“Maybe you can’t compete without disrupting” – Sendle CEO chats scale, brand building and empowering small business
Founder and CEO of Australian delivery start-up Sendle tells Marketing about the company’s early growing pains and how it became Australia Post’s scariest rival.
If you haven’t heard of Sendle, it’s an Australian door-to-door parcel delivery service that opened its doors in 2014 – built in direct contention with Australia Post. According to founder and CEO James Chin Moody, Sendle is built to empower small businesses with the delivery means of their more established counterparts. “Australians have a lot of choice with many things,” Chin Moody explains, “you have Telstra and Optus, Virgin and Qantas, you can choose between banks – but really, if you’re a small business, there’s a functional monopoly in place with Australia Post.”
And Sendle’s rivalry with Australia Post doesn’t end with core business positioning. In 2015 the nation’s postal service took the then year-old start-up to court over its allegedly misleading slogan, ‘Post without the office.’ A very public two-year legal battle later in 2017, IP Australia ruled in Sendle’s favour, agreeing that there was no prospect for confusion between Sendle and Australia Post’s use of the word ‘post.’
These days Chin Moody has other things on his mind, like expanding the business to dig deeper into the Australian small business economy or the $20 million of Series B funding the company just raised. Sendle now facilitates more than a quarter of a billion dollars worth of small business in Australia and lately has seen growth of around 15% per month.
Calling from sunny Manila, Chin Moody spoke with Marketing about how Sendle’s approach to scale has changed, how purpose has driven his appetite for business since the very start and possibilities of Sendle reaching outside Australia.
Marketing: In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald in 2015 you said that Sendle is positioned to “aggressively compete with” rather than “disrupt” Australia Post. Looking back on the kind of progress Sendle has had since then, do you still see this as true to the company?
James Chin Moody: Maybe you can’t compete without disrupting. First and foremost are our customers, we just want to give them options and a better parcel delivery experience. Because for so many of them, they have to stand up to the big businesses in this world, and one of the areas where they often get beaten is in logistics. We don’t think that it costs Harvey Norman $45 to send a parcel from Sydney to Perth, so why should small businesses have to pay that amount?
Competition is really healthy, it’s great for everybody – great for customers and also great for businesses – which is why I think of [Sendle] more of a fully-fledged competitor to Australia Post. Maybe the best way to think about it is we’re trying to level the playing field, that’s how we start to fulfil our purpose.
We level the playing field between small business and big business, we also level the playing field across Australia because it’s the same price to send a parcel from Perth to Sydney as it is from Melbourne to Sydney or from Armadale to Sydney. If you’re living in a regional centre, you can now compete on the same level playing field as someone who’s living in a big capital city. That’s very important as well and very much part of our ethos around being a business that actually really cares about this segment of the market.
How has your approach to scaling changed in terms of technology and philosophy since you started the company in 2014?
My journey as a cofounder has definitely been one where you start off and have options, all these things you could possibly do; but the journey actually turns out to be about starting to focus. You find that bigger you get, ironically enough, you realise the fewer things you need to do really well. We decided very early on that you can make a choice – you can either be 80% good to everybody or you could be 100% good to the people that you want to serve.
We really think that’s one of the biggest key differences between us and Australia Post because they have to be 80% good to everyone, so how could you possibly focus on one single market segment? We’d rather be 100% good to the 20-30% of small businesses out there. That, for me, is a real choice of focus. Our journey is going to be more and more focused – because the thing is it actually frees you up to only build the things that are necessary for those people and customers that you want to serve.
Purpose appears to be at the core of Sendle as an organisation. Do you believe authentic and effective purpose can be achieved by a company where this is not strictly the case?
I think everyone is becoming a lot more savvy, they can actually smell when a company is not being authentic. I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve been involved in a lot of purpose-led things for a lot of my life – I was involved with the United Nations environment program, I used to work for the CSRIO (the purpose of which is to build Australia’s innovation systems). For me, I didn’t want to be part of a business that didn’t have a purpose, to have a positive environmental and social impact on society. That’s the reason why we talk a lot about what our purpose is – we’re helping small business thrive.
We love the fact that we’re creating diversity. One of of the things about small business is not only is it the life-blood of the Australian economy but it’s actually such a diverse landscape. It’s also the reason why we’re the only 100% carbon neutral delivery service in Australia. We want to have a positive impact, or at least a non-negative impact, on the world as we send our parcels. We want to take responsibility. We take responsibility for every delivery and that means taking responsibility for the carbon emission that a parcel creates as it travels across the country or around the world.
Can you describe a speed bump you weren’t necessarily anticipating during the development of the company?
It’s interesting with Sendle because we were actually our own first customer. We started our life as a giving platform, a marketplace for giving. What giving means is if you want to help people give, it really needs frictionless, easy, affordable logistics. In fact, one of the interesting things when we first realised that we could be logistics for more than just ourselves and maybe we had a bigger purpose which was to help all the makers, sharers and small businesses that were out there.
We created Sendle but we didn’t actually shut down the giving marketplace – and I think there was a really big lesson there for us. A friend of mine once said to me, “If you try to chase two rabbits you don’t catch either.” There was a big speed bump for us around making the tough decisions. But I think that was a big lesson for the whole team. Once we’d made that decision, we were very much liberated. It was a very hard choice because we loved the first business, and when we first started we weren’t nearly as clear about all the customer needs that we were meeting as we are now. It’s been a real process of discovery and focus.
The other part of Sendle’s DNA is that we’re systems integrators. When we talk about why we can do what we can do, and thinking about why we help small businesses do what they want to do is: we build on top of the great work of others.
If you’re talking about another one of the road blocks we had early on as well – we didn’t actually have really great ways of reaching our customers. Basically the moment we started using HubSpot was when we actually won, until then we could never actually optimise our growth. Secondly, we were sort of all over the shop and it wasn’t until we brought that all under one roof that we were then able to monitor and actually track our marketing.
I reckon five years ago we wouldn’t have been able to build this business the way we have now. If you think about how far we’ve come in terms of the tools that are available to marketers, it’s quite phenomenal. But again, it’s about levelling the playing field – how does a small business actually start to compete with big businesses? Well, unite and bring together their tools, because big businesses have had them for so long.
In terms of the marketing piece, it was HubSpot that we stood on the shoulders of to really improve our marketing efficiency.
The brand’s identity is quite youthful, a bit cheeky – was this a reflection of the people running the company when it started or borne out of the brand market positioning?
Thinking about the team, none of us take ourselves too seriously. If you really think about the name, we really just started with three words, which were the things that we thought small business needed: simple, reliable and affordable. For us, that sort of extended into the name Sendle.
One of the bits that was really interesting was when we were trying to think of a tagline – how would we describe our service? A very simple way, we thought, of describing it was ‘post without the office.’ It’s a good way to differentiate from Australia Post. It was designed to say, ‘we can send parcels anywhere you need to, but you don’t have to deal with the complexity or line up at the post office.’
As a result of that, and this is what happens when you have monopolies, is Australia Post decided to take us to court. And in fact it has done that with many other companies as well, where it basically tries to throw legal [action] at them. But we decided that if our customers, small businesses, stand up to big business everyday, we need to stand up to our large competitor. In the end we actually won.
It’s all about being authentic for us, the brand does reflect who we are. And if it doesn’t, you can’t continue that way. You just have to be authentic.
Any plans to take Sendle international?
We raised some money at the beginning of this year through series B. A lot of that is for us to continue to push down on the Australian market because we have tens of thousands of small businesses that we already serve, and we believe that there’s many more that deserve a better parcel delivery solution. So we’re going to continue to push down.
That being said, we’re actually starting to explore where else the Sendle model could work – the model being an alternative to national postal monopolies. That’s the fun bit, but frankly I’d say we’re focusing very much on the Australian market.