The serial start-up man whose final stop will be delivery vans
WHEN Tristan Thomas has some spare time on his hands, rather than sink into a Netflix binge, he starts a new business.
It was while working as head of marketing at digital bank Monzo that he launched a wine company side hustle — “it was lockdown,” he says, “and I found myself with time on my hands and a desire to source cheap wine.” And it was while he was running the wine business and about to leave Monzo that he decided to start a logistics company.
“The wine business — Wine Post — was a fun side project to keep me entertained. Wine for millennials,” he explains, “you order wine, rate each bottle, and we send more wine based on your notes. But during a year of running it on the side while at Monzo, I ended up getting a first-hand view into the terrible world of logistics,” he grins.
So Thomas’s brother took over Wine Post, while he set up his own logistics business. The resultant firm, Packfleet, is only two years old but already has big-brand customers including clothing rental firm Hurr, restaurant meal kits Dishpatch and Monmouth coffee — and a £1.3 million turnover.
He did leave his day job this time — after five years at Monzo, Thomas, who is now 31, says he was “ready for a new challenge, keen to go back to the early days of a start-up. I thought that the logistics industry could be revolutionised by using technology.”
Eager to test whether other SMEs had the same issues, Thomas emailed some local businesses “pretending my new logistics firm was up and running. Out of the five I emailed, two immediately replied and said they wanted to start using us next week!”
The entrepreneur spent “a hectic few days building a very basic system for deliveries”. Unable to code, he still built an app for retailers to upload their parcels and found the software to organise optimum routes for parcels. Thomas self-funded at the start: “It was very small, I did the deliveries in my campervan, and rented a car for my brotherin-law to help with deliveries after work — although he crashed it, unhelpfully!”
Packfleet relied on word-of-mouth growth. “We offered a service that was so much better than what firms had been using before that, so word spread,” Thomas claims. “We delivered on the day we said we were going to, at the time we said, without damaging parcels. It sounds like a low bar, but it was a low bar!” First customers were local wineries and breweries — “they couldn’t afford damages, so our local logistics was an easy sell.”
Packfleet raised a £1 million pre-seed round from VCs Entrée and General Catalyst, as well as Monzo’s co-founders Tom Blomfield and Jonas Templestein in summer 2021. Thomas brought in two co-founders, Hugo Cornejo and Josh Garnham, both ex-Monzo execs. “It’s hugely beneficial working with ex-colleagues, we’d already built that trust of working together.”
A year later, an £8 million seed round was led by Klarna backer Creandum. Fundraising, Thomas adds, “is an emotional rollercoaster. Every judgment is a judgment on you as much as the company, and I find it hard not to take that personally. It’s great once you get offers and suddenly you’re in control, but I always look at fundraising with a fair amount of dread.”
When not raising cash, the entrepreneur still dabbles in deliveries — “you get to meet a wide range of people,” he adds. “Delivering a meal kit from Dishpatch to a customer last week, he ran out of the house and started dancing in his front garden when he saw [my] van. Seeing those small things that make people happy is lovely, it kept me happy for the rest of the day out on the road.”
Packfleet is currently growing turnover at 20% to 30% each month. It covers the M25 area for deliveries and collects from retailers across the UK. “The next step is to continue expanding in the UK, then European cities — Dublin and Paris first probably.”
The firm has 103 employees, 30 of whom are office staff and the rest directly employed drivers and warehouse workers.
Does Packfleet leave Thomas enough time for another side hustle? “No — I hope this is my last business,” he laughs. “I’m all in on this — the plan is to build a global logistics company. Plus I’ve got a nine-month-old too — the baby is already too much of a side hustle, but a very good one.”