Gophr, a U.K.-based last-mile delivery provider, has raised £4 million in funding as it looks to invest in its product off the back of 300% revenue growth during the last 12 months.
Leading the round is pan-European B2B investor Nauta Capital. The company had previously raised £1 million in two rounds, including £500,000 from publicly listed Auctus Alternative Investments.
Noteworthy, Gophr’s co-founder and CEO, Seb Robert, tells me the 2015-founded company reached monthly net profitability around three years ago and was net profitable for the whole of last year. Like other delivery companies, Gophr has benefited from a pandemic bump, but fortitude aside, is aiming to step on the gas.
Gophr says it has completed more than 2 million same-day deliveries to date. Customers include leading consumer brands, including HelloFresh, Boots, Co-Op and Selfridges. It claims 5,000 clients in total and operates in most U.K. cities.
On being net profitable and in relation to raising new funding, Robert says he felt it was an important proof point to hit, recalling how, just a few years ago, bar a couple of huge successes, we saw “a generation of delivery startups go up in flames along with their investors’ cash”. They included Jinn and Valk Fleet, to name just two.
“It was all very predictable to anyone who’d done their homework up front (I remember at the time DM’ing you specifically and naming the ones I thought would no longer be around in a year or two!) and as a result figured that a model that proved it could actually make money would have a better chance to raise going forward,” he says.
Furthermore, Robert notes that we are starting to see a renaissance in VC investment in the last-mile delivery space, but argues that, on the surface at least, these newer delivery startups are taking a similar approach to the previous generation.
“Getting a toothbrush to you in 15 minutes is great. But what do you do with the courier who’s now coming back empty handed? That takes time and it costs money. Only time will tell,” he says.
Though Robert doesn’t say it, that’s likely taking a swipe at a new crop of startups either following the Instacart model, such as Getir in Turkey, or the plethora of delivery-only “dark stores”, including Berlin’s much-hyped Gorillas, France’s Cajoo and U.K.’s Dija, Zapp, Weezy and Fancy (currently in talks to be acquired by U.S.-based goPuff).
With all the hype around drones and autonomous vehicles, Robert says that people forget or don’t understand that the delivery business, particularly last-mile, is still a people business. This means building a service that works for the couriers that power it.
“Same-day at scale is hard, so most players cut corners,” he says. “Legacy companies can deliver at scale, but the sophistication of the service is poor, and then only make money because they squeeze their couriers. Tech startups have great app experiences and big brand budgets, but they don’t know how to deliver sustainably so they burn through VC cash waiting for robots, drones, autonomous vehicles and bionic duckweed to shore up the bottom line”.
“The way we’ve managed to strip out the compromise is by creating a platform that maximises each individual courier’s ability to make money, in whatever direction they’re traveling in, whilst making sure the end customer gets their stuff on time with no issues”.
Gophr has also built a platform that Robert claims helps couriers “level up”. This required properly understanding the “complexity and variability of the delivery process,” including how individual couriers want to work, and how to best meet customer expectations, which varies per sector.
“I think with most delivery apps and at incumbent carriers the courier is kind of incidental, and seen as replaceable; we try to focus on how we can make them better, and we’re still working on it,” he says. “Being a great courier doesn’t just boil down to being on time — that’s the basics — it’s what works for different types of customer needs and expectations. You might get couriers who aren’t great at multi-drop but very good on the circuit, or that need to work on job management but more than make up for it through excellent communication. Sending or receiving a package is a bit of an emotional purchase when you think about it so we have to do our best to manage that in the best way possible. Having happy couriers is a good start”.
Meanwhile, Robert is not phased by last week’s Uber ruling that saw U.K. courts reclassify the worker status of gig economy-style drivers, meaning that they are entitled to additional benefits and worker protections.
“I think it’s great news for shutting down bogus self-employment,” he says. “I don’t see how the incumbent U.K. delivery industry can continue to operate under anything else other than this new worker classification. If operators want to stay on the right side of the law, worker status is the one that’s closest to how they currently do business. In the short term they might be able to mitigate the impact through recent third-party solutions that have sprung up that provide cover for the new IR35 rules coming into effect later this year, but I can’t imagine that will last forever.
“Fundamentally, we’ve always considered the courier as ‘the talent’ and not a cost centre or a commodity, and that the important relationship to build is between the courier and client, with our platform as an enabler, not a gatekeeper. And that’s always been key to how we operate.
“This means that Gophr doesn’t penalise or sin-bin drivers for non-acceptance of work. Its app shows the driver where they would be picking up and delivering to, what the consignment is and what they’ll get paid so they have all the relevant info before they accept a job”.
However, he says the rate-setting aspect of the Uber case is interesting, because centrally imposed rates can actually work in favour of couriers as apposed to an entirely free-market. “We do set the rates they’re paid, but that’s because we looked at other solutions that enabled couriers to set their own price per mile and/or got them to bid for work and all it did was encourage a race to the bottom,” Robert says. “So it’s kind of ironic that that was one of the key parts of the ruling. This could become (quite literally) a law of unintended consequences”.