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Allason prepares Shutl for launch with £0.5m

2007 Top Gun promises ecommerce ‘game changer’

Former eCourier.co.uk chief executive Tom Allason has said his new business, Shutl, will “redefine ecommerce” after it secured £0.5m in funding from a group of investors including Big Bang ventures, Bebo founder Paul Birch and LoveFilm investor Simon Murdoch.

Allason, who co-founded online courier service eCourier.co.uk alongside Jay Bregman in 2003, left the firm in 2008 to found Shutl, which is planning a soft launch in December.

No details of the exact service Shutl will provide have been revealed, although Allason confirmed it will be an ecommerce play that’s focused on the consumer market.

“We are going to be a real game-changer for online retail and indeed retail in general,” he said.

“We are waiting until launch before talking about it so that we don’t let any customers down by telling them about a service they can’t yet have. I hate reading about great things I can’t have immediately.”

He claims that the business will have no natural competitors since “no-one has done this before, anywhere, ever”.

Allason was chief executive at eCourier.co.uk between 2004 and 2008, helping to grow the business to a turnover of £7.5m and raise £8m in funding.

While the courier service is the fastest growing of its type in Europe, it took “years and considerable investment to reach profitability” and Allason said that his experience at the firm made him determined to choose a more ”attractive” market and model for his next venture.

“eCourier was a really valuable education,” he said. “While I was there I started to think about all the things I didn’t like about that business and tried to think of how I could make sure that my next venture wouldn’t share those dynamics.

“Although by all accounts we grew pretty rapidly and were successful, we were operating in a declining and highly competitive niche market. It was akin to swimming up a narrow waterfall with a thousand others fighting for your spot; no matter how fit you were the process was exhausting. 

“I wanted to make sure that my next business would be in a massive, growing market and that the product and service were so unique that it customers would be the ones queing up,” he said.

Allason, who was named Top Gun in Growing Business’ annual Young Guns scheme in 2007, also said that he wanted to make sure his new business was a purely web-based service so it did not need the extensive physical and operational infrastructure that eCourier relies on.

“eCourier was a real challenge to grow from an operational perspective because we were fully vertically integrated. We owned the couriers, the infrastructure and the customer relationships. That’s a lot of moving parts.

“Although we used technology to make us far more efficient than our competitors, we had to scale locally and customer-by-customer. This is expensive and why, in spite of our ambitions, five years on, we have not moved beyond London.  It’s too expensive and slow.

“I wanted a business that could scale incredibly quickly.  It’s hard to get a really exciting exit otherwise,” he added.

Simon Murdoch, former VP Europe at Amazon and also a Lovefilm investor, helped Allason refine his initial idea and put the concept to retail partners. A participant in the recent £0.5m funding round, Murdoch has joined Shutl’s board as non-executive chairman.

“Simon has a great understanding of the ecommerce space and you could not ask for anyone with more exposure to fast growth tech companies,” Allason added.

The investment will be used for working capital requirements, the 29-year-old said.

“We’ll be building out the team and getting the service operational and to a point of major customer traction.

“We have been boot-strapping from inception and spent the time to date working out of my flat and [members' club] Shoreditch House. Although this saved us quite a bit it also made me unpopular and so now we’re looking forward to moving into our new office; fortunately, it’s very small and cheap.”

© Crimson Business Ltd. 2009

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