CEO & Founder of ecofleet Farah Asemi speaks to SME News about her journey into becoming a hugely successful business owner in the male dominated logistics industry.
With four million parcels delivered every day in London, it’s easy to appreciate the importance of developing a method of sustainable mobility, whilst maintaining speed, accuracy and exceptional customer service for businesses.
Last year, I founded ecofleet, a sustainable mindful delivery service using electric cargo bikes, with a difference, and now boasts a fleet of over 20 bikes and 17 full time members of staff. Our delivery time is faster and more efficient than any van or parcel car, and all of my riders are highly trained and fully employed by the company. My venture into sustainable mobility came as a total coincidence. In 2018 while I was waiting for the completion of my car’s MOT, I ended up with a serious chest infection arising from the diesel fumes in the garage. The implications were severe, and I started wondering how we can survive with all of this car pollution in a crowded city like London, and not get ill more often.
I have lived most of my adult life in North London, and this city remains my home. Every day, the thought of fighting congested roads which seem to be under constant digging, with 3-way and 4-way temporary traffic lights on every corner, made me want to cancel all of my appointments and simply stay home where I could breathe clean.
I started wondering what the source of all this pollution in my beloved city could be. After some initial research, I realised that diesel engines and lorry and van traffic are the biggest culprits contributing to our poor air quality, and I decided it was high time to take some action. Up until that point, I had never ran a business other than residential property development and rental, and so I started thinking about making a difference in something I am very passionate about: a cleaner environment, less congested streets, and a professional operation I can make a success of. As a mother and humanitarian at heart, my business is built around the imminent need to care for our environment through making small but strategic changes from the bottom up.
Since childhood I have never undertaken a task half-heartedly: it’s got to be either close to perfection, or I would not have my name assigned to it. I was faced with the daunting task of putting together a business plan, hiring staff and preparing HR policies, finding the right electric cargo bikes and warehouse, dealing with trademark registration and pension plans, preparing and doing sales pitches, and working on my branding, to name just a few. What I have learnt in a year would take a three-year university degree to cover!
When we finally hired our first staff and incorporated the company, I sent an email to family and friends announcing that I had just given birth to a new baby called ‘ecofleet – mindful delivery’. What I had gone through so far was the anxieties faced during pregnancy and the pains associated with childbirth. As most of us mothers know, that pain is nothing like the challenges you face raising a child. Like all children, as ecofleet ages, the issues become more complex. As the person in charge, you need to keep everyone happy whilst maintaining a profit. Customers want faster service and lower costs, and staff need and expect tender loving care and a mixture of discipline and motivation.
I have instilled the ‘ecofleet ethos’ to include integrity (my number one priority), focusing on what really matters, optimism, premium quality customer service, and encouraging risk taking. I have entrusted my family savings into this project and do expect to run it as a growing enterprise when one day the name ecofleet will be synonymous with the best in last mile sustainable delivery. I do have sleepless nights, but my optimism and the wonderful people surrounding me give me the courage to move forward at full speed. It’s amazing seeing my riders on the road, it’s a real thrill to sign up a new customer; it’s even more rewarding when I hear directly from my customers that they are happy with our service.
The motivation to create a business which is commercially conscious is also found in the alarming statistics about the impact of toxic air and unsustainable delivery methods. At the current rate, the number of delivery vehicles in major metropolitan cities will grow by 36% by 2030 and as a result, emission from delivery trucks will go up by 32%. It’s recognised that toxic air leads to 40,000 deaths a year in the UK, 9000 of which are in London. I want my business to succeed whilst benefiting the city I call home, and hopefully many others in the future.
The biggest challenge I continue to face is gaining customer acceptance to try our services, to see how we work and how different we are from all other delivery services: We have full PAYE staff; we spend a lot of time and money on training our riders to be safe while giving the best customer experience at delivery point; we have a great technology platform; and we are competitive in pricing. The natural question for our potential customers is: how do we know as a start-up with limited experience in logistics you will be around for us long term? Our answer is always the same: try us once, meet our riders and visit our warehouse. In addition, ask your own customers for feedback about our service.
The logistics industry has traditionally been male dominated, especially at senior levels. I see this during regular attendance at logistics conferences in the UK and overseas. Perhaps it’s time for women to make a dent and open opportunities for other women in this field, as I have.