Gus Bartholomew and Flora Davidson’s startup tackles one of SMEs’ biggest challenges – setting up reliable, ethical and high-quality supply chains
At the very centre of it, every enterprise experiences the same issues – finding staff, building a client base and creating a trusted supply chain. To some, the last issue can prove particularly problematic to untangle. “For businesses that produce a product, setting up a reliable supply chain is often cited as their biggest challenge,” says Gus Bartholomew. Luckily, he’s doing something about it. He’s the co-founder of Supplycompass, the startup using tech to make overcoming this hurdle a little bit easier. “[It] helps brands and manufacturers build faster, leaner and more responsible supply chains,” Bartholomew explains. “[We’re] a design-to-delivery sourcing platform for fashion, accessories and [interior] brands.”
Essentially, when brands sign up to the platform they get matched with a vetted manufacturer visited by the startup. The clients can view the supplier’s profile by learning about their capabilities by viewing photos and watch films. “They then create online tech packs or specifications that draw out all the information their manufacturer needs to produce a perfect sample,” says Bartholomew. “One of our tech team is on hand throughout production to assist and manage the relationship, communication and order between the brand and the manufacturer. Everything is done from one dashboard, making it super-simple and effective.”
He and his co-founder Flora Davidson originally met at university. In the following years they kept encountering the same supply chain problem among different businesses. “Finding the right manufacturer that meets the time, cost, quality and ethical requirements of a business is time-consuming and costly,” Bartholomew explains. “Even after you’ve found a suitable partner, building a trusted relationship and working efficiently together is full of challenges too. After seeing businesses of all sizes struggle, we knew there was an opportunity to use tech to improve this process. We wanted to provide easy access to the best responsible manufacturers around the world and bring structure and efficiency to the process.”
Recognising the scope of the situation that they wanted to fix, the co-founders decided to go India to better understand the problem and its potential solution. “It was crucial that we spent time inside factories – we couldn’t build a supply chain platform from a desk in London,” Bartholomew says. So during 2016 and 2017 they visited over 200 factories in the country. Armed with cameras and tons of questions the co-founders attempted to figure out where supply chains went wrong and what was needed to fix it. “We understood the challenges that manufacturers were facing on a daily basis and the pressures they came under from brands,” he continues. “The one thing factory owners repeatedly talk about is audit fatigue; every big brand has their own specific audits and vetting procedures for each country and the factories have to adapt to each one. It made it extremely clear to us that we would have two customers on our platform – brands and manufacturers.”
However, those weren’t the only insights gained from their time in India. “We witnessed first-hand the positive impact of making more socially and environmentally conscious choices,” he explains. “We realised how important it was that we built a solution that would work for every single supply chain partner and a new digitally-enabled way of sourcing for all parties involved.”
Moreover, it also helped them to find people in what would eventually become Supplycompass’ network. “We found some incredible manufacturers, suppliers and mills who think differently and are open to new ways of working,” he continues.
Upon returning to Britain, they initially bootstrapped the development of their platform. However, they soon went looking for more money. At the beginning of 2017, they launched a campaign on crowdfunding platform Seeders. Offering up 12.37% of equity and looking to raise £200,009, they ended up smashing that goal. At the end of the round, Supplycompass had raised £317,590. “The first round of funding allowed us to take our findings from the real world and translate those into a digital solution,” remembers Bartholomew “We built out the MVP of the product, validated that we had demand for our product from real customers and demonstrated the value that we were bringing to both parties.”
Having launched their minimum viable product in October 2017, Supplycompass has since worked with over 40 brands in the UK, Europe and Australia. “The response has been huge,” he says. “Brands immediately see the savings we bring them – e.g. reducing the time spent managing production by 40%, reducing the time from design to delivery by 50% and saving up to 45% on production costs – and feel a greater sense of certainty and control over their supply chain.”
And this is just the beginning. “We have big ambitions,” concludes Bartholomew. “We’re on a mission to create the world’s most trusted supply chains, to offer the most responsible and innovative solutions and to provide the most intuitive and seamless experience for brands and manufacturers.” But for now the co-founder is happy to connect suppliers and brands and enabling them to work better together. And that’s certainly a great goal in itself.