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Other innovations 23/08/2017

Please, the digital platform that gives businesses in the city center a boost

Please is a startup that came out of ENGIE’s intrapreneurship process. It provides a digital platform for delivering products to and from local businesses in suburban areas and city peripheries. We asked CEO David Denis to tell us about this new solution and the innovative way it was developed.

Hello David. Can you give us a short introduction to Please?

I typically say that Please is the network that allows businesses to digitize what they do and to deliver everything a city has to offer in terms of shopping. Please is specifically focused on semi-urban areas, but it also works as well in rural areas and medium-sized cities, via an innovative model for rolling out locally.
Please could also be defined in three different ways:

  • for users, Please is a mobile application that lets them get products and services delivered to their home from local shops.
  • for local businesses, Please helps develop online sales and home delivery. It also gives them greater visibility.
  • at a more macro level, Please helps revitalize commercial areas in cities that are too small to attract bigger businesses.

We also offer a management solution for micro-entrepreneurs, BeRegloThis website allows self-employed people to manage their accounting, invoicing, tax and social security declarations, etc.

This helps all of the small businesses who use Please to keep their books in order, whether they deliverer products, work as hairdressers at home or whatever else.
We first came up with the idea of the app based on what a self-employed person’s basic needs would be: sending invoices, getting paid, making tax declarations, explaining what they do and making everything really simple. Our users are really pleased with it, and the application has even been recommended by the French federation of self-employed workers!
So, as you can see, Please is a little too complex to be defined just in a few words ...
Q- How did you get the idea for Please?
We observed that there was a lack of services in small and medium-sized cities, versus a plethora of options in large cities.
The initial idea was to create something rather like existing "physical" neighborhood concierge services, with a shop providing many services. But the model turned out to be less than agile, so at the end of 2016 we moved towards a shop-less model that can be used by any and all shops and service providers in a city. We “dematerialized” the physical concierge.

All types of business use the app: dry cleaners, food shops, hairdressing salons, restaurants ... Anyone offering a product or service can join the platform.

Our team is currently made up of 3 ENGIE employees and 3 former startuppers, we we’re very balanced in terms of skills.

Q - How does your platform differ from other delivery platforms like as Uber Eats or Deliveroo?
Our solution involves a model, I would even call it a philosophy, that allows us to integrate ourselves into each city at the local level. There is no other tool like ours for cities with populations less than 30,000, not to mention smaller towns and villages, and yet the demand is there.
Our model fits smaller and medium-sized cities by being innovative and people-based. Focusing on people is what makes us really different from our competitors. If Uber wants to develop in a city, they have to set up a delivery or private taxi infrastructure and hire a team to get up and running. Because of their fixed costs, cities that are fairly small – which most of them are – aren’t big enough to invest in it.
We’re different because:

  • We offer multiple services: for food, we offer something similar to Deliveroo or Uber Eats. But our users also have access to other services in the same app: bakery, catering, laundry, etc. And they can get them delivered wherever they want. We being all of a city’s shops together in the same application.
  • It is specifically for medium-sized cities that are too small to offer a market for the big ones in the sector
  • our bottom-up approach: instead of imposing a centralized structure, we start from the local ecosystem and bring them together on the platform. Being close to local providers is important and our users appreciate it.
  • our local presence: we have local offices whose staff are connected with local non-profits, networks and communities. The app is rolled out locally by someone who lives in your city, who knows it well, who knows a lot of people. This city manager is the point of contact for all local businesses and organizes the logistics for them. As the chairman of a merchants' association said to me, "this is the first time he could put a face on a digital platform". 
  • our "turnkey" partnership solution: the local entrepreneur who is going to partnership using our solution and our business model will be able to develop his or her start-up locally without having to purchase additional IT support, build and test their business model , develop a brand, processes, or an economic model, since we’ve already taken these steps.

Q- What’s the future of Please? 
To repeat something we were repeatedly told during the incubation process, "a start-up has to get used to living on the edge of the cliff ..." For us, the future involves rolling out our solution in several cities by the end of 2017 to confirm that the concept is scalable. We will are going to launch internal and external fundraising rounds to then start doing business in thirty cities in 2018. 
In our business plan, we plan to be present in fifty cities within two years, with about 40 people in the team, since we’ll be based on a network of partners who will be able to work in cities of very different sizes. 
In our economic model, we know how to address a city of 20 000 inhabitants, with a local partner who will be able to pay themselves comfortably. They’re the ones who will be embodying the Please brand. We hope that in a few years as Please will be as well-known as other major brands! Our main goal is for consumers to see and use one brand, Please, behind which is a network of partners who respect certain processes and guarantees of quality. 

Q - Tell us about the incubation process that helped you develop. 

 Our team includes both people from ENGIE and others who joined us from outside the company. For those coming from ENGIE, its’s clear that the adventure would never have started without the incubation process. The three team members who joined us from outside are startuppers who set up their company but couldn’t go any further because of a lack of funds. 

The incubation process is a huge opportunity for ENGIE staff to launch something they couldn’t have done otherwise. What I particularly enjoyed was the absence of judgment. The lean method they use lets your ideas evolve and transform by being confronted with reality. You try to find a model - or not find it. 

For Please, we did a lot of test runs, and incubation allowed us to refine the model and identify potentially profitable sectors. Now we’re up and running and trying to replicate the solution. The final model resembles the original in 90% of ways. But that 10% that changed made it viable, and we were only able to do it through the iterative incubation process. 

Another important point is that we got legal, accounting, financial and social assistance from the outset, which allowed us to concentrate on the idea we wanted to develop. ENGIE provided a lot of useful support and expertise.

Source: Christine Leroy

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