The name drops in the final part of our interview, when I have a better understanding of Buymie’s business after half an hour of an online video call with its co-founder and CEO Devan Hughes. He says the grocery home delivery platform already ranks first in Ireland for same-day service, and aims to be the largest of all e-commerce players in the country within five years. I ask him if he includes Amazon in this, and he says yes.

Not only is the ubiquitous US giant not really active in Ireland – it is also pushing supermarket chains here and in the UK into the arms of Buymie. “The bigger Amazon grows, then the more it threatens the existing market for grocery retailers, the more valuable a platform like us becomes,” Hughes says.

Five years on from its launch in Dublin, Buymie expanded to Cork last September and also covers Bristol. It will open in two new Irish cities this year – watch this space, says Hughes. While the pandemic has accelerated the company’s growth, he is not keen to enter a new market amid the strictest of restrictions. “Lockdowns are unpredictable, they throw your models and your forecasting out the window and it’s just hell for leather,” the entrepreneur says.

While Hughes’s ultimate goal is to take Buymie public – and he has strong arguments for this – the start-up needs private investors first, and is planning to go back to the market after raising over €8 million last year. A chance encounter with Eamonn Quinn, of Superquinn and Dragon’s Den fame, was key to breaking into an Irish investor community which Hughes says is otherwise reluctant to back consumer-facing businesses. “We have great SaaS businesses, great medtech businesses and we have an incredible investor base for that but we really had to perform above and beyond expectations to be able to open up capital access for this business,” he says.

On The Currency’s podcast, Hughes discusses the different retailers and overseas markets that carry Buymie’s growth, the transfer of workers from the beleaguered hospitality industry to independent contracts with his company, and how he thinks labour laws should evolve to reflect this shift to the gig economy. 


Thomas Hubert (TH): Hello and welcome to The Currency podcast.  This is Thomas Hubert. I’m joined by Devan Hughes who’s the co-founder and CEO of Buymie, the delivery service for groceries now operating in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere, and we’ll give out the locations in a minute.

But Devan, I wanted to start with the latest Irish development in the story of Buymie. The last time I looked at your company was in September.  I talked to Eamonn Quinn who’s the chairman of Buymie and, at that time, you were just launching in Cork – the second city after Dublin, your home base. How’s that going after a few months launching in the middle of pandemic and going into the second-largest city in the Republic?

Devan Hughes (DH): I have to say last year was obviously quite a transformational year and we had a lot of really great announcements and stories, but the one that caught the most traction in the media and the press was the launch of Cork.  It was bigger than our first international city in the UK.  Cork was the big announcement for last year and what we’ve seen over the last six to eight months that we’ve been there is tremendous – a tremendous adoption. In fact, Cork is performing 50 per cent ahead of our own forecasts, better than what we initially anticipated it would be. We were thankful enough to launch it in Cork outside a lockdown.  That’s actually a far better trading environment to launch a new city.  You don’t want to be launching during a lockdown. 

Lockdowns are unpredictable, they throw your models and your forecasting out the window and it’s just hell for leather, so we were very fortunate to be able to open up the Cork city outside of the lockdown.  So, yeah, look, it’s been a tremendous launch for us and it’s been so exciting to see Buymie expand nationally within Ireland.

TH: And how does that compare with Dublin? Do you see any difference emerging already in the way people shop and order in the two cities, any differences between the consumer perception and behaviour there?

DH: I think there isn’t a huge amount of difference in terms of consumer behaviour, you know, grocery is fairly standard when you’re looking at specific demographics and subsets of consumers. But I think what we have seen, if you were to compare Dublin to Cork, is that Cork is growing significantly faster than Dublin did when we first launched. I suppose our brand equity within Ireland has developed significantly since when we launched Dublin, but things like basket sizes, for example, have started off far larger than what we’ve seen in other small cities. Even if you look over in Bristol, Bristol’s growing quite fast but Cork’s basket size from the minute we launched was quite sizeable.

TH: And you’ve mentioned Bristol, we have Dublin and Cork, I know you have plans to expand, can you tell us any more about this year? What’s happening, any new locations?

DH: Yeah, I think one of the benefits that we had last year was 2019 was really a spectacular period of growth for us.  We grew our weekly volume by about 2,000 per cent, which is a bit of a ridiculous number when you think about it.  But 2019 was all about scalability so we really invested a lot in our key systems, both operational and technical to make sure that we were able to scale with that volume that we were experiencing, so when we hit the ground in 2020, and Covid kind of happened upon us in Q1, we were really set up to scale quite quickly and we grew the business tremendously over the 2020 period and right now, as of January, we’re 480 per cent up versus the same month last year. I mean, that is tremendous growth for any business, I think.

What this year is all about is very much about expansion. We will be launching into multiple new cities in Ireland and we’re also looking at multiple cities in the UK as well.  But right now, Ireland’s a key area of focus for us. We see tremendous value. The market has matured significantly within the last 12 months.  The adoption of e-commerce has been accelerated by the effect of Covid. We’ve been very well-placed to rise to the challenge and provide what has become an essential service.

TH: I’m sure you know already, so tell us a bit more – who is next, which location in Ireland?  You mentioned several cities but there aren’t that many…

DH: You know what?  In looking at Ireland, there’s probably about ten urban, suburban zones that we think that our service is going to be really, really effective in. We’re going to be launching two in the very near future, but we have four currently under review. It takes us two weeks to launch a city, Tom, it doesn’t take a huge amount of time for us to launch.  We have the luxury of not needing to have a huge lead-in time in deciding where we’re going to launch. We don’t have to buy property or anything like that. Our platform is entirely scalable across multiple markets, both nationally, domestic and internationally. So, there’s four cities that we’re looking at at the moment, two of which we’re going to launch, so I haven’t got a final answer just yet for you, but we will be hoping to make some announcements in the not-too-distant future.

TH: What about elsewhere?  Bristol is currently the only international location you have. I know you see a lot of potential in the UK but are there other places there or any other countries you’re thinking of?

DH: Yeah, the UK obviously is a tremendous opportunity.  We look at UKI – you know, Ireland-UK – as one big market opportunity for us because of the similarities in consumers and retail structures, it’s just a natural fit for us.  There’s definitely other opportunities in continental Europe, you know, markets like France, Germany to a lesser extent but also like the Netherlands are all areas that we’re quite interested in. They have fast-growing e-commerce markets.  Looking at UK and Ireland combined, there’s about 18 cities that we think that we could build a tremendous business across just those two markets but we are very much looking further afield.

Devan Hughes: “When we first launched, we had retailers trying to kill us. Legal letters, cease and desists, complaints to the advertising authority.” Photo: Bryan Meade

TH: The other aspect of the range you cover is the retailers, and I know you started with Dunnes at the end of last year.  And they wouldn’t be known as a retailer that does a lot of outside partnerships. I was just thinking, for example, you can’t even use One4all in Dunnes! How is it to get in there and to work with them compared to the other retailers that are, by definition, maybe already more international, the Tescos and the like?

DH: Sure. When I first came in, maybe just to give you a bit of context, my background is not grocery.  I come from technology and primarily from the energy sector. When I came into the retail market, I kind of assumed that most retailers would be set up more or less the same. I was totally wrong and very quickly I realised that actually the culture, the style, the operating models of retailers vary significantly and many of the retailers that we have in Ireland are all very different to one another. But one of the real, I would say, the one overarching aspect is that to work with grocery retail, you need to be able to build a significant level of trust with the industry.  Because, if you think about it, it’s a vital, a vital industry for us. Like energy we require a sustainable food supply for our societies and our markets to operate and function. And I think because of that, the culture of the grocery retail market is that they will not allow businesses to enter their space unless there’s absolute certainty that they’re going to be able to scale and operate to the level required.

For us, building relationships has been a key part of how we’ve achieved what we’ve achieved. Nothing happens quickly, and we’ve been building relationships with retail since we launched in 2016. I mean, you guys may be aware but when we first launched, we had retailers trying to kill us. Legal letters, cease and desists, complaints to the advertising authority.  Our model was totally, totally new and in a way rejected. 

But over time, the last four and a half years, we’ve managed to really knowledge-share with the industry and that’s something we’ve focused on is sharing everything. We do, both technology and operationally – fully transparent in how our platform works, as well as feeding really valuable data insights back to our retail partners to show them how their business is performing in this channel.  So, yeah, I think building partnership with grocery retail is all about building trust with the stakeholders of those businesses so that when they do a deal, they know that you’re going to be able to stand over that.

“Webvan was the first online grocery pure-play business to come when the internet kind of came about. That business spectacularly blew up and imploded in on itself in the early 2000s.”

Devan Hughes

TH: I was asking about Dunnes because it does strike me that you started with non-Irish-owned retailers, the Lidls and Tescos and then went to the UK before you could even get a foot in the door in any of the Irish ones. So, what does that tell us about the way business is done here compared to those more international chains?

DH: I don’t think it says anything necessarily about those businesses and I’ll give you a bit of the context as to why discount was an area of focus for us.  When I started this business, I looked at the grocery e-commerce market, it was worth £9 billion at that time in 2014, but it was losing £300 million a year.  That was the aggregate losses of all the grocers, trying to do this online delivery model which was vans and warehouses – incredibly capex intensive. What I realised is that similar to the energy market, the only way this was going to work and be commercially viable is if you had a shared infrastructure: multiple retailers, all leveraging the same technology and the same infrastructure and the same network of logistics to distribute this commodity around the market geographically. But when I looked at the segmentation of the market, grocery has three growth areas and this is pre-Covid. The only three growth segments of grocery FMCG was number one online, number two discount and number three convenience.  And so in building the Buymie platform, building our position and our mission within the market, I built the platform to sit across those three segments. We bridge the gap between online and convenience by providing delivery in as little as an hour and same day, but also we were the first independent e-commerce platform in Europe to take the discount channel online. And that is a very significant evolution of e-commerce and the FMCG market because, you know, discount was already a tremendously growing sector within the space; combining that with online and convenience you get this triple-threat growth opportunity which, you know, obviously has been a really, really good formula.

TH: One key aspect, I suppose, when you do start this relationship is also the pricing arrangement with the retailer. It struck me that they can be very different, especially between the UK and Ireland – you’ve got nearly half or sometimes three times lower commission on orders in Bristol compared to Dublin or Cork.  Why is that?

“We’ve moved from an organisational economy of the 20th century where most of the economic activity was managed by single entities of companies and we’ve now moved to a market-based peer-to-peer economy.”

Devan Hughes

DH: The thing about Buymie is we’re one shared infrastructure, all retailers receive the same access to our digital and logistics capability so there’s no preference over one or the other.  And in that, we also developed pricing policies to allow each of our retailers to be as competitive as they can afford to be on the platform. And so what you’ll see, the varying degrees of pricing, is our retail partners setting different pricing strategies so that they can be competitive on the platform. As I said, every retailer has a different structure operationally, but also their margin structures are very different and so with that, you need to have a very flexible environment for which those retailers will be able to compete, just like they do in the retail market. In the physical retail space, different grocers, different retailers will have different pricing and different competitive promotions.

TH: So, in a sense, you’re telling me if I pay a different commission to Buymie depending on where I buy from, it’s more of an effect of what the retailer takes rather than what Buymie takes. That’s their choice and how much they cover?

DH: No. Not necessarily. So, the way to look at it is that our retail partners will invest in lowering the cost for fulfilment and this was one of the biggest challenges of the grocery e-commerce sector. Off the back of the dotcom bubble in the 90s, you had a company called Webvan. Webvan was the first online grocery pure-play business to come when the internet kind of came about. That business spectacularly blew up and imploded in on itself in the early 2000s. But what happened was that the grocery retail market in Europe took that model, the vans, the warehouses, and they’ve been running that model in the European markets. The reason they’ve been doing that is that online has been a growth opportunity. 

Now, most grocery retailers are PLCs and so they’ve been using the online channel as an opportunity to grow share price because as you’ll know, in a public market, companies can grow the value of their share price not necessarily just on margin but actually on market share. Online has been that tool for the retail sector and it’s been a successful tool at that, but an expensive one.

When you look at the long-term demand curve for online grocery – and this is something that we spotted in 2014, consumer demand was going to go from €9 billion in 2014 to €20 billion by 2025.  That was just 10 years and that was without Covid even being a factor. Covid is a black swan event that really changes the entire forecast and really accelerates everything, pushes everything into a tighter window of time. How is the retail market going to evolve and how are they going to be able to play within this type of environment?  That was a big part of what was driving our ambition. 

Now, when it comes to a retailer on our platform, they will invest in lowering the cost for consumers because there’s a fixed cost of fulfilment. But for the last 25 years, customers have been miseducated, they’ve been told that they can pay the exact same for items online and have someone else pick and deliver it for them when in actual fact that’s not true. There’s additional labour and cost required – and that’s why 98 per cent of the market today has been self-service. You go to the warehouse, you go to this side of the warehouse to get your milk, that side of the warehouse to get your bread, you check yourself out and you bring back that trolley or they’re going to keep the euro. It’s because the self-service model is 106 years old and that’s how our grocery sector is set up.  But when you add in ‘I want it to be brought to me,’ there’s an additional labour cost involved and so our retail partners, depending on how they’re positioned, will invest in lowering that cost for their consumers. Through us.

Devan Hughes: “We were the first independent e-commerce platform in Europe to take the discount channel online.” Photo: Bryan Meade

TH: You were mentioning labour and the Covid impact, so it brings me to a key part of the Buymie model: the shoppers, the people you pay to go and pick it up and bring it to the consumer. I know that it must have been a huge increase in the number of shoppers you need as demand exploded must faster than you expected, as you said.  So, how many do you have now and how did you go about finding those people?  Has it been easy in this context of the pandemic?

DH: We’ve never had an issue finding supply on that – we’re a multisided marketplace platform so we have demand and supply, that’s how we kind of think about it. And we’ve never had an issue finding shoppers to come and join the platform. There’s a lot of people out there that really benefit from flexible work and also really like the idea of being a personal shopper for somebody. It’s quite a personal role, you know, you’re dealing with people’s food. It’s very interactive from a human point of view and that’s one of the reasons why shoppers love working on our platform. But we’ve never had an issue.

Now, I think also, you know, taking last year into account, we were really positioned to create a huge amount of jobs in an environment where the hospitality and services industry was decimated. It’s been really, really tough seeing how badly that sector has been impacted by the lockdowns and the restrictions that have been put in place and what I think is that we’ve been in a position to take as many as we can of people who have been impacted by that and give them access to labour. And so we’ve had a huge amount of people join the platform.

I think at the moment, I think we announced in September of last year that we were going to be hiring over 200 shoppers within the next twelve months and we’re very much on track for that so I think we’re at the moment up to probably around 350, 400 active shoppers on the network.

TH: And do you directly hear some people say, ‘I used to work in a pub or a hotel and that’s now closed, I’m looking for something else to do.’ Are these common situations for those shoppers?

“There’s been a conflation of independent contracting work with zero-hour contracts and that is a really big confusing part because those two things are not the same.”

Devan Hughes

DH: So, we would have a blend of different demographics of people that might be interested in working on our platform as a delivery partner. Students would be one, so people working around flexible schedules, that would be a very common demographic that we’d have. Semi-skilled professionals, people who have worked in the delivery sector before or have worked in retail. That would be one as well. And then you have people who have worked in hospitality sectors. You’d also then have people who are kind of semi-retired, have a little bit of extra time but would also like to have a slightly extra income and these would be good examples of different demographics of people that we’ve had. Have I heard any specific instances of people saying that they were let go from the hospitality industry? No.  But I would be hard pressed to guess that there probably are quite a few people that have joined us in the last, because their job is no longer available to them.

TH: And these are essentially contractors. They’re not Buymie employees. We’ve seen some criticism of that gig economy model and some backlash. I was thinking of the US elections, some states had mini referendums on whether to ban delivery services based on this model. There’s a bit of debate around that so how do you work around that? How careful are you not to get caught in criticism of this model?

DH: Yeah, well one of the things I recognised fairly early on and I think we’ve had the benefit of hindsight in the sense that we’re not the first to this market or at least to this model. Decentralised labour networks have been well established now and are coming up on nearly 10 years old. 

One of the things that I recognised fairly early on is that there was a massive knowledge gap in the way… in the understanding that market stakeholders, both policymakers and business and consumers, have on the impact that platform technology is having on the world that we live in. And one of the big areas of impact is how people access labour markets. Typically when you look at the historic structure of a market, economically speaking what you have is you have corporations and they act as nodes on an economic network and they manage and mediate economic activity and labour.

What’s happened in the last decade or so with platform technology, specifically connecting stakeholders in a way that’s never done before, is that we’ve moved from an organisational economy of the 20th century where most of the economic activity was managed by single entities of companies and we’ve now moved to a market-based peer-to-peer economy that is essentially allowing through platform technology allowing stakeholders to connect in a way they’ve never ever done before. And the problem we have is that all of our employment legislation was developed post-World War II.

The fundamentals of our employment legislation were developed for an organisational economy in that era and I think everyone would agree that the world has changed drastically since that period.  So, what I did in the early parts of founding Buymie was actually I also founded a trade body called Sharing Economy Ireland, which was a trade organisation designed to engage directly with policymakers to not just touch on the gig economy but also look at areas which platform was changing. You look at the accommodation industry with the likes of Airbnb, you look at travel with the likes of, etc., all of these platforms are having implications at an industry level, economic level and market level. 

So, I’ve spoken at the Future Works conference for the Department of Jobs to talk about the areas and the opportunities and risks that we face with this. And the problem that we ultimately have is that our legislation is unable to move as fast as our private markets are changing.  That is a natural impact of exponential technology disruption.  I think one of the things that Buymie has done is be very vocal.  We’ve been thought leaders in our space. We actively talk about the gig economy – where the opportunities are and where the risks are.  What you have to be very cognizant of is that when you look at the likes of the US, the US operates in a very different environment at a labour level regardless of the gig economy.  The rules and structures of the labour markets in the US are not the same as Europe. The rules and structures around independent contracting agreements are not the same as they are in Europe.

Devan Hughes: “Our two categories of employment – either employee or independent contractor – is that fitting for the world that we live in?” Photo: Bryan Meade

And if you look at the likes of the referendums, in fact a lot of those referendums were turned around by the people within those markets as well. And a big majority of that was driven by the contractors themselves. People who did not want to lose the flexibility of work. One of the things that’s happened here in Ireland is there’s been a conflation of independent contracting work with zero-hour contracts and that is a really big confusing part, because those two things are not the same. I think this would be a good opportunity to explain why they’re not the same. A zero-hour contract is where I sign a contract with you and you have an obligation to work whenever I present it to you. Okay, so I can give you no hours or I can ask you to work 40 hours and when I give you 40 hours, you better be available. But if I give you two hours, you also better be available.  So, that’s a zero-hour contract. In an independent contractor agreement, there’s no obligation on either party to provide work. So, anyone is free to work or not at any time. That is a very different type of engagement and relationship where the balance is much more equal. I think that’s something that’s really lacking in the conversation, particularly in the media within Ireland.

Two years ago in the UK there was a big report done by Matthew Taylor who was one of the former advisors to Tony Blair. He did a full investigation, on Theresa May’s request, into the gig economy area. He identified that there is absolutely opportunity within the gig economy for driving better market performance, but there are risks and the risks come from the fact that our legislation is not flexible enough and doesn’t recognise the change of nature that’s happened within the labour markets. I think what we need to be really having a conversation about is, does our two categories of employment – either employee or independent contractor, – is that fitting for the world that we live in? Or do we need to start to accept that the access has changed and therefore we maybe need to look at new categories? Because every platform that I’ve spoken to and ourselves included have no issue with looking to introduce additional benefits, risk measures, protection for the people who work on our platforms, but we are not allowed to do that under the current legislation without falling into an entirely different category and having to place significantly more standards and lack of flexible options onto the people that work with us – and that’s not why they work with us.

“Consumer businesses don’t come out of Ireland.  It’s really unheard of. In fact, I would go so far as to say right now we’re probably the fastest-growing consumer platform in Ireland.”

Devan Hughes

TH: Okay, and in very concrete terms, I was thinking of the last three months where your shoppers are going into people’s homes. We’re being asked to limit contacts and their job is to establish those contacts.  How do you go about the risk around that? What kind of responsibility do you feel Buymie has to them?

DH: We are the platform operator and so therefore we have a huge responsibility in protecting all of our stakeholders. The way we look at our platform is a four-sided platform. We have four stakeholders, we have our personal shoppers who create the service, our consumers who consume it, our retailers and our brands and we have a responsibility as the platform operator to provide for those stakeholders. We were the first food delivery platform in Ireland to issue contactless delivery. Our shoppers don’t enter the homes of our customers anymore. 

In fact when I launched the business in 2016, I did 1,800 grocery orders myself in the first 24 months. And often I would go into customers’ homes. I would open their fridge and unpack the bags straight into the fridge for them while having great conversations and getting to know, you know, people in local communities. That was a really enjoyable part of the job and I know that’s one of the parts of the jobs that most of our shoppers miss – having that direct contact. But unfortunately, given the current circumstances, contactless deliveries is something that we did have to implement. A couple of other things that we wanted to look at doing was also helping our shoppers get access to PPE, so we shipped out PPE equipment, particularly face visors to all of our shoppers across all three cities in two countries. And we also introduced a subsidisation scheme which allowed all of our shoppers to offset 50 per cent of the cost of any hand gels, gloves and masks that they had to purchase as part of their work and that was again a contribution from our part to recognise for the great work they were doing and the essential services ultimately that they were providing.

TH: Now, we’ve talked about all the various stakeholders, as you said, except for one I want to get into now, who is the investor in the start-up context. You’ve been raising funds – over 10 million at this stage, half of that just last June. Who at this stage are the most involved investors whether it’s financially or also – I mentioned Eamonn Quinn earlier who’s now chairman – more mentoring in that aspect? Who are you working with most directly in terms of people who’ve been funding Buymie?

DH: We’ve been fundraising for this business and it has been an incredibly challenging task. Consumer businesses don’t come out of Ireland.  It’s really unheard of. In fact, I would go so far as to say right now we’re probably the fastest-growing consumer platform in Ireland. But it wasn’t always that case and the investor market, the investor stakeholder group that we have in Ireland is not designed around consumer businesses. We have great SaaS businesses, great medtech businesses and we have an incredible investor base for that but we really had to perform above and beyond expectations to be able to open up capital access for this business. And I’m happy to say the only way we’ve done that is because we have tremendous thought-leading investors behind us. And we’ve had from the very beginning, Eamonn Quinn is a perfect example.

“You’ll have Amazon in the UK and they’re growing very fast, they grew 320 per cent if I’m not mistaken in grocery last year, so they are a big competitor but Amazon is a bigger threat to grocery retail than it is to us.”

Devan Hughes

I met Eamon six months after I launched Buymie. I was doing grocery deliveries, I met him on a conference and he was kind enough to have coffee with me and then a second and a third and a fourth and he became a mentor to me – and then ultimately joined us as an investor and chairman of the business. People like himself who really understand the industry send a very clear message to the market. Since then, our investor base has grown tremendously and I would say we have a really strategic network of investors today. On our board, maybe I’ll go through who’s active within the business today. We have our three legacy kind of stakeholders who would be Eamonn, Haatch Ventures, which is run by Scott Weavers-Wright and Fred Soneya. Scott, the former CEO of and Haatch, and Eamon really were our first early-stage investors and they led our first three to four rounds together from 2017 through to 2019. Since then, and particularly last year, we raised €2.2 million at the start of 2020 and that was led by ACT Ventures and Sure Valley Ventures. And what I really love about that is that ACT and Sure Valley were the first two venture funds I ever met. I’d never raised capital for business before. This was my first experience with it and those two VCs were the first two that I was introduced to and I met and fast forward three years, they actually led a round into us. That was because they had seen us mature over that time and we’d managed to build such a great relationship with them.

With the onset of Covid, we had also been looking at accelerating our funding strategy and off the back of that came a lead round with Wheatsheaf. Wheatsheaf is the venture arm of the Grosvenor Family Estate which is the Duke of Westminster’s fund. They are a fund entirely dedicated to sustainability and innovation within the food supply chain. They’ve been a tremendous asset to us, but also HBAN. We’ve raised a tremendous amount of money through HBAN. One of the most valuable aspects, I think, for any business in Ireland is having a tremendous network of really well-connected angel investors within their local market. We have probably eight to nine angel investors who have come to us through HBAN and each one of them have added value to our business by helping open doors for us, introduced us to people within their industries and sectors and bringing to the businesses a vast array of experiences that have just been so valuable to us at many different times.

Devan Hughes: “If we’re bought by one industry player, our independence can be skewed.” Photo: Bryan Meade

TH: You’re on the record saying you ultimately want to take Buymie public, so how do you see the path to that?  What’s next in terms of funding and growing the company before you can do that?

DH: Sure. I fully believe that the best natural state for this business is a PLC. The reason I say that is I’ve talked a lot about the responsibility we have not only to our stakeholders but also now to the market, and with a PLC comes a significant level or degree of transparency, compliance. Also, we have to remain as an independent stakeholder. If we’re bought by one industry player, our independence can be skewed and so we won’t be able to play the role that we play today unless we have really strict independent agreements in place. But again, I think the very best outcome for a business like us would be a publicly traded business.

How do we get there? Well, I think a big part of that is just continuing to do what we’re doing today which is servicing our customer in the best possible way. We invest disproportionately in consumer experience. The rate at which our customers come back to us, I think, is evidence of that. We will have a funding strategy. In fact this year we probably will be coming to the market and looking at a possible round. I mean that’s really the focus.  I don’t have a specific timeline for when we would look to go public. The focus right now is to make sure we keep servicing the customer in the way we are today and growing the business as efficiently as we can.  We’re a deeply capitally efficient business. We’ve managed to do a huge amount, we’ve become the number one same-day delivery platform in Ireland with very little capital. As you said, most of our capital actually came last year. €8.2 million was what we raised in 2020 out of the €10.5 that we raised. So, we’ve managed to achieve a lot on not a lot and we’ll continue to do so.

“We could go public off the back of those two markets but that’s not where our ambition ends.  Europe is a very big space.”

Devan Hughes

TH: And would you say you need to reach beyond the UK and Ireland before you can have this potential IPO in the future or is this market sufficient to actually build a PLC as you are describing it?

DH: Buymie will be probably the number one e-commerce platform in Ireland within five years. And the reason I say that is that same-day is going to be the dominant sector for delivery for e-commerce and grocery.  And we’re best placed …

TH: Are Amazon and the big international ones in that?

DH: Yes. Well, yes. So, I would say right now Amazon’s not active in Ireland.  So, we would be the largest in Ireland.  You’ll have Amazon in the UK and they’re growing very fast, they grew 320 per cent if I’m not mistaken in grocery last year, so they are a big competitor but Amazon is a bigger threat to grocery retail than it is to us. So, the bigger Amazon grows, then the more it threatens the existing market for grocery retailers, the more valuable a platform like us becomes. And so we’ll continue to be there for our retail partners to help them compete in this new landscape as it emerges. 

But to our initial question about size, I mean look, the online grocery market in Ireland is going to be €1 billion by 2025. It’s close to 500 million at the moment. It grew 72 per cent last year.  We could build a very sizable business in Ireland. We have significant ambitions and success already in the UK. And we’re going to build a very big business there as well. I think across those two markets we could have a traded business, we could go public off the back of those two markets but that’s not where our ambition ends. Europe is a very big space. We’re not looking at Asia, we’re not looking at the US. Europe is really where we’re going to be playing and there’s a couple of key markets that we’re very interested in there as well.

But right now we have a lot to get through and Ireland is growing like nobody’s business. So, we have a lot of opportunities here and we’re really excited about being in a position now to take a much longer view on the market as we’ve become a more steady-state business. We’re kind of moving into a more mature stage and that’s tremendously exciting. I think where we’ll be looking at this year is a significant level of investment in innovation and technology to continue to build out infrastructure that’s going to transform last-mile grocery.

TH: Okay, Devan Hughes, thank you. We’ll look forward to the next Irish city launch with Buymie to follow the next steps with the company.  Thanks very much.

DH: Thank you very much.

Devan Hughes, CEO of Buymie, plans to eventually go public with his company. Photo: Bryan Meade


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