I started my career as a visual designer in 2000 and since then I've been asked to design countless websites, portals, apps, logos, t-shirts, signage, business cards, packaging and more. I once even designed a cake for a client ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It is my passion to craft beautiful and useful design solutions to problems that companies of all sizes face but it's long been a dream to design my own app for my own company. But where to start? What will I build? What am I passionate about? Over the years I've had the pleasure of hearing so many clients talk about their businesses, and the challenges they hope to overcome. I know I can help to solve business problems through the combination of customer research and design, but what problem am I going to tackle?
Inspiration hit as it so often does, out of nowhere. Over the course of a year or so my co-founder, Sophie Ellis, and I tossed around a number of ideas - some of them were pretty average, others seemed to have legs but when it came drilling deeper we would both lose momentum. Why? Nothing seemed big enough, useful enough, important enough, interesting enough. Who were we even helping? One day I mentioned to her a little idea that had been stuck in the back of my mind for a while now, based on a conversation with my mum.
For context, since I was 11, my parents have own a packaging company. They sell new and second-hand boxes to companies all over Sydney, Australia. I worked there as a teenager doing filing in the office and taking phone calls. It was not my dream job, but as I carved out a career elsewhere, they continued to tick away and grow. My parents still work there as do two of my three brothers. We talk a lot about the business when I see my family so it wasn't unusual to be chatting about it with mum.
She was having a bit of a stressful week and was venting about a particular problem she'd been facing. Apparently, customers would quite often ring and say something like "I've got (*) amount of products that I need to ship at one time. They are (*)mm x (*)mm x (*)mm. What boxes do you have that will work?". It's a reasonable request, but in reality is quite complex to calculate. There's different orientations to consider as well as weight. Are the items stackable? If so, how much weight can they take? Even knowing all that, there is trial an error to work out the most efficient packing configuration, and THEN, to work out a box that is in stock to sell in the quantities required.
Phew! Mum was stressed because (forgive me, mum) she is a people pleaser and wants to be able to help customers right away. She felt they were frustrated by her suggestion that she will call back with some options as soon as possible.
"There will definitely be an app for that mum."
My suggestion, being the digital-native-problem-solver that I am, was "There will definitely be an app for that mum. I'll find something for you." But what I found was... nothing. Well that's not entirely true, what I found was nothing that was not an enterprise scale solution. Nothing that didn't prioritise pallet configuration or shipping containers, nothing that was simple to use, nothing that would sync with her inventory, nothing that would work for my mum.
My co-founder and I dug in deep to the problem. In truth, we thought we would find a worthy alternative but instead what we found was that this problem is bigger than just for a packaging provider like my family business. There are integrated logistics companies like 3/4/5PLs that need this as well as online retailers. Have you ever received a package in an inappropriately large box?
So that's who we would be helping, but what about the other benefits? In 2021, 1.1 billion parcels (under 35kg) were shipped within Australia alone, that’s 34 parcels per second. Conservatively, if we estimate just 5% of those packages were not properly optimised, that would equate to 55 million packages that "shipped air" across the country. While difficult to estimate, our research to date suggests this figure could be a lot higher. Imagine the carbon we could save by packing more efficiently. Now this idea sounds big enough. Useful enough. Important enough. Interesting enough.
And with that, Boxstax was born.