The £1m comeback

Idries Erfan

About a year ago, we had to shut down our first product - Mule. Once we shut it down, we were loosing hope. We didn’t know if we could find a way out. The following 8 months were brutal. Without clear direction, we thought it might be time to hang up the gloves. However, we decided we had a duty to make this work.

We pushed through and pivoted to a new product. The business is now fast approaching £1m ARR, having grown at 24% a week for the last 5 months.

We couldn’t be happier with the progress we have made, but it was not always like this…

The last 12 months have been crazy; the highest highs, the lowest lows, often on the same day.

I wanted to reflect on just how difficult it has been to get here and shed light on the our experience of pivoting as well as share where we are heading.

Some of our amazing brands:

The Mule days

In June 2019 I called up my friend Luke and suggested we build an app that enables people to compare the price of sending a parcel (we were both in our second year of university at the time). Luke and I had previously built and sold a cleaning business at school called Buzz Maids which we sold when we moved on to university (more on this another time).

Our mentor, a cleaning business veteran called Ray had said to us when we were 17: “cleaning businesses aren’t much fun to build, if you decide to build an app instead I might invest in it”. We took him up on his offer a few years later and he wrote us a £40K check.

Giddy with our newfound wealth, we channeled our inner Scorsese and splurged on an advert that was more comedy sketch than sales pitch. (unfortunately, it didn’t help us get customers):

Here is a quick summary of what the next 2.5 years of Mule looked like:


  • We raised over £1m in funding and grew our team to 18 people. 3 customer service agents, 12 developers, 1 CTO and 2 co founders
  • Growth was good, especially when covid lockdowns caused an increase in ecommerce spending and therefore an increase delivery volumes


  • We relied too much on outsourced development agencies to build the early version of the product. Mistake: it took over a year to build the first version and left us with a huge amount of technical debt, it also reduced our ability to iterate. We will now always endeavour to build expertise in house where possible
  • We were not a tech business. Ultimately we were just reselling shipping rates through technology. We had super low margins and high marginal costs (eg. customer service)
  • People get super angry when something goes wrong with their delivery!
  • It is a crowded space. Having so many players meant margins were being constantly squeezed. Customers had high churn and found it easy to move elsewhere where a better deal might be being offered

Ambushing an unsuspecting DHL driver for marketing purposes

From about June 2022 our growth started to stagnate. We decided that we could get growth if we built integrations with more ecommerce platforms. When that didn’t work we had a difficult decision to make: continue with our current product or pivot. Cash was running out FAST (we only had a few months of runway left).

We didn't want to feel we were jumping ship too early but we couldn't see a way to make the business more profitable.

Looks can deceive: we won an award 2 weeks before we shut down the product

The tough decision was made. We were pivoting

  • We shut down the product: £1m spent → zero return. Niceee.
  • We MASSIVELY reduced our monthly burn to give ourselves time
    • We went from a headcount of 18 to 4. (2 cofounders and 2 engineers)
      • As co-founders we were already paying ourselves a pitifully low wage so we couldn't cut that any further. Our low salary gave us crucial extra funds to keep going
    • Stopped spending on anything not mission critical, including:
      • SaaS subscriptions
      • Office heating: a woolly hat and a puffer jacket does do the job
      • Laptop stands: a set of books can make for an excellent laptop stand

A screenshot of the product

We informed our investors. This was not much fun - we had to answer quite a few questions. However, surprisingly the VC who had invested in our business said this:

It was nice to get a vote of confidence that we had at least made the right decision.

Our first attempt

We reduced our costs and now had ~16 months of runway. Surely we could figure something out in 16 months?!

We had already developed a "pricing engine" for Mule (our previous product) to accurately calculate shipping costs across multiple couriers. We thought we could market this software to ecommerce merchants and logistics providers.

However, after six months of unsuccessful attempts to sell the product, we realised it didn't sufficiently address ecommerce merchants' needs, and logistics providers already had similar systems.

We decided we needed a low-cost, time-efficient way to identify pain points and test solutions.

Luke worked himself to the bone

A structured pivot

Luke came across this book called Sprint by Jake Knapp. The big idea with Design Sprints is to build and test a prototype in just five days. You clear the schedule for a week, and rapidly progress from problem to tested solution using a proven step-by-step checklist.

The 5 D’s of a structured pivot:

  1. Day 1 - Discuss: The first day is dedicated to understanding the problem space in depth. This involves discussions with experts to identify and map out problems, understand the business context and existing solutions.
  2. Day 2 - Diverge: On the second day, the team focuses on generating a range of ideas for solutions. This is a phase of creative brainstorming where no idea is too far-fetched.
  3. Day 3 - Decide: The third day is about decision-making. The team critiques the ideas from the previous day, identifies the most promising ones, and decides which of them to prototype.
  4. Day 4 - Develop: On the fourth day, the team develops a realistic prototype using Figma. The goal is to create something tangible that can be tested with real users in 1 day
  5. Day 5 - Demo: The final day is dedicated to testing the prototype with real users. This involves conducting 1 hour user interviews, observing their interactions with the prototype, and gathering feedback. Next steps are then agreed based on customer feedback. (We were doing design sprints consecutively for multiple weeks)

This is a screen shot from one of the design sprints we did as a team. The idea was “A customer service platform for logistics companies which provided more automation than existing solutions”. We ended up deciding it would take too long to build

We had a 1 hour call with Adrian Sanders, CEO of Chargehound (sold to PayPal) who gave us some really helpful advice: “You need to build a product that delivers massive value. You need to be building a 9/10 product rather than a 6/10, 7/10 product, because if you aren’t, you are not solving enough of a pain point”. Easier said than done, but it was helpful in setting a high bar when it came to the feedback we’d get in user interviews.

We spoke to over 150 e-commerce merchants and cycled through over 10 product ideas. Some examples:

  • AI bot for resolving e-commerce customer service enquiries
  • Software that automatically goes through courier invoices to see if there are any incorrect charges
  • A system which proactively reaches out to customers when something goes wrong with a delivery

One of our user research calls with a logistics expert

Some of the ideas we tested were good and we got positive feedback from customers. However, we felt there was one or more of the following problems:

  • the painpoint wasn’t big enough
  • the solution wasn’t good enough
  • the tech was too difficult for our team to build

They felt like 6/10 solutions. We also started to iterate on the Design Sprint process and came up with an alternative version that we felt was better suited to our use case. Here is a link.

It came down to a call with Mat Mullen (a US based ecommerce expert) where, in answer to our questions about shipping claims, he asked “you guys heard of Route?” We hadn’t. Some merchants were using Route to upsell delivery insurance at checkout. We hadn’t seen this anywhere in the UK. After lots of digging, we saw several opportunities:

  • Route was worth $1.25bn - they were making a lot of money
  • Based on our experience of parcel claim rates, we knew Route was charging a lot more for delivery insurance than the number of claims they receive - merchants weren’t getting a great deal
  • No one was doing this in the UK or Europe
  • 50-70% of consumers bought delivery protection

The solution we came up with was to enable merchants to upsell delivery protection to their customers at checkout, but they would keep the delivery protection revenue rather than giving it to an insurance provider. Instead of selling insurance at checkout, the merchant would be selling a service. As a result, the delivery protection revenue would go straight to the merchants' bottom line. This would be 6x-10x more profitable for the merchant than using an insurance provider. The merchant would be able to reduce the cost of delivery issues whilst also adding to their margin.

We made sure this approach was legal both in the UK and the US and then got started building the MVP.


During our user interviews, we’d offer the interviewee the option to use the product for a discount. Most people are agreeable, which means they’ll tell you what you want to hear (even if they don’t realise that’s what they are doing). We were tired of agreeableness. We wanted painful, ego-destroying feedback.

Asking customers whether they want to pay you for a solution is a good way of removing their “agreeableness” to get honest feedback. This is probably the most valuable question in the entire user interview.

With previous solutions we tested where we tried to get customers to sign up, we’d get a lot of responses like “I need to check with the team”, “it sounds interesting, we could look at integrating this in 6 months” etc (signs of a 6/10 product). However, with this idea we had 10 customers signed up to use the product before we had even started building it.

ProtectMyOrder on Pink Boutique

The MVP took 1.5 months to build and we then went live with the customers who had signed up. The results exceeded our expectations: 45-73% of all consumers were purchasing delivery protection at checkout. As a result, merchants were making a lot of money and consumers were getting peace of mind.

From customer feedback we then built two more key features:

  1. Gradual roll out: this de-risks the proposition for merchants by allowing them to show the widget to a small percentage of website visitors initially to see the results for themselves
  2. Intelligent pricing: This is an algorithm which figures out the optimum price point for protection by balancing revenue, opt-in rates and conversion rate to make sure there is no money being left on the table, and that merchants aren’t charging so much that they are putting customers off purchasing. The system creates tests based on a whole range of variables like the product, the country, the basket value and the time of day

Both these features have been a hit with customers, helping us convert more merchants and increasing their delivery protection profit.

What’s next?

Our first goal was to reach breakeven, which we reached 5 months after launch. Our next goal is to hit £1m ARR, which we should hopefully achieve by May 2024. If we achieve this we would have reached £1m ARR in 11 months. Fingers crossed!

We also want to both continue to operate on Shopify, but also move into the enterprise space through API integrations. We believe enterprise customers will have good opt in rates, but since they are much larger - will generate much larger amounts of profit through the product. “Operation enterprise” is already underway.

We were so fortunate to have a team who trusted us and preserved when the chips were down.

We have countless early adopters who joined ProtectMyOrder before they probably should have, and showed patience and trust in us as we built out the product.

I’m thankful for these things. But none of them mean anything unless we can continue to execute at a high level and make ProtectMyOrder 100 times better than what it is today. Undoubtedly there will be more challenges along the way.

Knowing what I know about what’s in the pipeline, I can promise you the best is yet to come. Here’s to the pivot and the £1m comeback.

2024 goals

  • Reach £1m ARR
  • Merchants generating £11m per year in ProtectMyOrder revenue
  • Onboard 2 enterprise customers
  • Turn on the heating in the office more frequently so that the woolly hat and jacket aren’t needed

After this picture, my phone decided to jump off the shelf and face dive into our floor … typical.
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