When bpost took over the courier service Bubble Post two years ago, co-founder Anthony Viaene had been playing with a new idea for a while. Finally, at the end of last year, he revealed the start-up Dropon, which uses transport management software to help companies with their logistics planning. But what lessons and insights does Viaene take away from Bubble Post? And what are the plans for Dropon? He lays it all out in the latest Techmag episode and gives a few exclusive findings to Bloovi.
Bubble Post in a (not so) new way
Weird to say the least: the basis of Dropon is the planning software developed by Bubble Post. The former CTO decided to buy back the IP and software from Bpost and further develop it. After all, it had delivered significant time savings to Bubble Post, now owned by bpost.
“To be honest, I already wanted to further develop and commercialize the software at Bubble Post”, laughs Viaene. “Entrepreneurship is in my blood, I had even already developed a mini business plan. But the management team, together with all the shareholders, decided to leave it for what it was. Not so incomprehensible: Bubble Post was not yet profitable and had not yet reached its maturity.”
With the Dropon software, transportation companies and SMEs can plan and manage their deliveries. A smart algorithm determines the fastest route, for which the company relies on historical and current traffic data. “The routes are sent to the couriers’ and drivers’ smartphones,” Viaene explains. “They receive bite-sized instructions on how to deliver the packages. Furthermore, each round is followed up in real-time, which makes quick adjustments to routes possible.”
Dropon needs to eliminate frustrations for both the delivery person and the recipient. Transparency is key, both parties can track the route in real-time. Does the estimated delivery time change? Then the recipient gets sent an update automatically. “Traffic jams often throw a spanner in the works,” says Viaene. “If there is a delay, many delivery services leave the recipient in the dark. I think we are really closing a gap in the market with this feature.”
First, get to know customers then choose them
Nearly every company could benefit from using Dropon, although the young company made the decision not to try and serve the entire market. A very conscious choice, which the start-up could only make by engaging in dialogue with its target market.
“In the past, I had to learn to talk to customers and listen to their needs,” confesses Viaene. “And that was not easy, because I am an introvert by nature. Fortunately, at Bubble Post, I was forced to get out of my comfort zone. By constantly engaging with our users, I learned what needs and frustrations they had.”
“Together with Jonathan (Carette, co-founder of Dropon) we listed a series of functionalities that could add value. Naturally, you can’t do everything for everyone, so we made strict yet well-considered choices. Customer segmentation is my recommendation for every start-up. Through this technique, we found that SMP’s active in production and home delivery were eligible to use our software but then also transportation firms. As expected you need a different set of features for each group. We evaluated for which category our solutions offered the most value. Based on that we then further narrowed down our list with functionalities.”
Self-knowledge and adversity: the principles of wisdom
Viaene not only knows Dropon customers to perfection: in his younger years the Ghent native has acquired quite a bit of self-knowledge. Allegedly, this was the inevitable result of the turbulent Bubble Post adventure and related setbacks. “I encountered myself there” Viaene says wholeheartedly. “Looking back on everything that happened, I can say it was my optimism that kept me going.”
Looking back on everything that has happened, I can say it was my optimism that kept me going
“Not for a second did I think about quitting. I was the only founder left when Bubble Post was sold to bpost. Even when the company was going through a rough patch or when Ben left, I kept seeing things through rose-coloured glasses. Some people only see the problem, but I always look at the solution. What else can I do to get out of a situation? How do I keep my head cool in these circumstances? Don’t get me wrong – I was never on a cloud, but I did always try to put things in perspective. You have to in these situations”
Consequently, Viaene has also learned to just let go of control. That’s about stress management, but also about letting go of responsibilities. “As a CTO, I used to want to supervise everything that was happening,” he looks back. “But as your team grows, you can’t do that anymore or it will damage your business. So learning to let go also means learning to delegate and learning to manage.”
Are humanity and KPIs mutually exclusive?
As in the courier business, Viaene at Dropon wants to invest heavily in the human aspect of the company. Still, according to him, there are a number of areas of concern. “In the beginning, Bubble Post was very value-driven, and we had an exceptionally flat business structure,” Viaene continues. “That was a great time, but that disappears once you have a hundred people on staff. Suddenly you’re a scale-up, and you’re completely focused on KPIs and cost-cutting. If everyone in your company has decision-making power at a time like that, it’s complete chaos.”
I myself have grown tremendously by doing fun things outside my comfort zone, so I try to provide this to the team as well
Viaene may still be introverted in character, but he says he is quite sensitive and feels it is important to get to know everyone on the team. “I want to know what our team members like or don’t like doing, as well as give them the space to develop themselves further“. “I myself have grown tremendously by doing fun things outside my comfort zone, so I try to provide this to the team as well. For example, on Friday afternoons our developers can do whatever they feel like. They can experiment with cool features and ideas, for example, so that they are and remain involved with the product. The atmosphere of unity and companionship in a team is ultimately what you do it for as an entrepreneur.”