The Entrepreneur: Seb Robert, Gophr

Gophr is the epitome of a successful, reliable same-day courier service, making over 4 million deliveries across 46 cities for brands that include Boots and HelloFresh. We speak to its founder Seb Robert.

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Company: Gophr
Founder: Seb Robert
Website: gophr.com

Gophr officially launched in 2015, after CEO Seb Roberts became disillusioned by the terrible courier services that were disrupting his work in the music and media industry.

He decided to fix a fundamentally broken system by developing a digital platform that provides a better-quality delivery experience for clients, their customers and the couriers themselves.

Fast forward to today and Gophr is one of the most reputable courier companies in the UK with over 5,000 clients. As well as being ranked in Deloitte’s UK Technology Fast 50 rankings last year for the second year running.

We spoke to Seb Roberts, founder and CEO of Gophr, about aspirations for the future, the importance of partnerships in the courier industry, and his business achievements.

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The Business

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

Our mission has been to reimagine same day delivery to make it work better for everyone involved; more efficient for businesses, more convenient for their customers, and more profitable for couriers. The delivery business, particularly last-mile, is still a people business. We created a platform that enables each courier to perform ‘better’, because better couriers deliver better outcomes.

We have built the Gophr business model around professional couriers and thinking about what we can do to make their lives easier. The quality of the courier is crucial; there is a perception that anyone with a car or a bike can be a courier, but that’s not the case and not who we work with.

We constantly ask ourselves, what tools can we provide that reduce the admin for our couriers and how can we add rocket fuel to enable them to be successful and access the kinds of business opportunities that would not be available to them if they were working alone. It’s taken a long time to crack this because managing the delivery process alone is highly complex, but we’re getting there.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

There are probably two: one is staying afloat and alive when so many other tech start-ups in the delivery space with way more funding than us have come and gone.

The other, which maybe sounds more ephemeral but has huge value, is the amount of knowledge we’ve gathered from being so operationally ‘close to the metal’ so to speak. The knowledge we’ve gathered is what will stand us apart for the coming years.

How did you fund your business?

We raised a seed round of £150k, then £350k and around 5 years after that we did another £500k, before doing our Series A of £4m at the start of 2021.

Not insignificant amounts of money but peanuts compared to some of the companies who we’ve competed against over the years.

One of our values is being resourceful so we’ve always aimed to be super capital efficient. It’s always been a low margin business so if you’re highly capitalised it can cause a few problems:

1. Money covers for a multitude of sins and bad habits within the business that become somewhat invisible and in aggregate stop it from ever becoming financially viable.
2. Taking big investment cheques comes with the inherent understanding that you need to grow fast, sometimes at all costs which takes you back to 1.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

Job numbers, revenue and Net promoter score (NPS).

To what extent does your business trade internationally?

Right now, zero.

Where would you like your business to be in five years?

It would be great to have turned the narrative around the current gig-economy platforms on its head and back to the idea we were all sold at the beginning of the emergence of the sharing economy. One of fairness and opportunity for all, and in Gophr’s case supporting our couriers to build their own rewarding businesses.

We’d want to be in a position where we have a presence on multiple continents and have become the partner of choice for similarly minded businesses wherever we happen to have a presence.

What software or technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

We’ve built everything from scratch for ourselves and that’s because we’ve built it directly from courier and customer feedback. It covers the gamut of enhanced package and behavioural data, more efficient routing strategies and gamified incentives.

Interested in starting your own courier business?

Check out our definitive step-by-step guide on how to start a courier company.

Growth Challenges

What is the biggest challenge you've faced in business?

It depends on the year, month, day! Previously it was keeping the business alive and solvent. Today that’s less pronounced but Covid and its effect on supply chain is keeping us on our toes.

The other big thing is getting enterprise customers to think of us more as a partner than a service provider as delivery success is so intertwined with both of us executing well in the areas we’re responsible for.

Just because we can send a courier to pick something up at a specific time doesn’t automatically lead to success – it needs to be ready when we get there and we need to have clear guidelines on what to do when it isn’t. The better thought through the process can be up front the more success we’ll have in the long run for our client and their customers.

Just because we can send a courier to pick something up at a specific time doesn’t automatically lead to success – it needs to be ready when we get there and we need to have clear guidelines on what to do when it isn’t.

What was your biggest business mistake and what did you learn from it?

Probably being a bit too wide-eyed and naïve. However, without that approach we probably never would’ve started Gophr and I would prefer to operate in that state than from one of cynicism or mistrust. I tell myself, ‘Always keep your own counsel and don’t take everything at face value!”

What one thing do you wish someone had told you when you started on your business journey?

I was going to say “this is going to take longer and be more complicated than you think” but I was told that anyway by a very experienced gentleman in the courier business who I recently learned sadly passed away.

Other than that, nothing frankly, as life has a way of teaching you by pressing you on your weak spots and there’s no amount of anyone telling you, that’s going to be as effective as the pain of taking that rake to the face.

How has the pandemic affected the market you operate in?

The eCommerce sector has grown massively in the last year alone, so it’s been pretty good for us.

Life has a way of teaching you by pressing you on your weak spots and there’s no amount of anyone telling you, that’s going to be as effective as the pain of taking that rake to the face.

Personal growth

Did you study business or learn on the job?

I most definitely learned on the job.

How have you developed and grown as an entrepreneur?

My personal threshold for what one could consider to be a stressful situation has gone up about a hundred-fold.

What would make you a better leader?

I do wonder whether I’d be more effective if my team feared me a bit! I’m quite laid back so I do wonder if I had more of a Jobs-y vibe about me would I get better results.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without?

Business: I’m quite into ‘Centered’ these days, it’s very useful for locking into deep work

Personal: Evernote. It’s been my workbook for 11+ years now

A business book or podcast that you think is great:

The ‘Knowledge Project’ podcast and their books on Mental Models are good.

Finally, what’s the most important piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur starting a business?

Advice is a dangerous thing. I’d start by asking them what they are most worried about and if I had any relevant experience that could shed some light on those concerns I’d share it.

Ross has been writing for Startups since 2021, specialising in telephone systems, digital marketing, payroll, and sustainable business. He also runs the successful entrepreneur section of the website.

Having graduated with a Masters in Journalism, Ross went on to write for Conde Nast Traveller and the NME, before moving in to the world of business journalism.

Ross has been involved in startups from a young age, and has a keen eye for exciting, innovative new businesses. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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