When it comes to user experience, there are few people out there with an obsession as high as Jack Underwood.
CEO and co-founder of Circuit, is all about applying that obsession for good design and ease of use to vastly improve delivery services. He talks to Business Matters and shares his insight …
What products or services do you provide?
Circuit is a software company focussed on fixing the last-mile delivery experience for drivers, couriers, retailers, and recipients, by offering each of these stakeholders a product which improves their individual problems with delivery.
Our first product, built specifically for delivery drivers, is called Circuit Route Planner and was developed in 2017. It was made to allow delivery drivers to plan the best routes for multiple stops and deliver as fast as possible, saving them an average of one hour each day.
Our second product, Circuit for Teams, is built for courier companies and retailers managing their own delivery operation. It allows these businesses to improve their delivery operations by managing multiple drivers at once, capturing proof of delivery and sending recipient notifications to their customers.
Our third product, Circuit Package Tracker, is built for recipients and allows them to track all of their deliveries, Circuit powered or otherwise, in a single application. That means they no longer need to keep track of tracking codes or check their status multiple times per day, we handle that all for them and send a notification when something changes.
What type of businesses do you work with?
We work with small to medium sized retailers across various industries from fashion and homeware to food and drink businesses, who require multiple deliveries in a day. In addition to this, our Circuit for Teams software helps courier companies organise their delivery operations.
What problem does your company solve?
Circuit’s mission is to fix the broken last mile delivery system. I have always enjoyed upgrading the experience of productivity apps, so when I found that I needed a route-planner and the applications available didn’t offer a strong user experience, I decided to develop my own software. Having built the route planner I established that the issues with delivery were much wider and so Circuit has since expanded its remit. In delivery there are multiple stakeholders, couriers /drivers, retailers, and recipients – but rather than these working together, their lack of communication and smooth integration means that with any issues there is a knock on effect. This cannot be solved unless the three stakeholders are in one ecosystem and this is what we’ve set out to build at Circuit.
What is your USP?
In the case of Circuit Route Planner, as the app is used in a very repetitive fashion, user experience is of the utmost importance and our prioritisation of UX is what makes our software unique.
With drivers planning up to 150 stops in a row, everything from the loading speed to how many letters you need to type for a search result matters. Every improvement you make is multiplied 100x, and saving just a few seconds on the total amount of time each stop takes to complete quickly becomes hours per week saved for drivers.
What are your company values? Have you ever had them challenged and if so how have you dealt with it?
One of our values is targeted around how we grow. We aim to grow as a company primarily through creating more value, rather than extracting more value from our customers. This is easy to do at the start, but as the company grows it becomes easier to find incremental growth by extracting more value from our existing customers for ourselves.
This is a short term approach and will not get us to where we want to go as a company. To combat that, we generally look for things that will significantly move the needle, rather than incrementally move it.
Generally, a significant move is likely to be from value creation, rather than further value exaction.
How do you ensure that you recruit a team that reflects your company values?
Most of the candidates we interview are capable of exhibiting our values to some degree.
Some do get filtered out during the interview process for lack of alignment, but for the most part it’s really about encouraging people to lean on what they already consider to be good practice/fair.
In our experience, it’s group-think that generally causes decisions that ignore our values to be made, so we encourage individuals to take responsibility for decisions, to consider others input, but to to make their own decisions rather than trying to reach consensus.
Not only does this lead to better and more cohesive outcomes, it also means decisions are significantly more likely to reflect our values.
Are you happy to offer a hybrid working model of home/office post-covid?
Circuit has always worked remotely and will continue to do so as a post-covid workforce. As a technology startup, getting the best talent is key and the best people will not necessarily be in the same time zone. It is because of this that we champion remote working, recruiting within GMT +/- 5hrs to make sure everyone can communicate well across their working days.
Do you have any tips for managing suppliers and customers effectively?
How you manage customers really depends on the size of your customers. If you’re selling to individuals or small businesses, it’s incredibly important that customers are able to do everything for themselves. The product, documentation and everything else must be built so that they can solve their own problems, otherwise you’ll run into significant cost and scaling issues as you grow.
For suppliers, as a new company you have very little ability to negotiate or manage them. As you scale though, your business becomes more important to your suppliers, and as such you become increasingly able to negotiate discounts, and importantly, better payment terms. Net-30 or Net-60 terms free up a significant amount of short-term cash that you can use to further invest in growth.
Any finance or cash-flow tips for new businesses starting out?
We’ve always focussed on charging from the very first day. Paying customers give very different feedback to those using a product for free. You need this honesty to refine your service and make it as user-friendly as possible.
Making customers pay will also indicate the long-term success of your business. Nothing tells you if a customer would be willing to pay for something like actually asking them to pay now. This was an integral part of funding our business, as we were forced to solve problems and give real value right away.
If you could ask one thing of the government to change for businesses what would it be?
I think the government is doing a good job around encouraging the startup environment in the UK and allowing new companies to grow and thrive. I’d like to see more grants for businesses attempting to tackle the climate problem, but aside from that I’m happy with the level of support available.
What is your attitude towards your competitors?
We generally do not care what our competitors are doing. Whilst we have competitors for each of the products we’re building, some larger and some smaller than us, we’re on different paths to each of them. Our long term vision involves capturing the currently lost efficiency at the intersection of our three products, meaning our short term strategy is very different to everyone else.
Any thoughts on the future of your company and your dreams?
As e-commerce continues to grow, there has never been a better time to fix the system than now. The delivery industry is not working at its most efficient and we are currently seeing how this trickles down into daily logistics, with a driver shortage making pre-existing issues more difficult to handle. Delivery driving is not an easy role and coupled with underpayment, it can seem unattractive. In the future, through improving efficiency within the delivery system, we hope to see retailers and couriers using data and customer feedback to recruit the best drivers and offer them more competitive salaries representative of their new role as brand front of house.