This article was originally published on Dynamic Business (http://www.dynamicbusiness.com.au/entrepreneur-profile/chaos-catch-22s-and-competition-never-mind-gofetch-founder-blair-will-deliver-the-goods.html)
Carving out a niche in the sharing economy might seem a tall order, considering the dominance of such heavy hitters as AirBnB and Uber. Rather than being intimidated by the competition, GoFetch founder Blair Smith has braved the chaos and the Catch 22s of the startup world to fulfil his mission to ‘deliver your life back’.
Originating in Melbourne, GoFetch is a peer-to-peer, on-demand delivery service that targets time-poor and convenience-driven Australians, who increasingly use their smartphones to coordinate their business and personal lives. The company’s app allows registered users to tap into a network of ‘Fetchers’ when they need items (big and small) delivered from A to B. Once a Fetcher has accepted a job, the user is provided with a quote and an ETA based on live traffic conditions.
For peace-of-mind, users can use the live chat feature to communicate with fetchers while they are en route. Additional security and quality-assurance measures include background checks on all Fetchers, GPS tracking, a digital signature at the drop-off point, the ability to rate each experience and a guarantee of $200 for item loss/damage.
Best of all, there is no surge-pricing, no standard operating hours (you can request a delivery 24/7) and – unlike traditional dispatch couriers – GoFetch can deliver everything and anything.
“Users are only limited by their imagination,” Blair told Dynamic Business. “We’ve had atypical requests from the outset. If you’ve left your headphones at the gym or need to collect an iPhone charger from JB Hi Fi, a Fetcher can help. They go on coffee runs for high-rise office towers, deliver freshly-baked birthday cakes to workplaces, and transport bigger items between factories and suppliers. Florists and coffee roasters are the most frequent users – they use GoFetch daily to serve their café clients. One user in North Melbourne orders from his favourite Laksa restaurant in China Town every Wednesday night and arranges collection via GoFetch for $8. Anything goes – at the end of the day, we want to deliver your life back.”
“Empowerment and control”
Blair is quick to point out that GoFetch isn’t a delivery company; rather, it’s a technology company with a workforce consisting of sole-traders with their own ABNs. Once Fetchers sign up via the GoFetch website, they earn 80% of each delivery fee – and they can work as often or as seldom as they want.
“The technology we’ve developed is centered on personal empowerment and control,” he said. “Quite often, Fetchers work on other apps too – we don’t demand exclusivity. The app’s dashboard is effectively a market place where people needing something delivered connect with Fetchers willing to go and get it for them.
“Interestingly, there is no emerging ‘type’ of Fetcher. One of our most active and efficient ‘Fetchers’ is a motorbike rider in her 50s. University students were the early adopters, and still represent the bulk of our inner city pedestrian ‘Fetchers’, but we also have taxi and Uber drivers, shift workers and retirees, as well as bicycle and traditional couriers looking to supplement their income.”
“I saw the next evolution”
Prior to founding GoFetch, Blair worked in the corporate sector as a marketing manager for infrastructure projects and utilities. Required to work long hours from an office, he was stretched for time when it came to running basic personal errands like picking up his dry cleaning, collecting parcels during business hours and grocery shopping.
“While searching for a solution, I was inspired by the growth in e-commerce, the small parcel sector and contingent workforce,” he said. “I saw an opportunity for an Uber-style platform that focused on deliveries as the next evolution of the sharing economy, with equal application to business and personal users.”
After founding GoFetch in March 2015, Blair invested most of the $200,000 he secured during the initial funding round into developing an intuitive, easy-to-navigate app. Version 1 launched in Apple’s App Store in November the same year. Within the first three months, there was a 260% month-on-month increase in delivery jobs. Thereafter, job yield increased by 66% month-on-month as GoFetch expanded beyond the CBD to all of Greater Melbourne. Registered users (i.e. people who download the app, set up an account and add a card) have increased by 350% per month.
Critically, the number of active (i.e. daily) users has grown by 228% month-on-month. Aditionally, there are close to 1,000 registered Fetchers in Melbourne, repeat business rates are excellent and the public response is positive. Blair acknowledges the vital role played by his team – a mix of entrepreneurs and advisors, “each talented in their own way but united by a common goal”.
Blair plans to launch GoFetch in all Australian capitals by the year’s end, with Fetcher recruitment already underway in Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney. With the digital landscape offering few barriers to international expansion, Blair plans to transform GoFetch into a global brand.
“Competition is a good thing”
Since GoFetch took off, Blair has been astounded by the number of new players operating in the same space. Still, he is pragmatic – confident, even – when it comes to competition.
“Being a start-up with limited funds, watching the competition too closely can throw you off your own game,” he explained. “When you don’t have the money or resources to react meaningfully to competitors, you really need to remain focused and do your best, rather than be distracted by others.
“In truth, Australia’s sharing economy is in its infancy, so I view competition as a good thing. New entrants bring awareness to the entire category (on demand, app-based, peer-to-peer delivery) and GoFetch benefits from that. We also see new entrants as market endorsement of our strategic direction. So, there’s enough room for everyone right now. While that won’t be the case forever, as mergers and acquisitions happen, we are extremely confident in our model, our technology and our differentiators.”
For example, while GoFetch does food deliveries, Blair said the company doesn’t aggressively play in that space. Instead, while other entrants ‘slog it out’ for food delivery dominance, GoFetch is concentrating on untapped markets and new scenarios that haven’t been accessed by the courier industry before.
“It helps that our price point is the lowest in the market – that’s because ‘Fetchers’ use their own transport,” he said. “One of our great differentiators is the use of multiple transport types. For example, a ‘Fetcher’ can complete a job on foot, skateboard, car, motorbike, truck or van. They can even jump on public transport.
“In addition, we’re able to serve a wide range of customers segments – from parents to the corporate sector, B2B and even heavy industry and the trades. We like the attention we’re currently getting from the B2C and B2B markets and we’re finding ways to bring our USP and a more personal feel to those customers. When we brush up against a competitor doing something similar, the team finds a way to differentiate and do those things better.”
“Investment is a Catch 22”
Currently, Blair is focused on securing the funding necessary to take GoFetch to the next level. To date, GoFetch has relied on investments from Blair’s friends, family or former colleagues plus a handful of angel investors and venture capitalists brought into the fold by his team members.
“We’ve got some fantastic and passionate smaller investors but we’re still looking for that big one – an investor who gets the vision and will come on this ride with us for the long haul,” Blair said. “Seed funding was managed on the strength of the concept but attracting larger investors requires a demonstration of growth. So it’s a Catch 22: you need money to grow and promote awareness but investors want to see several months of growth before committing.”
Another challenge has been managing supply and demand. As Blair explained, GoFetch – being a start-up with a relatively new workforce model (peer-to-peer) – has had to weather periods where demand outstripped supply and vice versa.
“We can have too many ‘Fetchers’ for the jobs available and the opposite, where a job can go begging because none of our ‘Fetchers’ are set to active,” he said. “So we have had to manage expectations on both sides of the market place. But our Operations team manages the dashboard carefully and we can quickly rally the troops.”
“I’ve had to embrace chaos”
As a newcomer to the start-up world, having neither founded nor worked for one previously, Blair has had to adjust to a less-structured way of working.
“I couldn’t work to the specs of a job description,” he said. “I had to embrace the chaos. It was a challenge but my eyes have been opened to a whole new world, beyond the confines of corporate life. By pure necessity, I’ve had to run the full gamut of the marketing mix. I’ve been immersed in all aspects of the business from social media posts to sales presentations, financial and tax matters, and capital raising. There is no repetition, each day is different – and I love that.
“At the business level, I’m pleased with the upward trend in our performance reports and the fact that hard work continues to produce transactions and engagement. On a personal level, I’m proud my idea has become a tactile, fully-functioning reality. I still get a kick out of opening the app on my phone and seeing ‘Fetchers’ moving about on the map. Watching a first-time user having a seamless experience is also hugely rewarding.”