Stuart Miller, co-founder and CEO of ByBox reveals how his supply chain management company went from a regional start-up to an international success.
Oxfordshire might seem like an unlikely base from which to transform the globe, but that didn’t stop Stuart Miller, ByBox co-founder. His innovative business codes software, creates technology and builds infrastructure to make complicated supply chains work better. They’ve spread throughout twenty-one countries so far and are proof that businesses outside of London can thrive just as much as those inside the M25. We spoke to Stuart Miller about his business journey – his failures, his achievements and everything in-between.
Where did the idea for ByBox come from?
It was obvious that the way retailers delivered goods wasn’t working; delivering stuff to your home when you’re not there isn’t practical. So, our original idea was to have banks of lockers on customer-friendly locations.
How did this idea progress and form the business that you have today?
We launched our original venture in Silicon Valley, in February 2000. However, the bubble soon burst when the internet crashed. After losing nearly all our money, we came home and bumped into some people at a tradeshow who gave us the idea for using the same fundamental technology – software and lockers, not for delivering consumer goods but for delivering critical parts to field engineers. We had hit upon a different application for the technology that was everything our original consumer idea wasn’t. This pivot into the B2B world was a turning point in our business journey because it enabled us to start regionally and then accelerate through to national and international.
With your new business plan in place, how did you approach the expansion process?
There are two important things to grasp before you expand your business.
The first – so many business plans are focused on something new or cool but, unless you’re clear on the problem that you’re solving and who you’re solving it for, nobody’s going to pay you.
The second – most start-ups are constrained by numerable things, but those constraints are the cornerstones of creativity. There’s a great quote by the nuclear physicist, Ernest Rutherford, who said, “we haven’t got the money, so we’ve got to think!” For me, that drives straight to the heart of what good entrepreneurs do, which is to embrace the constraints that are imposed on them and then work within them. Our business constraint was – how do we make one locker bank commercially viable? If we can make one site work commercially then we’ve cracked it because then there’s no limit to how many more we could make or to how far the business could grow.
So, how did you go from being regionally based to being a national business?
The first locker bank we installed in the UK was on a business park in Oxfordshire. Every company on that site had their own ByBox delivery code. Our luck turned when we acquired the Field Service division of Hays DX, who delivered parts to engineers over a national network of about one thousand locations. We supplemented their mechanical locker network with our electronic, more intelligent one and provided customers with a better, added-value service. We were very fortunate to go from a pilot site in Oxfordshire to a national network.
You’re now international; how did you make this transition?
At the start of this transition, we made so many mistakes. The first territory we went into was France. We assumed it would be easy to expand there because an early investor of ours was French, we had a factory based there and we had an anchor customer. But it differed so much from doing business in the UK. I think the biggest thing was the difference in culture. You need to adapt your business approach from country to country.
How has mobile technology impacted the growth of your business?
Mobile technology has had a massive impact. I couldn’t run the business without it because it’s core to our product – it’s built-in to our app-controlled lockers. In the past, our electronic lockers were operated via a central console but, because it was so expensive to make, site options were limited. Our app-lockers allowed us to remove the console and replace it with a mobile. Now, we’re able to wrap our innovative software around a low cost but high-tech locker solution and place them anywhere.
Do you have any more advice for start-up businesses?
Companies that are going through the start-up and scale-up phase and those that have genuine and purposeful plans for international growth tend to be more successful than those that don’t. It engenders a different level of ambition into the business and attracts a certain kind of employee. Whereas, if you set your sights locally you tend to get what you dreamt of. So, set your sights globally and plan for success.
If, like ByBox, you’re a start-up based outside of London then read our five top tips to boost your regional business and make you ready for anything.