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Gophr, the U.K. last-mile delivery company, picks up £4M funding

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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 3 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 over 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 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 3rd 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 show 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”.

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Last-mile delivery robotics company Refraction AI raises $4.2M

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Ann Arbor-based Refraction AI announced today that it has raised a $4.2 million seed round. The startup, which debuted on the TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility stage back in 2019, was founded by a pair of University of Michigan professors (Matthew Johnson-Roberson — now CTO — and Ram Vasudevan) seeking to solve a number of issues posed by many delivery robots.

With an initial prototype built on a bicycle foundation, the company’s REV-1 robot is designed to operate in bike lanes and roads, rather than the standard sidewalk ‘bot. The different approach allows the robot to travel at higher speeds (topping out at 15 miles per hour) and removes some of the messy pedestrian-dodging issues that come with sidewalk use (while introducing some new ones on that narrow sliver of asphalt shared by cyclists).

Refraction is currently testing a small fleet in its native Ann Arbor. The seed round, led by Pillar VC, will be used for R&D, expanding the company’s reach and recruiting more customers, with a focus on grocery store and restaurant deliveries. Other investors include, eLab Ventures, Osage Venture Partners, Trucks Venture Capital, Alumni Ventures Group, Chad Laurans and Invest Michigan.

Another key differentiator is the use of cameras, versus LIDAR. The decision comes with some technological trade-offs, but benefits include a lower price point and the ability for the company to more quickly scale its fleet. The technology is also not easily districted by weather conditions encountered in the upper midwest, though it has limitations, too. As the company puts it, if you’re not comfortable walking out in it, the robot probably won’t be, either.

“Our platform uses technology that exists today in an innovative way, to get people the things they need, when they need them, where they live,” CEO Luke Schneider said in a release tied to the news. “And we’re doing so in a way that reduces business’ costs, makes roads less congested, and eliminates carbon emissions.”

With this new funding, the company plans to expand operations beyond its native Ann Arbor, though no additional test markets have been announced.

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New clinical trial data from Locus Biosciences shows promise in CRISPR-Cas3 technology

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Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest potential threats to global health today. But Locus Biosciences is hoping that their crPhage technology might provide a new solution.

Based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, the startup recently announced promising phase 1b clinical trial results for their use of CRISPR-Cas3-enhanced bacteriophages as a treatment for urinary tract infections caused by escherichia coli. Led in part by former Patheon executive and current Locus CEO Paul Garofolo, the startup launched in 2015 with the goal of using a less popular application of CRISPR technology to address growing antimicrobial resistance.

CRISPR-Cas3 technology has notably different mechanisms from its more well-known CRISPR-Cas9 counterpart. Where the Cas9 enzyme has the ability to cleanly cut through a piece of DNA like a pair of scissors, Garofolo describes Cas3 more like a Pac-Man, shredding the DNA as it moves along a strand.

“You wouldn’t be able to use it for most of the editing platforms people were after,” he said, noting that meant there wouldn’t be as much competition around Cas3. “So I knew it would be protected for some time, and that we could keep it quiet.”

Garofolo and his team wanted to use CRISPR-Cas3 not to edit harmful bacteria found in the body, but to destroy it. To do this, they took the DNA-shredding mechanism of Cas3 and used it to enhance bacteriophages—viruses that can attack and kill different species of bacteria. Together, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Dave Ousterout—who has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Duke—thinks this technology offers an extremely direct and targeted way of killing bacteria.

“We armed the phages with this Cas3 system that attacks E. coli, and that sort of dual mechanism of action is what comes together, essentially, as a really potent way to remove just E. coli,” he said in an interview.

That specificity is something that antibiotics lack. Rather than targeting only harmful bacteria in the body, antibiotics typically wipe out all bacteria they come across. “Every time we take antibiotics, we’re not thinking about all the other parts of us that are impacted by the bacteria that do good things,” said Garofolo. But the precision of Locus Biosciences’ crPhage technology means that only the targeted bacteria would be wiped out, leaving those necessary to the body’s normal function intact.

Beyond offering this more specific approach to treatment of pathogens, or any bacteria-based disease, Garofolo and his team also suspect that their approach will also be extremely safe. Though deadly to bacteria, bacteriophages are typically harmless to humans. The safety of CRISPR in humans is well-established, too.

“That’s our secret sauce,” said Garofolo. “We can build drugs that are more powerful than the antibiotics they’re trying to replace, and they use phage, which is probably one of the world’s safest ways to deliver something into the human body.”

While this new technology could certainly help treat pathogens and infectious diseases, Garofolo hopes that indications in immunology, oncology, and neurology might benefit from it too. “We’re starting to figure out that some bacteria might promote cancer, or inflammation in your gut,” he said. If researchers can identify the bacteria at the root cause of those conditions, Garofolo and Ousterout think the crPhage technology might prove to be an effective treatment.

“If we’re right about that, it’s not just about infections or antimicrobial resistance, but helping people overcome cancer or delay the onset of dementia,” Garofolo said. “It’s changing the way we think about how bacteria really help us live.”


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Amazon expands its food delivery service across Bangalore

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Amazon said on Monday it has expanded its food delivery service, called Amazon Food, across 62 zip codes in Bangalore, in what is the first public update since entering the new category in India last May.

The American e-commerce group said Amazon Food now reaches key localities in Bangalore such as Whitefield, HSR, Sarjapur, Koramangala, Indiranagar, MG Road, Jayanagar, JP Nagar, Frazer Town, Malleshwaram, Rajajinagar, and Vijayanaga.

At the time of the launch in May last year, Amazon Food was available in just four zip codes in Bangalore.

Even as Amazon Food remains limited to one key market in India, the company is aggressively trying to undercut the competition — heavily funded startups Zomato and Swiggy — in the city.

Food delivery is free to Prime members, while others have to pay a fee of 19 Indian rupees (26 cents) — cheaper than fees levied by Swiggy and Zomato.

The company, which has committed to investing $6.5 billion in its India operations, said it has amassed 2,5000 restaurants and cloud kitchens in Bangalore — also referred as Bengaluru. Amazon Food customers can enjoy “offers” from these restaurants as well as cashbacks from Amazon, the company said.

It, however, did not share why it has been uncharacteristically so slow with the expansion of Amazon Food in the country.

(Well, I mean, there is a global pandemic — but Amazon also makes a number of what its employees say “one-way door” and “two-way door” bets. Two-way door bets are those that the company has not fully committed to and is just attempting to test the waters before making a concrete decision. Think of Amazon Prime as a one-way door bet. So it’s not clear from day 1 how committed Amazon is to any new service.)

“With the expansion of Amazon Food in Bengaluru, we continue in our endeavor to offer unmatched convenience and value while being a part of their everyday lives. Amazon Food brings some of the city’s top restaurants including national outlets and as well as local favorites which are popular and follow strict delivery and safety protocols,” said Sameer Khetarpal, Director of Category Management at Amazon India, in a statement.

Ant Financial-backed Zomato and Prosus Ventures-backed Swiggy have established duopoly in the food delivery market in India, with analysts at Bank of America estimating their combined market share to be over 90%. (Uber exited the Indian food delivery market early last year after selling its local food business to Zomato.)

The expansion of Amazon Food also comes at a time when Zomato, which according to analysts leads the market, is preparing to file for an IPO.

India’s food delivery market is especially tough to crack because of local conditions. Unlike in the developed markets such as the U.S., where the value of each delivery item is about $33, in India, a similar item carries the price tag of $4, according to research firms. Both Zomato and Swiggy have significantly improved their unit economics in the past year.

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