Bhalla is the founder of a one-of-a-kind eco-friendly delivery service: the cleanly and aptly named Pedals. The burgeoning company is based in London, Farringdon and specialises in the distribution of “unique and bespoke” goods, using only the invigorating, green power of the city’s courier cyclists. “We work with a myriad of amazing start-ups around London,” the light-hearted Bhalla shared with us. “And they have all been very supportive. We have found our lively metropolis to be full of SMEs who are similarly passionate about their products, but had no affordable and efficient way of getting these to customers who wanted them most. They wanted a reliable service that could transport goods with the deserving care, precision and speed.” And as Bhalla explained, it’s “the personality” of the Pedals business model that’s key. As well as introducing “old-school bicycle delivery”, the environmentally conscious company also takes care to cultivate the job satisfaction of their individual workers: “unlike other courier services out there, we not only focus on making the customer service as high touch and all-encompassing as possible, but also making sure that our team of cyclists are leading happy and fulfilling careers.” With this ethos behind them, Pedals has accelerated at a lightning velocity. They can boast a host of trendy companies, such as Mast chocolate, Pip & Nut and Monmouth Coffee on the regular rotary roster.
The charismatic Bhalla has also flourished with a micro version of the Pedals business – the simpler flower delivery service Petal and Cycle –and gathered valuable - and impressive - experience from her time in the US’ Silicon Valley where she worked before. "I worked for 2 Y Combinator companies immersing myself in the tech scene," she told us "concentrating on building a solid network.” Interestingly, of the intense professional period spent there, Bhalla recalls “the time when living with her bosses for 3 months had become mandatory” to get her projects completed: “I learnt so much,” Bhalla stated. “Not just the vital professional know-how, but the defter human element. I grew from observing the way talented superiors were working, and very significantly for the inception of Pedals - from San Francisco’s own thriving cycle delivery model. Observing this I thought: ‘everyone could benefit from a personal and compassionate touch from the delivery of products to their door. In fact, a lot of the heads of SMEs in London have been enthusiastic to work with us because they’ve turned out to be keen cyclists themselves!.” Pardoning the following pun then, Bhalla’s SME has come full circle to epitomise a general rule for all successful start-ups: that underlying the quest for financial backing and sharpened analytical skills, there must always be a deep and sustained emotional connection, both to others as well as the self.
Who have been the sponsors for the company?
Our first backer was Geovation in April of last year. They are an incubator backed by the ordnance survey tasked to help companies using maps data in innovative ways. Soon afterwards we started to raise money in the market through Crowdfunding. This was a pretty incredible experience as we came onto the platform with no solid investors. Within a few weeks, we managed to convince 181 investors that we were worthwhile and ended up raising £140k!
Tell us more about your unique personal journey on the way to Pedals?
I started off my career in banking and soon realized that I wasn’t gaining any of the skills I needed to start my own company. I did, however, learn a certain level of discipline and developed a pretty thick skin being in that environment. These traits served me well when I moved to Silicon Valley. This prepared me well for what was about to come when I landed back in London and decided to start my first enterprise: an on demand flowers in the city delivered by bicycle: if I could get flowers from A to B, I could surely deliver anything.
I not only learned a lot about the struggles from a customer perspective, namely high and fluctuating prices for deliveries but also from a cyclist perspective. I started speaking to a lot of riders, from all walks of life and came to realize how disgruntled they were with the way things were currently being run in the delivery world. They are subject to mandatory shifts, paid really low wages and are required to only work for one company at a time oftentimes with a very unpredictable schedule. This leads to some very unhappy deliveries. I came to realize that there was something we could holistically do here. I also met the now CTO of Pedals through a cyclist no less! He possesses 11 years of experience in the tech industry and was one of the first employees at Secret Escapes.
Please tell us a bit more about the sustainability aspect of Pedals?
Our partners are excited about even the small stickers we put on their packages saying delivered by Pedals, letting the recipients know that it’s come by green means. We also have a button that we insert on our partners websites to let their own customers know that they deliver green.
What’s been the most difficult part of a start up?
Finding the right people. Many want to work in a start-up but sometimes have unrealistic expectations of what exactly that entails. It’s definitely exciting, but you have to be a hard worker that’s ok with very high highs and very low lows.
Do you think having a good online presence has been a big part of your mounting success?
I wouldn’t say so. We’ve actually found the more traditional models to be more successful. Cold calling and door to door sales have worked well.
What has been some of the best feedback so far?
Actually just last week! Apidura (a luxury brand of bike accessories) gave us the feedback. They were told that: “Pedals couriers are the nicest couriers they’ve dealt with in 20 years of working in Logistics. They are always smiling, polite and a pleasure to deal with.”
Finally, what’s a motto you have that gets you though the day?
Extraordinary products deserve extraordinary delivery. Also:everything is reversible! Many start-ups suffer from analysis paralysis and get nothing done. I always ask myself: “what’s the worst that can happen?” and it pushes me to make decisions I’d usually be scared of making.