couriers and customers want to stick around. We’ve done all this whilst sticking as closely as possible to the self-employment guidelines as set by HMRC.

So frankly, between Hermes, Uber and the upcoming CitySprint tribunal I couldn’t be happier that this issue is being highlighted in the mainstream media. Mainly because we’ve been banging this drum for over a year and managed to get about as much press as a Sunday league football team.

We were a bit irked about the lack of any meaningful coverage we received at the time (I’m probably more upset now that it includes a quote from Boris Johnson – a lot has happened in the last 12 months!) however it does bring to mind a Chris Rock stand-up bit about Dads looking for credit for shit ‘they’re *supposed to do*’. Nobody wants to write about you doing the right thing, they want cold, hard facts about what you are doing wrong.

So the press are finally on to it, but what about the punters? Surely courier service customers care if couriers are getting paid enough? Well, from our experience the short and brutal answer is: no. Not even the ones that are on the record for caring about this stuff.

We got in touch with all the Living Wage accredited companies in London to find out if they would like to use the only Living Wage accredited courier company in their city (ideally, Living Wage accredited companies should use other accredited companies as suppliers). Out of the close to 700 we called we got a handful of sign-ups, including the Living Wage Foundation themselves.

We did have one global bluechip company get in touch to work with us as the Living Wage was one of their three core pillars/values for the year. They weren’t happy with their existing service’s performance on one particular job (it was a bit of an awkward one in fairness) and felt it would be a good one for us to take over. They made it clear at the beginning that the rates were much higher than they were used to (because of their size and level of activity they get massive volume discounts) and our client was getting flack from their management about it. We did the job for 5 months every day without any major issues before we were eventually told last month that they no longer wanted to work with us. We have reason to believe it was because our client eventually had to cave under the pressure of constantly being asked about why they were paying higher rates to use us.

This isn’t us whining. The fact is you’ll always find a disparity between how much people believe they will do the right thing versus the stark reality when they are faced with the choice. Whether its buying the Fair Trade bananas versus regular bananas, or buying Ecover versus any other washing up liquid; when it comes down to it the price is the driving factor. We totally get it.

For the vast majority of SME’s, our rates are highly competitive. To the point that other courier companies book jobs through us for the same price customers get. Sadly when it comes to higher volume clients this isn’t always the case.

I believe the recent Uber ruling does not bode well for the large courier company tribunal rulings, and if the result means that everyone will need to put their prices up to cover the additional costs that may come with paying couriers more for their work then we welcome it. If there aren’t guidelines in place then couriers will continue to suffer the brunt of price wars.

We’ve banked our entire strategy on the logistics industry becoming unrecognisable from its current form within the next 5 to 10 years. The main driving factor for change being technology. As we’re seeing from all the recent political turmoil we’re going through here and further afield it appears that economic and sociological forces may also play a significant part.

As such the smart money should be on paying people fairly for their work, sticking to guidelines as much as possible whilst providing a path to progression. It is after all the only way to ensure that the guys doing the work are happy, and provide excellent customer experiences as a result.

Sadly this will only happen if this guidelines are properly enforced. We cannot do it on our own.

 

Thoughts on the Uber ruling, and its consequences for the courier industry

Given we’ve had a lot of questions about it since the news broke, I thought I’d take the time to write up my position on Uber’s recent tribunal ruling. It’s an issue that cuts to the very heart of our business and which will come into even greater focus once the verdict of the upcoming CitySprint employment tribunal comes around, with more of the big London courier company employment tribunals taken to court by the IWGB to follow.

Given we have feet in the ‘on-demand’ tech as well as the courier industry camps I feel we’re in a pretty good position to comment on this, and should hopefully be able to provide some insight into what’s going on, and where there’s room for improvement.

One area that seems to be getting overlooked in the discussion around the exploitation of the so-called tech-driven ‘gig-economy’ is that couriers are the original “gig economy” workers, and have been working to the “Uber” model long before Uber ever came along. It’s somewhat interesting that the courts have ruled against Uber now when the courier industry has been perpetrating far greater infractions against the status of the ‘self-employed’ workers for decades, without any form of punishment.

I thought it might be a useful exercise to break down what determines ‘self-employed’ status according to HMRC, and where Uber and the current courier industry (specifically same-day) could seen to be falling foul of this. I’ve outlined what Gophr’s position has been since our inception, and how that’s played out when faced with the realities of the industry we are working in another post.

 

Self-employment status

The following guidelines on self-employment have been taken directly from HMRC’s website. My comments on how Uber and the courier industry may or may not fall foul of these are in brackets. This is not meant to be seen as an outright attack on Uber or the courier industry, but a balanced account of the realities of working with these companies.

If anything I’ve outlined here is considered erroneous please respond in the comments below, however please allow for the fact that I’m talking in general terms. There are always exceptions that will run counter to what I’m saying but I think I’m being fair when it comes to the reality of what a the average courier or Uber driver experiences when in the field.

Also, I don’t profess to be a legal expert in employment rules but merely sharing a point of view based on knowledge gained working in this industry for the last two-and-a-bit years. And I’m still learning.

For the sake of clarity I’ve implemented a points system giving either Courier companies or Uber a point if they are meeting HMRC’s guidelines, and a zero if they are not.

Here we go:

Someone is probably self-employed and shouldn’t be paid through PAYE if most of the following are true

(use of the words ‘probably’ and ‘most’ in this introductory sentence is a bit wooly but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt)

they’re in business for themselves, are responsible for the success or failure of their business and can make a loss or a profit

In the strictest sense, Uber could argue that they are sitting within the bounds of the rules here because the drivers success or failure depends on how much work they want to do. The simple fact of the matter is that neither a driver working for Uber nor a courier working for a courier company has much control when it comes to drumming up new business for their respective companies, much less get directly rewarded for doing so. Neither company has a clear path to progression that could allow for greater fiduciary rewards, which could be another (admittedly very loose) interpretation of the definition ‘success or failure of their business’.

So on this one: Uber – 0, Courier companies – 0

they can decide what work they do and when, where or how to do it

Okay, this is a big one. Let’s break it down to its constituent parts and give a point for each

What work they do and when

On a pure ‘paid-per-job’ model courier companies tell couriers what time to show up for work and what jobs they need to take. If a courier refuses a job they are very likely to have further work held back from them. Uber don’t tell drivers what time to show up. They can log in and out of the app whenever they want, but they do apply a similar mechanic: if an Uber driver rejects too many jobs they will get ‘sin-binned’, meaning they also get work held back from them.

Things start to get more complicated when ‘guarantees’ are brought into play. This is a per-hour charge that courier companies and even Uber pay to ‘guarantee’ the rider or driver can make a minimum amount of money to cover certain shifts, which are generally broken down by the hour. If the total of all the jobs they’ve done within that shift constitutes more than the agreed ‘guaranteed-per-hour’ rate then they are paid the additional money made. Although guarantees had nothing to do with the Uber ruling it does beg the question as to whether they should be considered a wage, and therefore treated as an employment contract?
There are lots of self-employed that bill by the hour but can also receive bonuses for delivering projects on budget or ahead of time. This however relates directly to point 1; being “responsible for the success or failure of their business”.

Putting guarantees aside for the minute as they are not the subject of either tribunal:

Uber – 0.5, Courier companies – 0

Where they do the work

Courier companies split their couriers into areas so they can arrange pick ups before moving to make their deliveries. Where the courier does the work is generally not dictated by them. Uber gives the rider or driver an indicator on a map within their app of where the action is, its entirely up to them to decide whether they want to go there.

Uber – 1, Courier companies – 0

How to do the work

Couriers are generally told to wear the company uniform, which they sometimes have to pay for. They are also charged for the the radios and XDA’s (big, chunky handheld computers) needed to work. We’ve even heard of one company who wanted to charge couriers £8 a week for the use of their mobile app!

Uber has had guidelines on what to wear (Reservoir Dogs style white shirt and black tie) that appear to have fallen by the wayside for anyone below Uber Exec (at least in my experience). Their drivers also had the freedom to get from A to B however they chose to. These days my understanding is they are being scored on whether they follow the road according to their SatNav, possibly because of well publicised stories around drivers taking advantage of sleeping customers. Uber Eats riders don’t even know what their final destination is and simply have to follow the road outlined on their phone screen (which needs to be placed directly in front of them) until they get to their destination. Although controllers at courier companies don’t give turn by turn directions they do have a lot of control over how couriers do their work.

Uber 0.5, Courier companies – 0

They can hire someone else to do the work

This one is pretty straightforward. No courier or Uber driver is able to have multiple other riders or drivers earning money for them through Uber, or one of the big established courier companies. There are examples of drivers getting to a point where they are able to buy fleets of vehicles for other drivers and make money that way, but they do not collect the money that other drivers make directly into their own bank accounts.

Uber – 0, Courier companies – 0

They’re responsible for fixing any unsatisfactory work in their own time

Not quite sure how this would apply to Uber. For couriers this sometimes manifests itself in packages that have not been delivered properly or get lost. Packages tend to get lost at delivery and is normally down to bad internal processes or communication at the time of delivery. 99% they eventually get found.

Uber – 1, Courier companies – 1

Their employer agrees a fixed price for their work – it doesn’t depend on how long the job takes to finish

Both Uber and courier companies don’t strictly fall foul of this. The price tends to be fixed for all jobs, the issue is that both can, and have changed fixed rates overnight without consultation with those it affects first. Without the types of repercussions that would be felt by a full-time employer if they were to do the same. As for the bit about not ‘depend[ing] on how long the job takes to finish’ …anyone who’s employed a dodgy builder is likely to be wincing reading that particular sentence. One man’s meat…

Uber 0.5, Courier companies – 0.5

They use their own money to buy business assets, cover running costs, and provide tools and equipment for their work

Although this is ultimately seen as a massive stick to beat the gig economy with, this is where Uber and courier companies are only too happy stick to the letter of the law.

Uber – 1, Courier companies – 1

They can work for more than one client

The ‘client’ here should be defined as Uber or the courier company, not the consumer that uses those services. Examples of courier companies letting couriers work for other courier companies at the same time are few and far between and certainly not rubber-stamped unless there’s a formal arrangement between those two companies which would have nothing to do with the courier. Competition is pretty thin on the ground for Uber over here, however they have plenty of competitors in other markets and they seem to okay with drivers riding for other companies. Although the aforementioned ‘sin-binning’ doesn’t make it as easy as easy for riders as it should be for a self-employed person.

Uber – 0.5, Courier companies – 0

 

Summary

So out my totally subjective, entirely unscientific scoring system the Courier industry has scored 2.5 out of 9 points, with Uber scoring 4 out of 9. A 4 out of 9 score still doesn’t meet HMRC’s fairly wooly criteria of “Someone [being] probably self-employed […] if most of the following are true” so it’s no surprise that the courts have ruled against them. It remains to be seen whether their incredibly deep pockets manage to limit any damages to their business model or whether they will be somehow forced to change it, at least in the UK.

Either way, this ruling does not bode well for CitySprints tribunal verdict which is due on the 22nd of November, or for the rest of the ‘big four’ same-day courier companies (made up of Addison Lee, CitySprint, eCourier and Excel) who’s verdicts are due shortly after. Courier companies should be thinking very carefully about how to accommodate any changes that are likely to come about as a result.

So what’s our position in all this? How would we score ourselves against HMRC’s self-employment guidelines? And what are the challenges we’ve faced since launch and the industry faces as a whole going forward? I cover all this in Part 2.

[EDIT – We’ve had to reduce Uber’s score from 5 points to 4. It was pointed out to us by a courier that the court found that Uber were going against the guideline of drivers ‘fixing any unsatisfactory work in their own time’ as Uber settles disputes and pays reimbursements to customers without the driver ever knowing or losing money from reimbursement. So somewhat perversely they are not following the guidelines here despite the fact that it’s an overall positive for the driver. This affected the conclusion of the article as 5 out of 9 would’ve meet HMRC’s criteria of ‘most’ of the guidelines.]

 

Parcel sizes; small and large parcel deliveries

What can and can’t our couriers carry?

A lot of people ask questions about what our vehicles can carry and what’s best for their job, so we’ve pulled this post together as a bit of a guide. … 

 

Cycle couriers tackling the sorry state of the London air crisis.

We’re very proud to announce our partnership with two highly innovative British Tech companies to undertake the largest air pollution research project ever to take place in London. Gophr is providing cycle couriers with CleanSpace tags and Inmarsat LORA moats to track air pollution levels across the city, enabling them to conduct the most detailed study of air quality levels ever undertaken in the city.

The partnership came about when Lord Drayson of Drayson Technologies and Freevolt – makers of the CleanSpace tag – and myself were introduced through a mutual friend who had the rather brilliant idea of us working together to this end. Inmarsat approached us separately within weeks. We invited everyone around to meet and decided to pool all our resources together to get the best possible outcome.

Results of the study will come about in September. More on that when it comes about. In the meantime if you’d like to take part you can always purchase a CleanSpace tag here, and if you cycle a lot of miles per week please get in touch with us to get involved. There are some pretty snazzy cycle jerseys up for grabs too (see below).

cleanspace-backcleanspace-front

About CleanSpace™

CleanSpace is an IoT sensor network to monitor air pollution. It uses a machine-learning network of connected smart sensors powered by Freevolt to create the world’s most advanced map of air pollution to enable people to “see the air they breathe” and to help enterprises and municipalities implement projects that improve air quality. CleanSpace was designed and built by Drayson Technologies and launched in the UK in Q4 2015.

For more information on CleanSpace please visit:

http://www.ourcleanspace.com

About Inmarsat

Inmarsat plc is the leading provider of global mobile satellite communications services. Since 1979, Inmarsat has been providing reliable voice and high-speed data communications to governments, enterprises and other organizations, with a range of services that can be used on land, at sea or in the air. Inmarsat employs around 1,600 staff in more than 60 locations around the world, with a presence in the major ports and centres of commerce on every continent. Inmarsat is listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE:ISAT.L).

For more information, please visit:

http://www.inmarsat.com

 

Sexy new desktop release, part deux

We’ve not done one of these in a while. Mainly because we’ve been hard at work behind the scenes building awesome stuff and getting ready for what’s coming. More on that in the coming weeks/months.

For now, suffice to say we’ve just released a major new update to our desktop booking app that gives you more access to info around your job and your courier than ever before, so you know exactly what your courier is doing and when.

We were told that this was a very bad idea, and would only result in more complaints and customer service issues. So we only released it to a handful of you, then 10% a week later all the way up to 50% last week. Given we’ve had only positive feedback we’ve decided to put it on general release …at least until the point that everyone starts kicking off as initially predicted, but we’re feeling pretty good about this not happening. If you need to get a hold of us just hit us up on Live Chat anyway.

So why is this update any good?

Well, everything looks a bit smarter for starters, but here are more details:

  • Total oversight on courier jobs: more info and context on what is happening with your courier, and their pick ups and deliveries. You also get a snazzy animation to show you their route and direction of travel.
  • ETA’s are back!: Now that we are giving you full oversight over your couriers pick ups and deliveries, we can now bring back ETA’s as it you now have context as to why ETA’s can jump up or down all of a sudden.
  • Improved menu drawer: so it’s a bit more obvious what section you are in. It also takes up less space so you can look at more of the map as well as our brand new…
  • Courier info drawer: we should probably have a sexier name for this feature but it is what it is. Snazzy new drawer on the right hand side which houses info on average acceptance times for vehicles on that day once you book, and then once your courier accepts you get all their contact details, as well as info on when your job was accepted, picked up and delivered. If you cancel a job we ask you why in here too. Helps improve the service and that.
  • More couriers everywhere!: We now display our couriers at all times. We’ve also improved the courier icons so they now no longer look like grey nipples. They look more like tyres …mainly because all our vehicles have them.

As ever, if you have any feedback do let us know. You can always hit us up on live chat. We love hearing from you.

Check out our new desktop app here

 

MOAR new features

Okay. Let’s get straight to it.

Shiny new website

  • ‘Get a Quote’ now pull through to booking so if you get a quote on the homepage you don’t have to enter it again on booking
  • new dedicated Business section in which we talk about our Commercial API and integration capabilities (sexy, we know)
  • the sexy video background with the drone shots that we used to get lots of compliments on is no more (booo!) It was a little heavy on data so we got rid
  • dedicated courier section

 

New, improved booking site

  • The feature almost everyone has been asking us since day one: ‘Favourites’ is now live! Every time you book you can save an address, contact name or business as a favourite for later use direct on the booking screen
  • Minor improvements to the ‘Book a job’ flow. We’ve moved stuff around to make it more useful. We also added a label specifically for ‘floors’ within buildings as entering the floor number ahead of the address would make Google Maps freak out a bit.
  • Improved ‘Team’ section to bring it into line with ‘Favourites’ so it all feels nice and tidy and makes sense as a unified whole
  • Improved ‘Active jobs’ section so you can tab between active jobs and draft jobs
  • Improvements to ‘Job History’ section so you can get access to your invoices and reports more easily
  • Minor changes to the ‘Profile’ section that were annoying Seb so had to go – ‘Payment details’ section is now a lot tidier, particularly if you have lots of teams and lots of payment methods. No longer looks like a really long list of random letters and numbers

 

How to use the new Favourites feature

When you hit the ‘favourite’ star we’ll prompt you to define which category you want to save your favourite under. Next time you book simply type in the address you are looking for and your favourites will come in up in your list of options ahead of Google Maps search results. Your five most recently used favourites will also sit under the search bar for your use.

That’s it! Dead easy. Let us know what you think by getting in touch at yo@gophr.com or by hitting the chat button on the site. We have more announcements coming over the next few weeks.

 

Vans and motorcycles are a go!

It’s been an exciting year at Gophr. We’ve raised money from our investors Yonder and Beyond, we’ve built the best business courier service booking system in the world (we think!) and we’ve assembled an incredibly capable and diverse team. Together with you, our couriers have performed thousands of deliveries. We’re now getting ready to carve a name out for ourselves in the industry.

We recently became the UK’s first and only Living Wage accredited courier company, which we’re incredibly proud of. The courier industry has been torn by wage and treatment disputes for years, cumulating in recent protests at some very large companies. We’re proud to put a marker down and say the industry deserves better. In fact, we’ve insisted on it since Gophr was first formed.

Until now, our deliveries have been carried entirely by pushbikes and cargo bikes. This has kept our delivery area relatively small. Our cargo bikes can take 70Kg of weight no problem, but we know this has restricted what we can carry tremendously.

Today, we’re announcing the introduction of our van couriers and motorcycle couriers! Since our launch in March, we’ve had daily requests to help you move bigger and bigger items and we’re pleased to say we can do this starting today.

Vans and Motorbikes

We’ll be introducing various sizes of vehicles including scooters, motorcycles and both small and large vans. We’re confident we’ll be able to take just about every item you might want to send by courier and for anything else, let us know and we’ll see what vehicles we can introduce to serve you in the future (speedboat on the Thames maybe?).

Going forward, you’ll be able to book vans and motorcycles through the same familiar interface you currently book push-bikes through. This time however, you’ll be able to select the most relevant vehicle to your package and we’ll adjust your quote and ETAs automatically. As you’ve come to expect, we’ll also made some small changes to our size/weight guidelines in our UI to help you gauge your package size and weight for the new vehicles too.

With the Christmas period coming up, we hope we’ll be your first choice for delivery. Got special requirements over the festive season? Drop us a line on our live chat button, or at yo@gophr.com and we’ll be happy to work with you as best we can to make sure your plans go smoothly. You can reach us via the above methods for any issues at all.

The Gophr Team