A Gate One Incubator startup that’s making waves in the on-demand economy

What if you could ask someone nearby to help solve a ‘small life emergency’? What if you could negotiate a price and have what you need, delivered to you in minutes?

We’ve all been there. We’ve all been stuck in back to back meetings at work, leaving us no time to grab a sandwich for lunch. We’ve all been cooking and found ourselves missing a vital ingredient.

The inspiration for startups often begins with a problem that needs solving. For Gate One principal consultant Michael Goulden, it was a small life emergency that inspired his Pinga App. And it is this app that is going to disrupt everyday delivery services.

Michael relishes problem-solving. He started his career working for the Ministry of Defence, helping Iraqis reconstruct after the invasion. From the Civil Service, he moved to a big four firm, assisting central government departments delivering change programmes.

Michael’s own small life emergency came about on a 4½ hour train journey. It was Michael’s anniversary. He wanted to buy a celebratory bottle of wine from the buffet car. But the buffet car was closed. As he looked longingly at the café on the station platform, Michael started thinking about all the ways he could incentivise a customer of the cafe to buy and deliver to him his much-wanted bottle of wine.

After all, technology has enabled a fast-growing on-demand economy. In 2017 it increased by 220% in the UK alone. Today it is worth about £50billion. On-demand apps connect us to suppliers with a simple tap on a smartphone screen. We expect the process to be quick, easy and most importantly, low cost.

Recognising an opportunity

That’s when the idea hit Mike. He knew there was plenty of space available in the on-demand economy for him to create a satisfying customer experience. He said: “I’d established a problem: there is no easy way for individuals to get small items delivered quickly and cheaply.”

He went on: “My thought process led me to ideas around what it means to be a member of a community, and how communities bring people together and support them. Specifically how people in your community can help you and you can help them in return. Consequently my idea turned into ‘Uber on foot’. I seized the opportunity and pitched my idea to Gate One’s Incubator. I knew it would be able to provide me with the help and support I needed to bring my scheme to life.”

"I thought the idea was crazy...Are people really going to do this? I would never do this."

Paul Graham, referring to his early investment in AirBnB

Critical thinking and problem solving

Of course, it’s easy to convince yourself your idea is perfect. So much so that you don’t want to have your ideas challenged. Entrepreneurs are analysts. Once they come up with an idea, they assess it deeply to find evidence of a demand. Michael said: “To conceptualise my idea I asked the questions: ‘Does my idea really solve a problem? Is the process simple and efficient? History is full of people who’ve had a winning idea but were unable to get early evidence of demand. These people almost always failed. Airbnb, Uber, Tinder, all started out as something different. The end products all changed in line with what consumers wanted from them.”

"If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."

Albert Einstein

Finding the right team to build the app

Mobile devices are personal. So the way apps look and operate is key to their success.

“To create and develop my idea, I took on the product owner role and designed the initial wireframes,” said Michael. “At the same time, I wrote between 400 and 500 individual user stories. They describe Pinga’s features from the end user’s perspective.”

Michael gave the wireframes and user stories to a recommended developer in Estonia. At the same time, he appointed a graphic designer to design the colour scheme, app and logo. “Important to success is to work only with people who have totally bought into your idea and care about it almost as much as you do. It can take longer to get moving this way but it will pay dividends,” he said.

"It's not faith in technology. It's faith in people."

Steve Jobs

Reacting quickly to obstacles

Where others see problems, entrepreneurs see challenges to overcome. Michael said: “If you’re not excited about the idea of getting up early on a Sunday morning to progress the latest batch of wireframes and move your idea forward then your idea is never going to work.”

Overcoming payment problems

“This was a big question mark for us before the pilot,” noted Michael. “At the moment ‘doers’ don’t get paid until they complete tasks. So a person getting you a baguette has to pay for it upfront before it gets paid. Fortunately, thanks to Airbnb, Uber and other people are now more inclined to trust first and worry later, so the timing for Pinga is great.”

"You can invent alone but you can't innovate alone."

Gijs van Wulfen

The Pinga team: Michael, Jack and Ali

Overcoming user experience issues

The Pinga app took six months to build, test, change and improve. “Our biggest challenge was fixing bugs and getting the user experience right,” Michael revealed. “We needed to provide transparent, trustworthy and human interactions. The only way to resolve user experience issues is by carrying out hundreds of tests. I certainly had to stretch my friendship group to keep testing. Over and over I pleaded, ‘Come on guys, can we do another 100 tests?’”

How the Gate One incubator helped the process

“It was incredibly useful to have a vehicle to raise money. Also, to have an office space and a team to test user requirements with,” Michael observed. “But actually, most importantly, it was through Gate One that I met my co-founder Jack who made a transformational difference to the business, and our brilliant third team member Ali.

Turning the possibility into a reality

The Pinga team limited the pilot launch to a single university. “We found a target market likely to give us rapid adoption,” said Michael. “In fact having access to bright millennials has been massively helpful to the development and testing process.”

The result of Pinga so far

Ten weeks after the launch, Michael’s team saw 2,400 downloads of Pinga, 25% of the total addressable market. This led to 400 paid transactions, 75% week on week growth and 1,300 monthly active users.

Michael commented: “Generally speaking, investors want reassurance you can get customers, keep them, make those customers profitable, and prove the lifetime value of a customer is worth more than the cost of acquisition.”

He went on: “We have a good business model, a great team and a well-planned execution. The results speak for themselves. People who complete a transaction go on to use Pinga on average three times per month. Seeing a task completed is an amazing feeling. We’ve delivered everything we said we would so far and satisfied our investors – now it’s time to start scaling and move to profitability.”

How Gate One consultants have benefited from the Pinga startup

Michael gives Gate One regular feedback on the progress of his startup. As he captures each step of his journey, formal knowledge sharing takes place.

“So when a London council called Gate One for advice on using digital to improve council services and at the same time reduce spending,” Michael asserted, “I was able to prove that Gate One puts its own money where its mouth is. I demonstrated how far we’ll go to solve a problem, how willing we are to take action and how we can see the bigger picture. These are the key traits of a successful entrepreneur.”

Have your own small life emergency to solve?
Download the Pinga app for iPhone. www.pinga.co.uk

Catch up on Pinga’s news.


Read Michael’s
blog on Medium



Michael is Co-Founder and CEO of Pinga, the UK’s first on-demand delivery service run entirely by local communities. Mike launched Pinga out of the Gate One Incubator. Mike is also a principal at Gate One and has delivered target operational model change work for the public sector for almost ten years.



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