Last week Paul and Martin sat down with Maersk’s Oliver Finch, to discuss the tech fulfilment industry, and how Huboo got to where it is at today. The two discussed the future of fulfilment, navigating the challenges and opportunities this year has brought, retaining work culture during a pandemic, and scaling up a business from 2, to 300 employees.
Let’s set the Huboo scene…
Paul introduces himself first. “I worked at P&G for 20 years before starting up Huboo, so I’m very much used to Maersk shipping containers and modular software. Now I’m a co-founder and CTO of Huboo.”
Martin was next. “Previously I was a games coder for many years, then a tech entrepreneur. I
founded two of the UK’s first dating sites, founder of a rapid market research software company and was getting a little itchy in my current role before Paul came up with the idea, and now here we are!”
What exactly is Huboo and how did it come to be?
“Huboo is an eCommerce fulfilment company that stores, picks, packs and posts products on behalf of our 550 clients.”
They harnessed Martin’s entrepreneurial flair for tech and software, and Paul’s expertise in the world of logistics and tech, from the business model we see today.
“We started in a safe store in Bath where we eventually co-opted most of the staff who helped us run the business. After selling to our first 60 clients and becoming PayPal’s fulfilment provider in the UK we decided to raise some money and do it properly!”
And Paul, your first time as an entrepreneur?
“Yes, it’s been an interesting journey! My previous role at P&G was on the global innovation team and involved going around lots of eCom warehouses, like Amazon and Ocado, so I began to get to know the industry quite well”.
“I thought we could radically reshape the warehouse layout with the right technology and the help of Martin’s technical expertise. We began to prototype from the storage unit and launched what we had to our clients, which exploded.”
So, let’s touch on the role of prototyping and the role it plays in your businesses?
Harnessing real data, analysing it and proving it is vital for human proofing a business.
Paul, “in the early Huboo days working from my garage, I could only do one test per day, then a few more at the self-store but now we have multiple hubs we can run multiple tests. We start with one hub running the experiment, then four, then run it out to the entire business.”
Martin expands. “So, these hubs are micro warehouses. They have all the inputs and outputs of an entire warehouse, the picking packing, posting etc, just in a 300 ft hub, it’s easy to AB test or multi-variant test. We can run these in one or two hubs to test the extent to which we can improve the software.
This AB testing is in line with your experience Martin, can you talk about how you adapted to a business that is much more vertical integration?
For Martin and Paul, it’s always been about software.
Martin: “We still have the original code developed by Paul, but it’s being reduced week on week as our developers make necessary amendments. After the development period, we found the physical aspect of managing and coaching people and creating fresh ideas incredibly exciting. It’s been exciting to do so many things over such a small amount of time.”
There were of course, challenges, however. “Our biggest challenge was raising funding from VCs. We placed humans front and centre of the model, to increase quality, up customer engagements and provide a more intimate service.”
Touch on how you build and sustain culture to improve productivity?
In the early days, Huboo was comprised of much fewer people than it is today.
Martin, “it was easy to constantly engage with the original team, but now it’s impossible to sustain that level of engagement when people are hired in different locations at a pace we can’t keep up with. For example, last week, there were people in the office whose names I didn’t know, and it was a surprise that the office had got to the point where I couldn’t keep up.”
“When we think about who to hire, we choose those whose default position is happy. This attitude and culture is transmitted throughout the company, and so it has a trickle-down effect.”
How did you manage to stay consistent with staff during a period of growth in a pandemic?
Martin, “keeping staff safe was made easier because of the hub model which lends itself to social distancing. What underpinned our ability to keep people safe was Paul’s software system which let us, onboard people, incredibly rapidly.”
“Most warehouses were losing staff and customers and couldn’t replace them. We also lost customers who weren’t relevant during that period or couldn’t ship their products but onboarded new clients quickly. The humans looking after them would become an expert in that client’s field and understand their needs much more rapidly than a larger fulfilment house. It seemed to be the best model to survive Covid.”
Your model is micro in nature and can service SMEs but is also adaptable to major brands and businesses. How are you shaping your growth based on this and the VC impact?
Paul answers, “for example, Carlsberg wanted us to turn around a whole project in a week. Most traditional providers start with larger companies that have fewer SKUs and so the process is simpler. However, we started at the bottom with numerous small businesses, with endless complexities and designed our systems around them. When we step up to our larger brands, we can handle it, and within a week were shipping out thousands of Carlsberg cans.”
Martin, “we recently took on a chain of great high street shops who recently went D2C and we’ll be shipping out shortly on their behalf. When we first started the average value of each client was £3,000 and they had thousands of SKUs, now some of our larger clients are worth millions of pounds a year with very minimal SKUs. It’s a question of scale, complexity is the issue, we solved this and now the scale isn’t an issue so we’re a better opportunity.”
“Last-mile is certainly on our road map, micro hubs and urban warehousing is incredibly exciting to fulfil same-day delivery.”
Lastly, where do you hope to take Huboo?
Paul, “P&G worked in D2C, but going to marketing agencies and contractors who would eventually go to a D2C provider anyway, was expensive. Now at Huboo, for a large brand to come to us and at low cost, we can enable D2C through the supply chain and revolutionise it for large corporates and suck up a large part of the market quickly.”
Martin and Paul rounded off by suggesting that urban fulfilment is the direction they’d like Huboo to go towards in the future…keep your eyes peeled!
If you’d like to listen to the podcast in full, just click here.
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