Posted on December 22, 2022
by Huboo eCommerce Fulfilment
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Martin Bysh: Playing the warehouse game

Martin Bysh

Our CEO & Co-Founder Martin Bysh spoke with The Times recently about his interesting background and the fascinating story behind Huboo’s creation, from pitchside to pitch decks, and how Huboo are reinventing warehouses.

The beautiful game

As chats between dads on the side of a football pitch go, the one that Martin Bysh, 52, struck up with Paul Dodd, 46, on a Saturday morning was a particularly valuable one. Watching their young sons try to master the beautiful game on a pitch at Bath University, the pair shared war stories about work.

“His remit was to save P&G [Procter & Gamble] half a billion pounds a year in logistics, but he grew quite excited by my tales of entrepreneurship. He really wanted to do something,” recalled Bysh, whose previous ventures ranged from writing ZX Spectrum games to running a dating website.

“We would meet for a coffee once a week to talk through his ideas and eventually came up with Huboo. I told him he’d need to teach himself to code as it needed some software, and usually when you mentor someone they don’t do that. But he went away, learnt to code and came back with half the warehouse management system written.”

Huboo Fulfilment Centre in Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Innovating around human beings

What the pair were building was a tech-based logistics business, fulfilling orders for small and medium-sized ecommerce brands via micro-warehouses.

“The idea is to divide up a large space into smaller spaces because it solves many of the key problems with fulfilment,” Bysh said. “The key problem is people. It is typically solved with automation. What Paul was doing was to innovate around human beings. There is usually a complete lack of ownership [in warehouses]. You come in, lift stuff and put it down; you don’t know for who or why. It is soul-destroying.”

“If you can create amazing jobs…you end up with happy people”

Huboo aim to do the opposite. “If you can create amazing jobs in warehouses, you end up with happy people,” he said. That avoids costs of high churn, agency labour and low productivity. “There are massive dis-economies to having unhappy people doing repetitive jobs.”

Investors sniff a winning business model. Huboo launched in 2017 and the following year raised its first round of equity when it had “two people in a Safestore in Bath and revenues of about £25,000”.

Bysh said it has annual recurring revenues of £30 million, with four warehouses in Bristol, as well as in the Netherlands and Spain, and plans to enter 12 more countries in the next 12 months. “We now have 500 employees and it grows by about 100 people a month,” he said.

The growth of the company is fuelled by external capital, with £105 million raised so far from the likes of Episode 1, Maersk Growth and Mubadala Capital. The total includes €30 million in debt.

The latest round in October valued Huboo at £320 million, Bysh said. He and Dodd own 35 per cent between them. “We are looking at a billion-pound-plus valuation in the next round in 2022 — raising £200 million to £300 million at, we hope, about a £1.5 billion valuation. We will be looking at expanding in the US with that money.”

Martin (L) and Paul (R), our Co-Founders

Covid challenges

The odds on their pitchside chat resulting in value creation on that scale are long. Even more unlikely, Bysh caught Covid for the second time in November, having been jabbed twice. He was in hospital for 13 days, seven in intensive care, where he saw someone being ventilated as he lay in bed.

“It is a very unpleasant thing to witness when you’ve been told by the doctor that there is a good chance that you will be ventilated in the next few days,” he said.

Bysh recovered but, perhaps understandably, Covid has prompted a “reset”.

“I feel like I have been running through life for the last 50 years and it made me realise that it is time to slow down a bit,” he said. “I have two young boys [Fyodor and Sinan] and, I think, as entrepreneurial fathers go, I am not too bad. But the pace I have been going means I have been somewhat neglectful.”

“I spent the whole time [in hospital] thinking that my sons would have no father at the ages of 8 and 12, and I found that the most upsetting thing in the world. I came out with the conviction that they needed more of their father right now.”

Creating hit video games, a precursor to online success

Bysh grew up in Leytonstone, east London. His father left when he was five. “It was a working-class family in the east end of London. My mother was a dinner lady,” he said. “My first memory was living in a homeless hostel as my mother had no money, but she worked her way out of those circumstances to make sure we all lived in a decent council house.”

Aged 13, and with school proving a disappointment, he acquired a ZX Spectrum home computer: “It opened a world to me that I got lost in.” He published his first game with a friend three years later called Foundations Waste. It became a No 2 hit on the European chart.

“So I kept writing games for the next ten years. It was genuinely thrilling,” he recalls of mid-1980s bedroom-based coding. His other efforts included a title that licensed characters from Viz comic and an early home computer version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game.

The rise of games consoles and big teams of developers made him look at alternatives. He moved into the web, setting up an agency called Primary Drive in the late 1990s that he ran for 12 years.

He also spotted the nascent online dating scene and launched a website called Make Friends Online in the early 2000s: “It was a struggle as it was difficult to monetise.” By the late 2000s they adopted a freemium model and rebranded as Smooch.com, which became a top-five dating site, according to Hitwise. Tinder then appeared. “It was clear that was going to decimate web dating, so we sold the business at the peak of the market for a substantial seven-figure sum.”

Martin Bysh, Huboo CEO & Co-Founder

That was 2012. Bysh then applied web technologies to market research, selling polls with responses from people within an hour through Usurv.com. He sold the business to Maru, a private equity firm, in 2017.

In addition to two sons, Bysh has a “phenomenally patient” wife, Hulya. His tip for budding entrepreneurs: go in with your eyes open. “When you are building a business there are only problems. The biggest one depends on the day of the week.”

You can check out the feature in The Time’s excellent How I Made It series here. Article first published Friday 24th December 2021.