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Reinventing the gig economy: Shepper, a blueprint for future founders

Founder Stories

Reinventing the gig economy: Shepper, a blueprint for future founders

September 30th 2021 / 10 min read

Founder Carl August Ameln tells us the story behind gig economy platform Shepper, which he hopes will change the way that crowd-driven startups interact with their community. Uber, Deliveroo—take note.

Where did the gig economy go wrong?

What started as a vision for efficient access to resources and flexible employment, has turned into unsustainable operations and poor rights for workers. While companies like Uber and Deliveroo have changed the way we travel and eat, they’ve also produced business models which care less about the livelihoods of their employees and more about their profit margins.

Rethinking the gig economy, and starting from scratch, led me to co-found Shepper, a gig economy platform connecting local communities to data collection and asset checking tasks. It’s a model we believe provides a blueprint for a fairer, more sustainable gig economy in which the needs of the customer are equal to the needs of our workers.

"The term ‘gig economy’ was coined by journalist Tina Brown in reference to workers pursuing a range of “free-floating projects, consultancies, and part-time bits and pieces” to make money."

The story of Shepper

Having worked at a securities company, I understood the inefficiencies of carrying out inspections. You have central hubs where your ‘inspectors’ work, you dispatch them out to sites, often driving for hours at a time, to carry out inspections which take less than five minutes, before returning back.

It just didn’t make sense that something so simple and quick would take so long at such great expense. In the meantime, there were people who lived a stone's throw from these locations, who could be deployed more quickly, with a far smaller carbon footprint.

So why not connect a local network to data collection and asset checking tasks, in a way which can cut costs, deliver instant results, and create flexible work for local communities? This was the idea which eventually founded Shepper.

‘Shepherds’ (the name we give our community members) join the platform and can sign up to local tasks set by our clients. Data is logged through dynamic templates on the app, which clients can then access through our dashboard, seeing data in real time as it is recorded. From checking product arrangements in shops, to recording where tracks rattle on trains, to measuring queue lengths in shops at certain times, no task is too niche to take on.

Joining Founders Factory in 2017 has been a key part of getting us to where we’ve got to today. We joined as a partner with Aviva, who have been critical in helping us grow, particularly through investing a total of £4 million across our Series A round in 2018 and a more recent fundraising round of £6 million. We also gained one of our most prized assets from Aviva—Lindsay Forster, our CEO, joined us from Aviva, having previously sat on our board as part of the partnership.

Founders Factory proved to be our most important client acquisition channel. Without Founders Factory, we would have struggled to gain some of our key early clients, like L’Oreal, who were instrumental in our early growth. Without that growth, we wouldn’t have seen that we needed to change our systems and procedures in order to scale.

Since leaving Founders Factory, Shepper has gone from strength to strength, under the leadership of our CEO Lindsay, and driven by the strength and dedication of our community we’ve built, which now numbers around 50,000 in the UK and beyond.

One of our key milestones was a client who required 12,000 checks to take place within just five days. We had to have a complete rethink of our processes, completely redesign our templates and procedures, in order to facilitate something to happen so quickly. To our amazement, and the credit of our community, by the end of day one, the whole project was completed.

A more recent milestone was taking on a contract for a company that distributes to 45,000 locations. Now, any other company attempting this through the old model of asset checking would buckle at the size of such a task. What this showed me was that the community we’ve built is able to help us achieve things that few other companies, if any, can achieve.

Here’s our blueprint for reinventing the gig economy...

Since day one, we’ve always referred to Shepherds as our community, not a crowd.

First and foremost, we wanted this to show that Shepper was a brand that people wanted to identify with, and be a part of. We have an incredibly diverse community of Shepherds, made up of all ages, races, and backgrounds. We have people in full-time employment doing it as a side hustle, students who fit it around their studies, retirees, and stay at home parents.

At the centre of all this, we’re trying to help our Shepherds succeed personally and professionally. Working for Shepper doesn’t require any specialist skills or qualifications: we give all the training in our app to get them started.

We’re constantly working on ways to improve this sense of community. We’re currently looking into a way of gamifying quality assurance checks, meaning that more and more Shepherds will be verifying each other’s reports, shifting work towards the community and making more jobs available.

Ultimately, we hope that Shepper is more than just a place where people come to make a quick pound. We encourage Shepherds to talk about their long term goals or saving objectives, and to ask how Shepper can help them achieve this.

One thing that other gig economy platforms like Uber and Deliveroo have got wrong is neglecting to think about how they can grow sustainably without an excessive carbon footprint. Crucially, this is something you have to introduce from day one of the business. Trying to implement this after the fact can be difficult, as we’ve found with trying to change or alter certain processes in the business.

"Crucially, this is something you have to introduce from day one of the business."

Shepper has always been local first. Shepherds are matched to local tasks, within a certain travel radius. Through this we hope to reduce and eliminate the lengthy journeys by car ordinarily taken to complete checks.

We’re hoping to extend our sustainable offering by giving clients the chance to opt for green jobs—those that are accessed only by electric vehicle, by bike, or by foot.

Viewing your community as a way to increase profits is a dangerous game, and one which can lead to an unhealthy, unsustainable relationship with them. Our mantra has always been: “client first and Shepherd first”.

We’ve always tried to make decisions that demonstrate to our Shepherds that they are far more than just a commodity to us: they are the very heart of the business, without which we’d be nothing.

We pay every Shepherd the London Living Wage (£10.85 an hour) for their work. Moreover, we don’t wait a week or til the end of the month to pay them: as soon as tasks are verified, they are paid and can withdraw money on the same day. We recently launched a digital wallet that means they can get paid more seamlessly, as well as technology to help them structure their earnings.

We also recognise that not every Shepherd is the same. Some rely on gigs to make a living, while others do jobs as a way of having a bit of spare money. We’re looking into how we can segment and profile Shepherds so that we can help them achieve their specific financial goals.

Part of our commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) is making Shepper a highly inclusive platform. The very nature of the gig economy is that it offers flexible income to anyone regardless of your circumstances, and this is something worth putting thought and attention into.

We have a team constantly supporting our Shepherds through the tasks they are doing. They’re not trained to keep calls to one minute or less: we’re on hand to help until the task is completed and the Shepherd has been paid. This is crucial for many of elderly Shepherds, who require more support on the technology front, as well as Shepherds with physical disabilities, who may require support on accessibility.

It’s also more accessible to our clients. Never has data collection and asset checking been more affordable than what we offer at Shepper.

We recognise that we’re not perfect, and we strive to take on feedback and listen to our community wherever possible.

One Shepherd, for example, expressed his frustrations at one of the templates we use for cataloguing images. He actually helped us to redesign the template, which we now regularly use on the platform.

We’re now planning on bringing Shepherds into board meetings, to talk about what they like about the platform, as well as areas that they’d change or improve. Through this, we hope we can continue to build a platform that puts our most important stakeholders—our community—first.

What’s next for Shepper

The rate at which Shepper has grown over the past few years has shown us that the sky really is the limit for the business.

We’re already operational in 25 countries, and we’re hoping to continue to scale internationally in order to offer our clients multi-country solutions. We believe we’re on track to deliver 4x growth year-on-year. Our Shepherds will play a big part in helping us do this. They are our best ambassadors for what we do, and through our fostered community, we hope they can help spread the strong reputation of our brand.

We’re investing in an image recognition technology for the platform, which we’re hoping will enable Shepherds to collect data anywhere, all of the time, and allow brands to access information about what’s happening with their business in real time.

The end goal, ultimately, is for Shepper to become a go-to brand for data collection and asset checking, not just commercially but on a smaller or individual scale. Through this, I truly believe that Shepper can become a global household name, as well as a bold new template for a gig economy platform that puts community and sustainability first.

About Carl

Carl August Ameln co-founded Shepper with Ben Prouty in 2016. Carl has previously founded several companies including storage company Lovespace and co-working startup GoWork. He’s also a successful investor as the founder of First Risk Capital, having made early investments in companies like Zipcar and Hiyacar. He studied an MBA at Seattle University.

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