In October 2023, first- and last-mile technology business Doddle announced that it was to be acquired by Blue Yonder, a leading supply chain solutions provider and part of Panasonic. We caught up with Doddle CEO Tim Robinson who co-founded the business with Sir Lloyd Dorfman, to find out more.
Doddle started up over 10 years ago – can you talk us though its journey from start up to acquisition?
While the business has evolved over the past 10 years, Doddle has always had the same mission: to make e-commerce seamless, sustainable and profitable through a better first and last mile. We started life as a joint venture with Network Rail to tackle the inefficiencies in home delivery with the UK’s first tech-enabled pick-up, drop-off (PUDO) network. Our strategy was to have parcel collection shops at railway stations. We then branched out from the railways into high streets and handled millions of parcels for Britain’s biggest retailers through our network. Customer experience and digital technology was at the heart of our offering and over time we decided that our core value was empowering carriers and retailers through this technology.
On that journey we have certainly benefitted from several years of private ownership (the business was acquired outright by Sir Lloyd Dorfman in 2017) which meant that we could focus on what needed to be done and weren’t saddled with having to hold constant rounds of fundraising and/or make crippling repayments. We also didn’t have stakeholders who just wanted their money back at any cost. For Lloyd and the business, it wasn’t just about exiting but how we exited and where we exited to, and what that would mean for the business and its people. In short it was important to find the right buyer.
What were you looking for in a buyer and why?
If you look at what we have achieved, we have a strong software product and solution that has been successfully deployed in multiple geographies and languages with some huge and complex companies. Our solutions tackle the ever-growing efficiency challenge of final-mile delivery and the increasing financial and societal problems around returns. I think we have always punched above our weight when it comes to thought leadership and brand.
So, unlike many tech businesses we weren’t looking for a blank cheque of investment to further develop our products – our biggest challenge was scale. We have been operating with modest sales and marketing budgets and limited scale so pace has always been a challenge. In fact, if you are looking for examples of tech startups that have been internationally successful and gained a large global presence independently in the past decade you need to look hard – you can count them on the fingers of one hand. Achieving scale is very expensive.
How did the deal come about?
We had initial contact with Blue Yonder in 2021 as we felt it would be a great fit. They were in the process of being acquired by Panasonic and we felt that Panasonic’s long term global vision was exciting and reflected ours – but was just much bigger!
Blue Yonder were firmly top of my list. Despite the fact that they have been established for over 40 years they are still growing with turnover up year-on-year. They continue to invest heavily, US$1bn across three years in product development, and have a 700-strong and growing sales team.
During our journey it’s tempting to look back at some of the good things that happened and convince yourself that they were all part of plan – when in reality there is usually a bit of luck in it all. But hand on heart, our acquisition by Blue Yonder was part of the plan – and we couldn’t be happier about it.
Why do you think Doddle was such a good fit?
Blue Yonder is on a mission to build the “supply chain operating system for the world” and we clearly fit well into that as we strive to be “the most sought-after delivery partner in e-commerce”. Prior to this acquisition Blue Yonder had some product gaps where it came to returns management and final-mile delivery. With Doddle, they fill those gaps and are able to close the loop on being able to manage the full lifecycle of an online order. No-one else has that broad capability at scale.
And as is often the case, timing was a factor. The issue of returns is fast reaching a crunch point for both retailers and carriers. It’s a hot space at the moment as currently, for every US$1bn in sales, retailers incur US$165m in returns.
What has been the response from your customers?
We already share several clients with Blue Yonder and are selling to many of the same businesses. The response from our clients has been really positive, particularly once they have been reassured that they will be dealing with the same people. In reality, all of our clients took a bit of a punt on us – particularly in the early days when we were small and unproven. What we do is very prominent and public facing with consumers interacting with our software at checkouts and on the returns pages of over 1,000 web stores. The new backing from Blue Yonder kind of validates their earlier decision and provides an extra layer of reassurance around our long-term viability, ambition and capability.
How do you feel about this next chapter?
I’m excited. I have always been obsessed by “why” Doddle exists rather than by “what” Doddle does and this has been reflected in our ability to pivot and evolve within our space. Blue Yonder is evolving massively right now, leading a transformation across supply chain that will see us all leverage new technologies, make better use of data and develop our belief in the power of the supply chain to drive growth and change. I love being part of an evolution so what better place could there be for Doddle to continue its own evolution.