Trying to fix a broken industry is hard. Here’s what we’ve learned.

Two years ago I had an idea that would change my life.

At the time I never stopped to think how this thought would lead me to quit my job to go and work in an industry sector I didn’t have the first clue about. Nor that I’d end up doing a bunch of ancillary stuff I’d normally run a mile away from.

The idea was to build a platform for businesses to order a same-day delivery directly with the individual courier who would be doing the work. It was designed to spell the end for courier companies as they currently exist.

The burning desire to wipe them off the face of the earth came as a result of me taking time off work to wait for a package to turn up, only for it to miss its delivery window by hours.

I was sure things could be done better. At the time my overriding concern was fixing this broken system for customers like myself. It wasn’t until I really started on the project that I realised just how bad things were for those having to deliver the packages.

During the following 12-month period of research and interviews with couriers, existing companies and customers, it only took the first 12 hours to figure out what an absolute clusterf*ck the logistics industry is.

So naturally I decided this would be a great space to build my new career in.

The operational side of things soon proved hard, but given enough smart people and time, this wasn’t insurmountable. What did become the main issue though was the Grand Canyon-sized chasm of trust that was open between the courier companies, their delivery people and their customers.

The couriers complained about their pay. And that was before being charged by their bosses for stuff like background checks, uniforms, radios and handheld technology to track deliveries, which a lot of the time weren’t fit for purpose.

The customers using couriers frequently were resigned to changing providers every six to 12 months as they suspected the shine of their custom would wear off when other, newer clients, became a priority.

With so much competition in this space, we found incumbent companies were continually reducing rates for large-volume customers to attract new business or retain custom. But they still had to turn a decent profit to sustain their large fleets.

This meant we discovered a real mixed bag of charges that didn’t really add up, make sense or compute. In fact, different people could be paying different rates for the same jobs. We wanted to change that.

For example, let’s say you needed to send your partner your house keys as you’re working late and they’ve forgotten theirs. You are a one-time customer; you’re not opening an account and there’s going to be no volume from you for them in the future. So your job is priced accordingly. And usually, it’s priced much higher than average to maximise its limited future worth.

You can see this for yourself by going directly to big courier company websites and pricing jobs there.Then compare those prices against aggregators like Shutl or Parcel2Go who use those same carriers. The sad thing is that however much you ultimately pay as a customer, the courier will likely still receive the standard, minimum rate.

It’s no wonder there was so much frustration and distrust around.

We believed the way to fix this was to make our rates universal to all, totally transparent and easy to understand. We strove to enable better communication between couriers and their customers and to give the couriers much fairer rates for all their hard work.

We built the Gophr booking platform with all of this in mind and started with cycle deliveries. It offered customers the chance to put their job out to the nearest rider, get full tracking from start to finish and also have direct contact should any issues arise.

Using technology in this way has also allowed us to make a huge social impact. It’s enabled us as a company to become the first courier service in London to commit to delivering the Living Wage for the couriers who work with us.

We’ve hoped for this from the beginning. We were the only courier service to attend the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain’s inaugural meeting back in January, which called for much higher rates across the board in order to secure couriers much fairer pay.

We got some funny looks while we were there but once we took a closer look at what the IWGB were asking for, we knew we could ultimately make it happen

 

Cycle couriers campaigning outside a client's offices

Cycle couriers campaigning outside a client’s offices

In fact, the overall amount wasn’t much more than what our couriers were already receiving, and it was certainly a lot less than what we believed our couriers would start to earn as we grew and brought more clients on board.

Since gaining accreditation from both the Living Wage Foundation and the IWGB three weeks ago, we’re already seeing support from other companies who pay the Living Wage. They have signalled their desire to start working with us.

But strangely, it hasn’t been as easy to get couriers on board. They naturally needed to trust we had their best interests at heart. They’re a tight knit bunch, and similar apps to ours used in other industries haven’t exactly had great press in the past.

Also, none of us within the business have ever been a professional courier so it’s pretty easy to dismiss our intentions as coming from people who are just trying to get rich off the riders’ backs.

If I was in their shoes, I’d be thinking the same thing. But the truth is that if you’re trying to build an extraordinary company you want everyone involved to be proud of, then everyone needs to do well out of it. And that’s what we’re aiming for.

Thankfully things are changing. Previously sceptical members of the courier community have now said, that a year on, they think we’re for real. It’s great feedback to get at this point, but we still have a long way to go.

Despite a strong start, it’s still a struggle tempting customers away from the larger incumbent courier firms they’ve used for years. We thought that if we made the best booking experience, hired the fastest couriers, had to-the-second tracking and coupled all of this with great customer service then we’d just need to tell customers and they’d come running.

The problem is… all of the other courier services say exactly the same thing!

So now we’re out to prove it. We already have a 97% satisfaction rate but we’re not satisfied with that. We can do better and we will.

We are using technology to bring about some social good, a new way of doing business and a revolution within an industry that hasn’t changed in decades.

We’ve started with cyclists and they will remain our bedrock. In the future we hope to expand to other forms of transportation and to new cities alongside London where we currently only do business.

We believe it’s possible, and we’re looking forward to the ride.