In ancient times, foot messengers ran miles to deliver messages. And then there were homing pigeons and horseback riders. Today, not only is a short drive inconvenient, we’re also impatient about delivery timeframes – especially when compared to the instant nature of information exchange. This is the basis of a recently launched Sydney-based startup Sherpa, founded by Frenchmen Mathieu Cornillon and Bastien Vetault who migrated to Australia four and six years ago, respectively.
Sherpa wants everyone to have their own personal courier who picks up and delivers virtually everything in a two-hour timeframe.
“It’s so easy and fast to exchange or get information, but so hard to get physical goods immediately,” says Cornillon, who calls himself a ‘solution finder’ and spent years in various business development roles in the US, Asia and France.
According to IBISWorld, the Global Courier & Delivery Services market is worth $206 billion and has been growing at 3.1 percent over the past five years. Although there are almost 40,000 businesses that operate in this industry globally, Cornillon believes there’s room for improvement and hopes that Sherpa becomes a market leader by leveraging technology.
In Sherpa’s mobile application, users can choose between “Simple Pickup & Delivery” and “Purchase & Delivery”, then enter their item description as well as the pickup and destination addresses. The app then informs customers of how much it would cost to have the items picked up and delivered within a two-hour timeframe.
Users will also be notified of the courier that’s available in the area via a location-based system, and they can then choose to accept or modify the delivery. Once confirmed, the app pings available ‘Sherpas’ that are close to the user’s location and notifies them once the courier accepts the delivery.
Soon after the payment is made, the user receives live updates of the delivery process and can contact the Sherpa at anytime should there be any issues.
This is perhaps Sherpa’s best feature. In conventional delivery methods like AusPost, the recipient has little control, let alone awareness, over the delivery process. Once items are sent off for delivery, it’s in the hands of AusPost until the items are delivered (or goodness forbid, lost).
Another Sydney-based startup that has a growing presence in the local market with a similar service is Zipments. Launched earlier this year, Zipments claims to be the “Uber/goCatch for package delivery”. The startup has created a network of experienced delivery professionals who assist consumers and businesses get their packages delivered around Sydney.
The key difference between Sherpa and Zipments is that the former Sherpa operates similarly to Uber X in that it relies on the crowd to make deliveries – from students to part-time workers, or anyone with free time that matches with another’s unavailability. They don’t necessarily have to be professional couriers.
Cornillon says “Almost anyone can become a Sherpa and make money. Our system assigns the order to the best possible driver. Very Uber-like.”
Another difference is that Sherpa is targeting a broader market of everyday consumers who are time-poor.
With all courier services, the biggest challenge is managing the logistics which Cornillon seems to understand well. What if there are more deliveries needing to be made than the number of couriers available to make them?
“We currently grow our Sherpas and user communities in a way to keep what we call a Minimum Viable density to make sure our supply capacity will always match the demand. We have a large number of Sherpas already available and an even larger waiting list to join,” he adds.
Currently, Sherpa’s courier services are available in Sydney’s CBD area as well as Eastern Suburbs including Pyrmont, Newtown, Woolloomooloo and Maroubra. Cornillon says they’re expanding location-wise nearly every week. The startup plans to expand its operations to other states in Australia within the next 12 months, and into international markets when the time is right.
The Sherpas are paid the delivery fee minus a small commission which is taken out by the business.
Cornillon says the app is very minimalistic at the moment, with more features to come as the business grows.
Aside from Cornillon (CEO) and Vetault (CTO), Sherpa has four part-time workers in Australia and overseas, excluding the Sherpas and members of the startup’s advisory board. Cornillon stresses that Sherpa’s DNA is international, though it’s “an Australian startup by heart”.
“[We] are very proud to keep this DNA in our everyday operations and vision for the future. We manage to get the best talents on board, doesn’t matter where they come from. Managing cultural differences and getting the best out of each makes us proud of what we’ve achieved so far and gives us confidence for the future,” says Cornillon.
Although the business has been bootstrapped to date – helped by the revenues they’ve been generating from the get-go – the co-founders are open to the prospect of raising external capital to accelerate growth in other Australian cities and overseas.
For the time being though, the startup will remain focused on user acquisition and growing its community of Sherpas at a steady rate.