A chat with Bassel El-Koussa, Founder and CEO of Quiqup
Gen caught up with Bassel El-Koussa, Founder and CEO of Quiqup. After their successful launch across the UK, we chatted about their rapid growth and expansion internationally.
Quiqup is an on-demand delivery service, revolutionising the way in which companies and consumers connect to local London retailers and restaurants. Whatever you need, from food and drink to useful items and gifts, simply place your order via the app and Quiqup will collect and deliver it to your door within the hour.
Watch the video here or look below to read the transcript:
G: Hi guys my name is Gen George and today we have a very special guest, we’ve got Bassel from Quiqup in London! So Bassel, please introduce yourself. Who are you, what do you do?
B: Hi, my name is Bassel - I'm the CEO of Quiqup. Basically I'm an entrepreneur, if you want. I started Quiqup about four years ago. I come from a very non-linear background going into startup world so I worked in family business and industrial manufacturing in Beirut and Saudi Arabia. So I'm from Lebanon. I then kind of found my way into private equity for a bit and then into a family office VC fund here in London where I met my co-founders.
So first day at work I end up bumping into a guy having conversation about Hip-Hop music, which ended up in us going out for a drink and then I kind of snowballed into us deciding to start a business together as all great ideas start over a conversation or music. So, yeah, I mean we started a business about four years ago now. So September 2013 was kind of when we left our jobs. Myself alongside three other people and then the fifth, then a fourth joined us so like we’re four/five co-founders in total. Basically we started off the business with this idea of, alright we want to create an app that would give people the ability to get stuff delivered to them in one hour. Like it was the, the whole concept was you.
London has a very demanding lifestyle when you’re working in it so if you wanted to grocery shopping after work, that’s your whole evening gone and you kind of, it’s kind of hard to like get things to you like there isn’t the service culture of London in terms of like retail services is not really there. Back home in Lebanon, I grew up in a city where literally anything could be delivered with a phone call. And so it made a lot of sense for us and kind of it resonated with me and it made a lot of sense for us to create like this simple app, you type in what you want, where you want it from, boom you get it.
When we launched and it was a bit counterintuitive the way we launched, we kind of made it impossible for people to get access to the app. So we had we launched it with like a few people that we kind of knew from our party days who would have a lot of influence on the people around them and so we gave them access to the app and we made it impossible for other people to join unless they got like several people who were in the network, kind of recommending them…and I created a hype and then when we launched it on the app store, it just like went oh!
G: Sorry it seems very much like Uber story like when they did it, it was just for their kind of friends kind of thing, very exclusive.
B: Yeah exactly and it kind of creates that hype and like people who had access would basically post on social media and you know make a big fuss about the fact that they had access to it. So yeah, one hundred percent. It’s you know it’s the same feeling, it’s like if you’re refused at a door of a like a club or something, you kind of want to get in even more. It’s like human nature in a way. So anyway so when we launched, we realized you know we had a really we’re really good growth front in the first year but we realized that we were kind of appealing more to like an affluent lifestyle oriented crowd, like the affluent areas in central London. What was running underneath the service is kind of a logistics model and this model kind of lends itself to volume and density so you need to, so for this business to be significant you really needed to grow in size. But the price point was really high and we thought that how are we going to bring this price point down and make our service more accessible.
Well it meant that we needed to create some sort of a marketplace where we’d have relationships with some of the stores that we would go to the most and basically through that relationship we can kind of bring down the delivery fee to the customer and go on a revenue share agreement with these retailers and restaurants.
And that was year two, so the year two was when we launched this marketplace and we made our service a lot more accessible to a wider audience and we began to see it spread outside of these areas and we began to see a different kind of client coming to use Quiqup and we had a quite a decent run rate year to a growth rate year two, as a result of that. But what we saw is that the kind of like with the bigger names, the bigger brands were the ones that were bringing the most amount of traffic to the Quiqup app so let’s if we had Tesco on the app, we were going to be able to kind of attract quite a big audience as a result.
And so we started our conversation with these retailers and at the time, Amazon was doing quite a lot in the States so Amazon Prime now launched, Amazon Fresh launched and we were having conversations with all these big brand retailers and what we realized is that these retailers were beginning to feel the pressure of kind of needing to adapt to the change in landscape and they didn’t want to be disintermediated, they didn’t want to come on to our app because they didn’t want to just give us their customer. They wanted to own the customer, they wanted to create their own digital presence and so we went back and we thought, “How can we tackle this kind of evolution in the retail marketplace?” We began to see that there’s like a like an actual movement towards physical retail adopting this kind of omni-channel strategy and leveraging its actual physical presence in the local marketplace to be able to deliver to customers faster so we thought that there’s an actual that needs solving and it’s actually giving, empowering and enabling these retailers to take advantage of this new channel of business.
And so as we have been building Quiqup, what was running the back end was last mile logistics infrastructure. And that’s what we needed you know, we kind of like built it without knowing we were building it. We needed it to run so that we can deliver our service. But I mean we looked internally, we’re like okay what if we kind of packaged this infrastructure up and like we create an API around, we build an API around it that we can then provide to retailers as a solution for them to be able to participate in this kind of new channel of business. And we did that, the business took a huge turn, lots of issues internally about why are we doing this and this is taking away our focus and yeah I think you know quite a lot about like what kind of like a bit of a pivot feels like and you need to really fight and try and you kind of get people to believe in what it is that you’re doing because you’re pretty much screwing everybody’s roadmap. But we did it.
G: You do it with a smile on your face though!
I: Of course, that’s the whole point, you do it with a smile on your face and full confidence because if you don’t show that confidence, then no one’s going to believe although you’re scared shitless that it’s not going to work. That’s the reality but then we did it and in fact May or June 2016 we kind of, we signed our first client so Burger King was launching its own website, eh delivery website so bkdelivers.com and we built a solution for them that would basically use our network of couriers to deliver for Burger King directly. That was our first client and then shortly after we managed to secure a few SMEs and then shortly after we caught the attention of Tesco and we actually launched a partnership with Tesco about three or four months ago. And we kind of re-established ourselves as a last mile logistics solutions company and this is kind of where we stand now.
So what we believe in, we believe in this transformation of physical retail and into kind of like omni-channel retail and we believe that a lot of…and we believe that same-day delivery is going to be kind of the norm going forward and we believe that having local inventory in the local market is an advantage for retailers and for them to take, to use that advantage they need a real-time logistics there that can come in and enable that, the fulfillment in last mile and that is exactly what we’re trying to achieve.
G: That’s fantastic and it’s an incredible story, it’s amazing you know, it’s gutsy. You quit your jobs, you took that first step which is really challenging for a lot of people and a lot of startups are still questioning when is that right point to kind of stop doing that full-time job and take that leap. What was going through your head when you made that decision?
B: I mean listen like I can try to sell you something inspirational, the reality is that I just like my mind, except I want my freedom and because I just, I just didn’t enjoy doing a single job. I didn’t, I felt that like the way that I am and the way as a person, I'm extremely curious, I need to constantly be stimulated, I felt that I needed, I needed to create something. I needed to work in something where I could get involved in all the facets of its existence and so and the moment that an idea clicked in my head that was all I could think about. I just went for it you know.
G: That’s fantastic and what do you like then as a leader? You know you’ve got to deal with, you’ve got to manage so many people and direct them in a direction and keep screwing things up, learning from it and evolving as a company. How do you manage that as a leader?
B: By hiring awesome people and trusting in them and doing everything you can to enable them and create an environment where they can really bring the best out of themselves. And that is the way that I operate. I do not believe in like a concentration of like authority and power and decision making, it just doesn’t make any sense.
There’s a point why a company has many people, there’s a lot of power in unlocking the collective IQs of everyone. And that we always kind of like strive towards doing that and kind of in reflecting on our culture and we’re trying to do at Quiqup, we are constantly thinking about ways in which we can enable people you know to kind of work freely within the company and contribute in several ways. So we’re in the process of restructuring the whole organization into kind of small teams and these teams will be product teams and support teams and have one specific function where that team has its own developers, its own kind of team leaders, its own product owners and they and the team is multidisciplinary. And it’s similar to some of the stuff that like Sun have and an inspiration from a conversation I had with the CEO of TransferWise. They kind of adopt a similar mentality there and the idea is they make their own roadmap, they make their own decisions, they are guided by a kind of like a high-level strategy and a mission statement that kind of governs the way every team operates.
And so this is the way for us to kind of give people the ability to see what’s going on in the different functions of the same thing that they’re working on. Because you have this marketing person that’s sitting right next to an engineer and so that conversation can spark quite a lot that can inform both in a completely different way than if they had that like weekly meeting, for example. And also, if they have the autonomy to kind of make decisions themselves and choose like the path basically.
G: Yeah, that’s fantastic. It’s a really interesting way of cutting, you know getting everyone together. I don’t think ive seen that that much here in Australia. So I mean you mentioned you got that advice from you know the CEO of TransferWise and you know looking at other companies like SoundCloud, what do you look to for inspiration? Are there particular podcasts you listen to, books that you read you know or do you have mentors? What do you look to?
B: Listen I have a lot of conversation with a lot of people and sometimes the advice that I take comes from people that have nothing to do the industry whatsoever. And sometimes it’s people that like are in like very traditional industries that kind of like inspire thought in you. I don’t think that there’s anything that kind of like gives you a formula and so you kind of need to…because every company is a completely different organism and you need to really understand your, your… the beast that you’ve created. You really need to understand that very well and once you have a good pulse on your company and you understand the dynamics of how people collectively… business itself is an industry you’re in, your decisions kind of come from within and they’re inspired by the tons of conversations that you have with a lot of people. So I don’t think that there’s a particular podcast that I follow or I’ve read books but I mean they’re…they kind of spark ideas but there’s not one answer to be honest.
G: That’s great, that’s fantastic! And so I mean you as a leader you have a lot of different challenges on your plate you know. You’re across different time zones, you’ve got lots of people asking you know where we go and what, how do we deal with this? How do you deal with your mental health side of things making sure you have a clear head, you kind of get that space to kind of think things through?
B: I don’t think that like anyone would have asked this question if they weren’t another entrepreneur! So it’s an active question coming from you then. You know what like you kind of need to find your thing like you know I go once a year into the middle of a desert and like I'm there, it’s where I get my headspace. Nature gives me quite a lot of recharge. You know I also exercise, I do yoga every single week and I fly planes. And that’s a big part of where I get a lot of my peace you know.
G: That’s great!
B: You know you need to find your thing. The answer is definitely you’re not going to find your thing sitting in front of your computer in your office. You need to get out and I really stress that point because I spent the first year and a half I’d say maybe almost two years not leaving office kind of like complaining to myself why I’m not feeling okay and trying to get better while I'm at the office and the reality is that the moment I took myself out of that environment, and I allowed myself to just like go and be free in certain situations, that I realized that I was able to give a lot more. I was able to be a lot more creative and I saw things in a much better perspective. You need to get out, like you just have to, it’s, it’s imperative. But you have to do it for everyone in your company and for yourself.
G: That’s really true. So I mean flying plane, oh my god! How did you get into that?
B: Because I had a massive fear of flying. So like I thought the only way to tackle it is to just like take it you know, like take control of it.
G: That makes sense
B: It’s a very, it’s a very peaceful exercise like it’s really something being up there, near the clouds.
G: That’s awesome. So what’s next for Quiqup? Where are you guys heading?
B: So we have expanded into a couple of cities. So one here in the UK, and one internationally and basically we are in the process of learning quite a lot from these expansions. The idea for us now is to kind of master this model and how it would operate in other geographies. There’s a lot of work we’re doing on the tech but the ideas for then for us to as soon as we kind of get a good grasp of how we’re going to roll out new cities from our learnings. Then it’s about taking us as far as possible.
There’s a lot more work to do on the product, at the moment, we are kind of laser focused on the fulfillment piece so really getting out ETAs right, our dispatching system to optimize the way that we dispatch. And our ability to forecast demand and have the right supply accordingly. There’s like a lot of focus there and us rolling out more propositions on how we fulfill. But then there’s a whole piece on the technology side that enables a retailer to receive an order to have a view on the inventory to checkout and to deliver from within the store. Because you got to think about now in the world that we’re talking about, you got to think about that an actual retailer and small retail, independent one or even a large one that they need to re…they need to adapt themselves to how can they actually receive orders in store and deliver. There’s quite a lot that goes on there that we want to kind of get involved in, so we make it easier for businesses to work with us and kind of leverage our infrastructure. So that’s kind of basically it.
G: Yeah, that’s great! And the startup community or ecosystem in London, what’s that like and would you suggest that that is a place that people should come start a startup if they want to be up to scale quickly?
B: I think London is a great place, it’s quite international. You get exposed to investors from both parts of the world that say east and west and you know you get to interact with quite a lot of, like it’s a very diverse place. And so Quiqup has somewhere around 35 nationalities within it and we’re not a really big company. The city itself is an amazing market because it’s very dense, you have 8 million people here and per capita I think online spend is probably the highest in the world, in UK and particularly in London. And so yeah I definitely encourage people to start businesses here.
G: Wow! And so what are the sort of startups you’re seeing that you think have got some real legs?
B: Wow! Well there’s this company in Australia called Tamme, hah ha. I don’t know, there’s a lot of, Monzo is a very interesting company.
G: What are they?
B: Do you know about Monzo?
B: It’s basically, it’s a fin-tech company, they’re an online bank. They’re bank on an app, basically. That is pretty cool and actually thinking about fin-tech, there’s also Tide, which is providing small business, small to medium sized businesses with like an instant bank account which was like a nightmare for us when we first started Quiqup to get. And yeah I think that those are two very interesting companies that are growing here in the UK.
G: Talking about getting started, you know, some of those challenges, what was the biggest, I guess from an complete ignorance point of view even, what was the biggest challenge you have when you first started that you weren’t expecting?
B: I think it’s like people radiates, you know. You don’t, when you kind of go into it and you’re starting a business, you don’t anticipate and realize that a majority of your job is going to be understanding, managing, motivating people and you need to learn quite a lot about people. And yeah I mean that was, that for me is the biggest challenge, and was and still is.
G: Yeah, and always will be, right?
B: Yeah, yeah.
G: So, for any two-sided marketplaces out there who are looking to start today, anywhere in the world, what are the three things you think that they should do to get started? Besides signing up to Tamme of course!
B: I think there’s a universal truth around getting and it’s not an MVP. I’d say an MLP, a minimum lovable product out there because it’s not just about creating something that is purely functional. You need to integrate something that you will actually kind of like fall in love with. You need that traction on the mountainside in the beginning, you need something to pull so I think that you know, may delighting customers is definitely the way forward. So creating mobile products from that product point of view and like shipping out as soon as you can, then it’s about customer experience. We spend …I was about to curse…we spend a lot of our time on the phone with every single customer that made an order and we try to understand them really well and what it is they wanted then what did they, what is it they wanted to see the product as well and that kind of like affected our roadmap quite a lot.
G: You’ve done deliveries yourself?
B: Yes of course. I mean I’ve done deliveries in a car myself and my co-founder Tim, he’s done quite a lot on a bike which ended up in him losing about like an eight or nine kilos which was actually really good for him and he gained it all back, hah ha.
G: So you would work in that business … just order food all the time
G: … 10 kilos … 20 kilos
B: Hah ha. But yeah I mean that was a big learning experience as well I mean like definitely like be out there and like so we talked about the demand side so creating the minimum lovable product, connecting with the customers and having like a lot of conversations with them in the beginning. But then on the supply side, who is it that’s giving that service, what is it that they do, go do with yourself, understand it, understand everything about it like you want to create a marketplace, you need to understand like the players in the marketplace and you need to feel their pain. So if you’re out there doing the deliveries and like it’s not an easy job and you begin to understand all the things that go through your mind and then you can reflect on that and create something that is going to make life easier for everyone and create value. And for me, that’s the advice I’ve got to give.
G: That’s fantastic. And now are there any go to tools that you use like Segment or obviously Google Analytics or Mixpanel or you know, things that…
B: Oh we use all of the ones you’ve mentioned. So yeah we do use Google Analytics, we do use Segment, we do use Mixpanel. We are looking into using Tamme in the near future as well. I think that’s like you know we went through this process where we end up like subscribing to all of these tools and we ended up seeing that cost rise significantly and it’s easy to get caught up in all the marketing and all the things that are promised.
I think that like less is more, you need to focus on a couple of tools that’s like really are solving an exact problem that you have at the moment and time and are dealing with a certain KPI. Like one thing that we realized with time is that like we first looked at a lot of KPIs and we wanted to make all the KPIs work that you don’t get anywhere so you need to understand your business. The point in time that that certain KPI is important and you focus on that and you try to get that right and then you move on to the next, you cannot just do everything.
G: Yep, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
G: Yeah, definitely. So there’s one question that I ask everyone so please forgive the randomness. If you could have a super power, what would it be and why?
B: I think you can guess that, no? So I would fly! And that’s just because it’s like the ultimate form of freedom and I just want to be able to see the whole world from every single angle. If I can fly and hold and then hold my breath forever, then that’s like perfect.
G: So …plane and have an oxygen tank, so technically you’re holding your breath. I don’t know how that would work but…
G: That’s awesome. And I mean last question, as an entrepreneur, you know, they say it’s the loneliest job, you know, so how do you create that support network around you, family, friends, juggling you know, they might be on a different path to you and not really understand what you’re doing, how do you manage that?
B: By understanding that they don’t understand what you’re doing, (to) begin with. And just like acknowledging that and being okay with that, not trying to force stuff. Having co-founders is amazing, especially if you’re friends. I'm friends with my co-founders, I love these guys. We kind of, in the first year and a half that I described to you, kind of like drifted apart naturally because we’re all like I’m trying to figure ourselves out in this whole thing but then when we came back together it was extremely valuable and that’s something we protect quite a lot. It’s very helpful speaking to others like I mean just you asking me those questions for example that like actually resonate with me because you get it. Like you’re having a couple of other fellow entrepreneurs helps quite a lot. But don’t like your friends and your family, they may not get it entirely but they are there you know and that’s, don’t lose that. It’s very important.
G: Yep, that’s fantastic. Well thank you so much for your time this morning and I know it’s early there in London and I look forward to seeing you shortly.
B: Yeah same here, thank you so much for this, it was fun.