Whether it's the rigmarole of managing an ever-changing list of names in an Excel spreadsheet or even paper on a clipboard, self-registered pin codes that mustn't be forgotten, or simply keeping track of keys, antiquated locker systems can be a burden for both users and the people who look after them.
It is an industry so ripe for disruption, so obvious in its addressable problems, that it is remarkable that of all the entrepreneurs and tech companies worldwide that could have risen to the challenge, four young entrepreneurs from UNSW Founders' 10x accelerator have cracked the code.
With clients including Nike, Canon, Commerzbank, Zurich as well as numerous Australian companies, organisations and governments, Yellowbox has deftly developed a product that is both hardware and software, rolling out globally and capitalising on trends of hybrid working and flexible office spaces.
Yellowbox co-founder Ho Jun Tang explains there are two primary types of users for the product - employees accessing the lockers with their company swipe cards or via a mobile app on their phone, and facilities managers.
"A lot of the ROI (return on investment) we provide is in automating locker management, so a lot of the labour-intensive tasks related to managing lockers from handing out keys, allocating lockers to doing email communications to those staff, opening lockers remotely," says Tang, who alongside co-founders Vanessa Zhao, Ben Delaney and Adrian Brossard was a finalist at the 2023 Sydney Young Entrepreneur Awards.
"It takes one full-time facility manager to manage just 800 [traditional] lockers, so there is a decent amount of time invested on the company’s part, and that doesn’t even include the time that employees take to request a locker or to have issues sorted."
He says the offering has now been used up to two million times, but the company is still only scraping the surface of opportunity from some 15 million offices globally.
"Lockers have become a critical enabler for hybrid working environments in providing the home base for staff, as their permanent desk and cabinet is transformed into a hot desk," Tang says.
"What we’ve done over the past couple of years now is we’ve become real leaders in the smart locker technology space. We're very much always one of the first companies reached out to in relation to smart locker technology within corporate workplaces.
"We’ve more than doubled the business over the past few years and we’re lucky enough to be able to service great clients like Nike and Canon, and most recently here locally the Royal Melbourne Hospital which was a very large project as well."
Tang met his fellow Yellowbox co-founders at university where they entered a pitching competition, coming second and securing $5,000 to build the product before ultimately being accepted into the accelerator.
Having worked in corporate workplaces and seeing how seemingly every aspect of the physical workplace except lockers was being digitised, they understood the untapped possibilities.
"Our first few clients were in the public space. For example, one was Randwick City Council - we tailored their locker system towards a public use case and being able to manage it through a management app," Tang says.
"The more clients that we had in diverse spaces, such as public spaces, libraries, and then offices, we started to build more and more of the features and the software products that the clients were demanding.
"Then we sourced and worked with our manufacturers to build the hardware and the firmware to meet those needs as well."
Tang, who is most focused on the product and growth sides of the business, explains each founder brings a different skill set to the table.
"Adrian and Vanessa are incredible on business development and partnerships, so they’ve really taken those roles within their stride - Adrian particularly in Australia and Asia-Pacific, and then Vanessa who’s based in the Netherlands and has really taken that role in her stride in the UK and across Europe," he says.
"Ben, who's our CTO (chief technology officer) has really taken the product from zero to where it is now."
Zhao moved to the Netherlands in 2020, around a year after the company was founded, and already had ties to the country having studied on exchange at the University of Utrecht. The startup also had one of its first big breaks in the Netherlands thanks to its acceptance into Techstars, which also included $175,000 in funding.
Overseas expansion has been a major contributor to Yellowbox's success. For most of the past two years, around 60 per cent of sales were in Australia with the remaining 40 per cent abroad, but now that ratio has flipped with 37 per cent of revenue coming from Australia and 63 per cent derived from international sales. Apart from its offices in Sydney and The Hague, the company also has a New York office servicing the US and Canadian markets.
Tang says much of the recent growth has come from a hardware adaptation launched in mid-2022, involving a hardwired lock designed to capture large offices with more than 500 lockers.
"At that point, you really need a lock instead of a battery lock system, so the company doesn’t need to manage batteries all the time," he says.
"That was something that was in development for six to nine months with a lot of feedback from our clients and distributors, and in collaboration with them, we were able to build up that hardwired system and make sure it was technically simple for our distributors to also install onto lockers that they had as well.
"We had already built a lot of the management and usage software – that cut the time of development by quite a bit because we already had that software ready to go, and then it was just an R&D hardware project."
Yellowbox, which still only has seven staff including its founders, has increased its average project size by 3-5x as a result of the hardwired lock introduction, and Tang is excited about the growth ahead.
"One of the mentors that I just recently talked to was surprised that every time we catch up with him he hears from us that we’re literally the only company that isn’t on the treadmill of requiring capital every couple of months or year," the entrepreneur says.
"We've been able to build a strong model that allows us to reinvest the revenue generated into growing the business organically."
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