In 2018, my friend Phil Weinman introduced me to packaging guru Preston Geeting to discuss the potential for a disruptive play in the packaging industry. While talking to Preston, the first thing that struck me was how challenging it was for customers, distributors, and suppliers to have any visibility into their packaging orders. There was no focus on information flow, and it seemed like everyone spent most of their time chasing each other up to find out what was going on. Preston mentioned that, like most people in the industry, he spent 90% of his time chasing quotes, orders, and delivery times, with only 10% dedicated to working with customers.
The next challenge was the complexity of everything. Customers wanted their products to reach their customers, and they needed their boxes, padding, inserts, tapes, and strappings to arrive when needed. However, in most cases, each item came from a different supplier, creating multiple things to chase and increasing friction. I remember telling Preston at the time, "This is the industry digital forgot" because nothing seemed easily available online.
Compounding these issues was the difficulty and time for customers to set up an account, get access to credit, and receive quotes for products, let alone get deliveries when needed. It also meant they worked with a small number of suppliers as establishing multiple relationships was too challenging. In considering a disruptive play, we saw the sense of having a limited number of relationships but believed that through a relationship with a Packform dealer, we could give customers access to a larger pool of suppliers, and our "managed marketplace" model emerged.
When we started working on the technology, our focus wasn't just on creating greater visibility and choice from a technological viewpoint; it was about transforming the experience for customers, dealers, and suppliers. As someone seen as a pioneer in the digital industry, I have always said that you need to create joyful experiences on the front end, and your back-end technology needs to work. On top of that, the digital world doesn't stand still. As new ways of doing things emerge, our customers, dealers, and suppliers quite rightly expect us to keep pace.
Originally, Preston was our test pilot as we worked through the initial development of Packform. Phil, I, and the broader team made the commitment to Preston to flip his working experience on its head. We would change things so that 90% of his time was available to spend with his customers, and while there would still be some admin, we would make that 10% or less. In May 2019, Preston gave us the thumbs up and said that we had achieved that goal from the dealer perspective. At that point, we started to build our dealer base, which also meant building out our customer and supplier base.
Our Product Manager, Chief Technology Officer, and UX lead get together every week to take on board feedback and continuously develop the platform. We release new features every week and work at a velocity that we believe is unmatched in the packaging industry. The fundamental drivers of creating better experiences remain at the heart of what we do, so it has been very exciting to see the rapid development of another first in the industry - Packform GPT.
The launch of Chat GPT showed us how the way people interact with knowledge could fundamentally change. Instead of searching for information in the form it has been published, we interact with information through words and conversations that are relevant to us and what we are trying to do. When you apply that thinking to packaging, we knew that trying to work out what packaging is right for a customer is very complex. We decided to enable our customers to have a conversation about their packaging needs and get recommendations for what would be best for them. We also help our users understand technical packaging terms like Mullen (i.e., strength) or whether you need a B or C flute for your corrugated cardboard, instead of expecting them to know what it all means. Customers can also explore what eco- friendly options are available and specify what quantities they need by when. With this information, we can automatically complete the quote request or order, making it a much better experience for everyone. In line with creating great experiences, you can always chat with a dealer if you want to sense-check the recommendations or just reassure yourself that everything is okay. In the world of AI, we call that having a human in the loop, or in this case, a dealer in the loop.
We have done a lot of work getting our data in the right shape and ensuring our catalog has all the required information, and we will be testing and refining Packform GPT over the next few weeks before making it available to all. We are not only proud to be living up to our mantra of Cheaper, Faster, Better but also making sure that packaging is at the forefront of digital innovation.