“The hardest thing about this business has been to bridge really contradictory worlds,” says Jay Bregman, chief technology officer and co-founder of London based eCourier. On one side, the revolutionary courier company is a high-technology internet business and on the other a “fairly difficult to run operational business”. It is exactly eCourier’s ability to bridge this yawning chasm that continues to set it apart from other same-day courier companies in London and throughout the UK.
Since he was a young lad, New York-born Bregman has been tinkering with technology. His father was a heart surgeon and as a result, he was “adamant that technology would be the next big thing,” recalls Bregman.
Despite continuing to nurture his fascination with technology into his teenage years, Bregman chose to shun a computer sciences degree in favour of reading Philosophy at Ivy-League university Dartmouth, where he met his British future business partner Tom Allason. Then in his first year the two interests were bridged by a course pertaining to philosophy in computing. “After taking that course I was completely hooked,” says Bregman amid the clattering of cups and saucers in a busy East London coffee shop.
This very solid grounding in technology and the internet set Bregman in solid stead when Allason came to him with the idea of setting up a London-based courier company as Bregman was studying for his Master’s at the London School of Economics. The technology was to be at the very core of the business; in fact, without the technology there would be no business.
The only problem was that the technology did not yet exist. “We talked to software developers who were telling us that it would take years to build and cost millions of dollars, so we started thinking maybe this was more of an academic problem and less of a software development problem,” he recalls.
After engaging the attention of experts in the domain, the young founders settled on a group of academics at a high performance computing institute in Southern Italy who had done some similar work in the field. The result of four years of building, implementing and tuning? A technology platform unrivalled among eCourier’s competitors.
In fact, the London courier industry was so blown away by the technology that competitors simply refused to acknowledge its existence. “In the beginning it was simply a denial of what we could offer,” says Bregman. “Many people in the industry viewed the eCourier concept as a fad that would be out of favour in a year or six months. And we’ve continued to grow through all that time,” he says with just the tiniest hint of smugness.
Such smugness may well be justified; you can’t help but be impressed by the technology. What the eCourier team have built is a platform that can be used to manage any system where orders come in with limited or no advance notice, and have to be allocated to resources that are location-based and have to be scheduled in real time. Potential uses range from baggage handling in airports to emergency dispatch, although as yet, licensing is not something Bregman and his team have considered too closely.
High technology is a theme that threads through the business and has helped eCourier avoid the problem of attrition which plagues so many courier companies. “I think the reason customers aren’t traditionally very loyal is due in part to the fact that courier companies aren’t generally revered for their level of customer service,” Bregman explains. To that end, eCourier has implemented a real-time, event-driven business intelligence system which monitors customers’ booking behaviours and builds up unique profiles. “It allows us to provide an individualised account management service by using technology rather than people.”
Another way to avoid customers dropping off is to entice them by the strength of your brand and as Bregman explains, there are not any established brands in the market place when it comes to same day couriers. “Most people would struggle if you ask them to name even one same day courier company,” he says.
But the brand, the marketing and the technology must all come together, explains the vivacious American. “It’s not just a question of size, it’s a question of building that ethos and the brand around it and the systems to support that,” he concludes.