How to scale without turning into the Evil Empire

Seb Robert, CEO and founder of same-day delivery business Gophr, reveals his methods
Seb Robert
Seb Robert, CEO and founder of same-day delivery business Gophr

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”. So says Harvey Dent, Gotham City’s “White Knight” in The Dark Knight.

Aside from this being a good warning when taking on the Mob, it is also something that is often in the back of my mind when looking to grow our business. I’m very conscious that I don’t want to become the bad guy who I have always been fighting against.

It’s difficult. As I am sure my fellow entrepreneurs would agree - we don’t get into the business game to not be successful. But we all think that we are different - we’re not going to become perceived as power hungry like Bezos at Amazon or Zuckerberg at Meta. Our business is going to be different, we’ll stay close to our roots. That’s what we tell ourselves.

And then what happens…you become the villain.

So what is the alternative, you pack in the business before you get too big and evil? Again, that’s not why we are in this game. It is possible to scale up, to be successful, and to grow without becoming an absolute d*ckhead. To muddle film franchises, you don’t have to become the Evil Empire and build the Deathstar to be successful.

But how?

Partner over acquire

Facebook, sorry Meta, loves an acquisition. Why develop your own ideas when you can just buy up-and-coming businesses that can do it for you? And then mothball the whole thing when it doesn’t quite work or if something shinier appears.

Acquisitions are not just part of the tech world. In our industry, we have seen giants like DPD buy up Absolutely and CitySprint in recent years. When you have that amount of capital, you can afford to. But let’s have a look at why they are making such acquisitions. Is it a case of buying the competition? Or is it to add another string to its bow, therefore benefiting the customer? Reading the above press release, you could argue for both.

Which is why I prefer the partnership approach. For us at Gophr, we aren’t all about snapping up other promising businesses just because they are threatening our patch. Instead, we want to be working with these innovators and black sheep. We know what it is like being new on the scene. And more often than not, the new kids on the block know a lot more about what is going on in the sector than we do. It would be foolish not to have them onside.

Local couriers for local people

Last mile delivery is also reliant on local knowledge, local businesses and local couriers. We are looking to expand further into Manchester and Birmingham. But we can’t just roll up on our bikes and in our vans and expect to make an impact. Not a positive one anyway.

Instead, we tap into the local know-how of those startup courier firms and smaller businesses. They know the streets and the customers better than anyone. And the customers know them. Which is why it’s so important that they keep their identity. Their brand. Their people.

So instead of having identikit vans and bikes on the road, I want to see those local guys and their branding. The “Gophrisation” is actually happening behind the scenes - they are using our API technology, our resources and our business acumen to grow themselves. I want Gophr to be that central hub but I want the local courier to be front and centre.

When I set up Gophr in 2015, I did so because I was disillusioned by the terrible courier experiences I was having at the day job. We’ve come a long way since then, building a £17m business and being named in the Deloitte UK Technology Fast 50 two years in a row.

But what makes me most proud is that we didn’t become the Evil Empire or the villain of the piece. In fact, I like to think we are fighting against the Empire, forging our own Rebel Alliance.

But rather than X-wings, we’re on bikes and driving vans.

Written by
Seb Robert
Written by
April 19, 2023