Jason Psillos. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Jason Psillos. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

If you live in Joburg, chances are you’ve seen a 1Fetch motorbike darting through the traffic on assignment. This army of bikes, alongside the growing fleets of food-delivery scooters, is riding on Uber’s coattails – and making a success of it.

"The idea of 1Fetch was born out of the recent ‘Uberisation’ of everything — we identified an opportunity to provide people and businesses with instant access to a quick and easy courier solution," says co-founder and CEO Jason Psillos.

Launched in mid-2016, 1Fetch provides an on-demand courier service using a fleet of mostly company-owned motorbikes.

Like Uber — the epitome of the burgeoning platform, or sharing, economy — 1Fetch’s drivers are equipped with smartphones, thus providing users with real-time updates of their deliveries.

But while Uber is taking on traditional cabs, Psillos says his company does not compete with major delivery services, since its niche is "urgent and express same-day deliveries" in cities.

Traditional couriers still tend to operate "milk run" models, whereby they collect parcels along their daily routes, take them back to central sorting points, and then distribute from there.

There is evidence that a market exists for on-demand delivery services. The 1Fetch platform, accessible via an app or the web, now has about 4,000 registered accounts, many of which are corporate clients that have chosen to outsource at least some of their delivery needs.

Internet service provider Afrihost, for example, uses 1Fetch to deliver SIM cards and modems, while several law firms, financial services companies and small businesses are also going this route, according to Psillos.

And 1Fetch is not the only player in this segment of the market. Cape Town-based rivals uDrop and Picup are also jostling for position as consumers and businesses warm to the idea.

After building the business to a point of sufficient scale in Joburg, 1Fetch plans to launch services in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town over the next two years.

"The core to the business is the technology platform, which allows us to scale with a greater ease than usual," Psillos tells the FM at 1Fetch’s offices in Rivonia, Joburg.

The company is also considering a shift from its initial bike-ownership model to one that includes outsourcing, since the use of external driver services — like Uber does — should allow it to scale up faster, he says.

"We are also potentially looking to align ourselves with the right strategic partner at some stage in the future."

A chartered accountant, Psillos says his previous stints in the financial services industry did little to satisfy his entrepreneurial ambitions.

"I’ve always had an eye on technology and like to think of myself as relatively tech savvy."

But seeing a business through the start-up phase is no easy task, and one that requires a healthy dose of "patience and perseverance".

He says: "You need to believe in your offering and then you need the opportunity to prove the value of your offering … It’s often a chicken-and-egg situation, but once you have that one credible client who sees the value in what you’re doing, the path becomes clearer.

"It’s amazing how things begin to gain traction and how the business starts to feed on itself after a certain amount of time."

Fortunately for 1Fetch, the company also had funders that were optimistic about its prospects — an important ingredient given that start-ups often take up to three years to find their feet.

"We’ve been lucky enough to have had the right set of initial investors and believe that we’ve now moved past the start-up phase … We have encouraging positive momentum and we’re entering the next stage of our lifecycle, which entails scaling the business up and taking it to the next level."