One for the road: the online courier

Tired of empty-handed return trips, motorcycle courier Mark Cairns has set up the Expeditus Internet exchange for companies to...

Tired of empty-handed return trips, motorcycle courier Mark Cairns has set up the Expeditus Internet exchange for companies to swap jobs and use up spare capacity.

How did you get the idea for Expeditus?
I used to work as a courier while struggling to make it as a photographer. I had the idea in 1984 filling up at an M1 service station while returning empty-handed from Birmingham.

I saw a Brummie courier travelling back up to Birmingham without a load, and I just thought "why don't I give him £5 and get him to take the package for me, and then he can post me a proof of delivery". I tried to get the idea off of the ground, and had virtually raised the money before walking away from it. I started looking into it again a few years ago following the arrival of the Internet.

Generally speaking, B2B marketplaces are not doing too well. How will Expeditus succeed?
We estimate that the same-day courier market in the UK is worth over £1bn a year, with up to 50% wastage as a result of a bike or van completing half of any journey without a package.

Our system puts this spare capacity up for grabs, enabling couriers to trade with each other over a secure network where they can both pay and get paid for work they undertake.

These guys already sub-contract loads of work between each other anyway. Around 1% of the companies account for 75% of the volume and we are talking to all of these.

We are also targeting the smaller couriers by phone and direct mail campaigns. We are getting volume of business from the big guys and geographical coverage from the smaller ones.

The courier industry is not a big user of IT. Is that a problem?
Most courier companies have some sort of computer system, however basic, and all they need to access Expeditus is a browser. All the information and fields we use are recognisable and the system is intuitive.

We have a good team of eight people on our first line helpdesk, and two technology support people who can also help out.

What has been your biggest break so far?
I am a real non-counter of chickens, but when Consulta, our venture capital backers, agreed to fund us with £1.5m last September, I went home in a daze. Part of the business plan included a new bike for me, so I stopped off at the Daytona bike shop in Islington on the way home and bought a Honda VFR800.

You haven't worked in an office for a while, how are you finding it?
I have worked in offices before, but now that I'm the boss I'm a lot better at it than some of the assholes I worked with before.

What is the hardest thing about your new role?
The responsibility. I have employees now and it takes some getting used to. It can make you get up in the middle of the night to check your emails.

Do you miss the road?
I am out on it every day, with my laptop strapped on the back of my bike as I travel around to make presentations. Bikers aren't like other road users. If you break down alongside a motorway, the first bike that comes along will stop to offer some help.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?
I would still be a photographer. I still do it a bit now - I did Geri Halliwell a couple of weeks ago - you don't turn down an ex-Spice Girl. In fact, I haven't invoiced for it yet!


This was last published in August 2001

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