Updated: 27/11/19

Clarence Takunda Chodofuka was the first courier that our Founder, Seb Robert, met in London after having the idea for Gophr. Soon after they were introduced, Clarence came to work for Gophr. Unfortunately, four weeks ago, he was involved in a crash. So, Clarence took some time off work and came into the Gophr office to give us some feedback on our automated dispatch system. Whilst he was here he offered to write a blog post on what it’s like to work with Gophr and the glimpse it’s given him into future of couriering…

 

Time for change

The bike courier scene has been screaming for change for a long time. The change is already happening but it appears a lot of couriers and courier companies are still wrapped up in the papery cocoon of yesteryear. For most couriers, this has been a matter of hopping from one firm to the other in the continual belief that somehow the grass will somehow be greener… Although a small minority have cut ties with the old guard to start out on their own.

Nearly 20 years after the advent of the Internet and the panic around the web killing the courier, in came the smartphone with its 4G connections and never ending list of apps that could do just about everything.

 

Sparking ideas

It was around that time, in late 2013, that I met Seb outside Full City cycles on Leather Lane. I had no idea at the time that I was the first courier he spoke to about his idea. After several calls and email exchanges, meetings started happening in Fitzrovia under the BT Tower in the courier friendly Tower Tavern Pub (now, like so many other pubs in London, refurbished and no longer very welcoming to couriers).

I probably didn’t take much of it very seriously at the time but his idea was broadly to “cut out the middleman and put the courier first”. Espousing on how it would give the courier flexibility in their work/life balance.

 

The first few meetings were the closest thing one could get to a mind mapping session. In between the rounds of beers, there were concerns raised starting from:

  • ‘How are all aspects of the courier life being changed?’
  • ‘Were couriers going to be pitted against each other?’
  • Could it represent an opportunity to be exploited further than we currently were?’
  • ‘How could the system possibly work without a dispatcher/controller?’

 

To the mundane:

  • ‘What do I do when I get a puncture?’

 

Courier pay

Although as a group we proceeded cautiously, I was still pretty intrigued from the first moment I heard of the concept. The idea of the courier getting 80% of the money was pretty enticing, even to some of the more hardened opponents to the app. Mainly because the courier industry has been steeped in shady dealings when it comes to charging for jobs. 

This does tend to differ from one firm to the next. There are even irregularities in the way certain clients are charged within the same firm. Being able to see how much revenue you get from each job is a big step towards transparency, and cutting out some of the nonsense that happens.

Couriering is a very demanding profession both mentally and physically. This don’t translate well when compared to earnings. An average courier’s payslip will give an indefinite interpretation of what a couriers hard labour is worth.

Having used Gophr for a few months now, the way the system charges based on miles ridden per job seems to be a much better way to address that imbalance, both on the courier and customer side.

 

Progress 

As the months went by, the meetings with the Gophr team started to focus on the day-to-day aspect of the app. The questions that came up highlighted the difficulty some of us had about taking this leap into a courier company-less way of working. This resulted in questions like:

  • ‘What happens if the phone battery dies?’,
  • ‘How do I know that I get paid for the job?’,
  • ‘Who am I working for?’

It took a little while to realise that nothing’s really changed; we had already experienced these issues or solved these problems for ourselves in some way before. We have always been defined as being self-employed after all.

Most couriers were working on some sort of computer-based software. Even for those still lugging pen and paper around, there was still someone on the other side of the radio logging job details into a computer.

The Gophr app brings a game-like structure to the scene. As a commissioned rider the more you’re attuned to how the system works the better you can play the game. So, the more money you make and the more you can compare your performance with others.

Being a messenger under the Gophr system means you can move away from clock-watching and enjoy the flow that comes with being on the move. Sometimes it means longer jobs but, if the system knows where you’re going, it can assign you relevant jobs along the way.

It brings to mind a quote from J L Kidder in his book of bike messenger recollections ‘Urban Flow’:

“The job is sort of like a game anyway. You claim like six jobs in like six different parts of town. You’re exercising and you are breathing heavy, and you are next to dead because you haven’t had time to get lunch or whatever, but you have to exercise your head as well, to keep upright, to keep you from getting hit or whatever, and you also have to totally be able to route yourself and plan where you’re going. It is like totally a game. It is the most fun job I will ever have in my life, without a doubt.”

The more information you give a courier, the better they become at playing the game. The voice of the controller is now a long gone memory; we are now the designated clients main point person. I’m not sure it’s something that will suit all couriers, but I enjoy it as it helps me speed deliveries up.

“The voice of the controller is now a long gone memory; we are now the designated clients main point person.”

A contact number on the package was always a dream for any courier. It reduced the likelihood of returning the dreaded undelivered package; normally to some far away location on the outskirts of London.

Using this app, the courier is automatically in contact with the client. This helps in locating problematic addresses and avoids unnecessary waiting time for couriers and customers. There’s a general understanding that the most efficient couriers are the ones who can get in and out of a building the quickest. In short, the quicker you’re empty, the quicker you’re back on top of the list for the next job. Since couriers get paid to wait, most don’t mind waiting, it’s the sheer inconsistency in “give me a minute” rhetorical that annoys us.

As noted by Will Self:

“Waiting is ground into them [the couriers], every moment could be an arrival at a pick-up or drop-off, or the ultimate drop-off, death itself! No wonder they understand what is happening. They exist at the precise juncture between the imminent and the immanent”.

With Gophr, it’s now possible to bypass the loading bay by calling the customer to meet them face-to-face. They have our names and that extra level of personal interaction humanises the job a little more.

The question I get asked the most as a courier is “what do you deliver?”. This goes from an interest to what’s in the actual package to what I’m capable of shifting across town. My focus is getting a reasonable enough package to carry that is clearly addressed on the envelope. Pass me a package that matches that description and I honestly don’t care if it’s the crown jewels I’ve got in my bag.

Despite all the talk of drones and self-driving cars, having a real person overseeing packages to safe delivery will still be pretty crucial part of the delivery process going forward. I’m hopeful for a future where the courier becomes more acknowledged as an important link in the delivery process. As a result, we will become more appreciated, both in presence and for services provided.

 

Clarence was supported by the London Courier Emergency Fund whilst he was off injured. Please check out their site to find out more about them and how you can donate to the fund.  Image courtesy SmashedAvoCC.

If you’re looking to work for us, please head to our Courier page and sign up through the Gophr: Work With Us app.