Our special series about tech businesses founded in 2020 highlights tales of resilience, remote relationships and pivoting. No.3: Bother
Doug Morton was working on shaking up what he calls the outdated UK supermarket business model when COVID arrived.
When supermarkets struggled to deal with panic buying at the start, he says it proved the need he had identified for Bother, the London-based digital retailer and delivery service for non-perishable goods.
Bother aims for “fast delivery of the boring basics” – the likes of loo roll, tinned food and washing detergent Morton says is clogging up the supermarket delivery system because it has no need to be sent out in a refrigerated van.
“Shopping hasn’t changed since the 1960s but our lifestyles have, and consumers sleepwalk into thinking about groceries the way the four biggest players think it should be done,” says Morton, an ex-fund manager and head of research with a global bank.
He says the business intends to support the high street by encouraging people to buy their fresh food locally, with Bother providing the basics. “We don’t see ourselves as a shop, we’re more a household management tool that tries to minimise the effort it takes consumers to replenish the home.”
Bother allows people to create a list of household essentials, choosing how often and when they’ll be delivered, with the system learning how often items will be needed and automatically adding them to their next box.
Originally due to launch in June 2020, the service was brought forward to April and opened exclusively to key workers and elderly people, who Morton says were missing out on delivery slots with traditional supermarkets.
Morton, whose 15-strong team includes the ex-director of global engineering at Just Eat and a team of data scientists, says the system reduces panic buying because people know they’ll get what they need when they need it. Delivery is free and next day, and Morton says Bother is working to reduce packaging to lessen shoppers’ impact on the environment.
One challenge was promoting the business during what was a delicate time. “We didn’t want to be seen as profiting from the situation,” he says. “We’d drawn up a huge marketing campaign to be run our nationally pre-COVID, but we threw it out because we knew we had to be mindful of what people were going through.”
Morton says having the ethos of looking as far ahead as possible meant Bother could ride the storm, with supplier relationships already established meaning the business could launch as planned.
“This is a huge opportunity for lots of businesses,” he says. “This is the first time we’ve had a global reset, and it’s awful but we can either sit back and say ‘it’s awful’ and see everything crumble or you can pull your trousers up and find opportunities to help and make a difference.”