There’s a particular brand of sadness that comes with getting home to find a little card in your mailbox telling you that you missed the postie or courier with your package that day and that it’s waiting for you at the local post office. Then comes trying to figure out how you can actually get to the post office between 9 to 5 the next day when you’re supposed to be at work.
One workaround many in the Startup Daily office are fond of is to have all their packages delivered to our office address, though then comes the struggle of carrying the package home on public transport (yes, life is so hard).
Looking to solve these issues is Chester. Founded by husband and wife team Malcolm and Jillian Lewis, Chester is a wifi-enabled outdoor storage chest or smart lock box that can facilitate the secure delivery of packages without anyone being home.
The idea came to the pair around five years ago. With much of Jillian’s family living in the US, the Lewis family often received packages from overseas for birthdays and other occasions, but with both Malcolm and Jillian working full time they were never home to take the delivery.
“We found ourselves at the post office waiting in line with a huge crowd of people doing the exact same thing every Saturday morning; not an easy thing to do when you have kids that play sport,” Malcolm said.
The frustration was furthered when the Lewises started doing their grocery shopping online and waiting around for it to be delivered on Sunday afternoons.
“Conversations with our friends indicated that many other families were dealing with the same issues. The fact that this idea kept me up at night is what pushed me to bring it to life. I really thought it was something that could help make people’s life much easier,” Malcolm said.
The cofounders began work on the development of Chester around two and a half years ago, with much of the first 12 months spent on concept development.
They then tried to find an industrial design firm to take on the idea; they met with around five, Malcolm said, but some didn’t get the concept and others didn’t work with startups. Eventually, they found a small firm in Terrey Hills – “quite the trek from Coogee,” Malcolm said – and got to work.
“Initially we were going to just build a mock-up outdoor esky to get a proof of concept, but after conducting some research, we discovered that we needed three key elements for Chester to resonate with customers: one, it had to look really good; two, it had to be easy to use; and three, it had to be able to take deliveries from anyone.”
From there, Chester began working with an industrial design firm with expertise in building prototypes and Internet of Things products.
“We went back to square one; we rehashed the concept development, settled on a design based on market feedback, created a Bill of Materials, engineered the product, and built a prototype,” Malcolm said.
Through all this, Malcolm said working with others who have bought into and share the Chester vision has been key.
“I understand that it can be difficult for them to work with startups, so I have tried as best I can to slice the work up into very short sprints that have clear objectives and timeframes. From this you can build trust and respect,” he said.
For customers, the system will work by first having them register the battery-powered Chester unit and link it to an address and wifi network. From there, they set up their notification settings and security access numbers. A proof of delivery notification – detailing the time of delivery and the weight of the package – is sent to the customer when a package is deposited, with the nominated access code used to unlock the unit to then retrieve the package.
For a postie or courier, depositing a package is as simple as opening the lid; Chester then locks automatically once something is inside.
The cofounders aim to price Chester at around $400 to $500. Having been taking expressions of interest through its website for a while, the startup is aiming to launch a crowdfunding campaign within the next few months to help the first production run.
“I have had some strong interest from retailers who have indicated they will underwrite the campaign with some volume commitments to test with their existing customers,” Malcolm added.
“A lot of retailers are starting to wake up to what is happening in this ‘last mile’ space. It is becoming clear that some of the big players are trying to control access to the home and essentially act as gatekeepers for who can participate in the growth of ecommerce. This will also limit the consumer’s choices in the future as they will be locked in to a platform.
“At Chester we believe that all retailers should be able to participate and that consumers should be able to maintain the flexibility to show where ever they want.”
Like most others, the startup has competition in the space: Australia Post is backing Receva, a smart lock box system that is currently being trialled in Melbourne. Given the giant’s work with Receva, Malcolm said his own efforts to explore a partnership with Australia Post were not fruitful.
Despite this, Malcolm is confident of what lies ahead for Chester. As it works towards the crowdfunding campaign, he said the goal is simple: “To produce a secure, convenient, and reliable product that people will fall in love with.”
Image: Malcolm Lewis. Source: Supplied.