Sustainable, carbon-conscious logistics and containerisation

January 26, 2023

In this episode, Legislate meets James Della Valle, co-founder of BoxxDocks, a company developing the next generation of dynamic shipping solutions, giving companies full control and flexibility over their logistics operations. James shares how BoxxDocks are reducing shipping emissions and how they navigated company legals and patent applications when they launched the company.

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Charles Brecque: Welcome to the Legislate podcast. Today I'm excited to welcome James, co-founder of BoxxDocks on the show. BoxxDocks are developing sustainable logistics and containerisation shipping solutions in response to an ever-growing consumer base. BoxxDocks are on a mission to create a truly environmentally-conscious logistics sector. James, would you like to share a bit of background about yourself and BoxxDocks?


James Della Valle: Thanks, Charles, for having us on. My name's James Della Valle. I'm one of the three co-founders of BoxxDocks, and we're a startup based in London and we are on a mission to create sustainable logistics solutions to make an impact on fuel consumption in the B2C and B2B hauling market, and to address the over-consumption of plastic in shipping products.


Charles Brecque: Would you like to share a bit of background about what over-consumption in plastics means to the average listener?


James Della Valle: Absolutely. A bit of background about us and how we came into the market was the tote box stands as the international standard for warehouse logistics operations. It comes in two predominant sizes, full-size and it's used predominantly in internal logistics warehouses to ship products to vans and to storage facilities. It's also used in the back of vans to ship goods from warehouses to suppliers and wholesalers. We got into the business by saying why are there two products, one full-size, one half-size when we can just make one product that folds from full-size to half-size and allows our clients to dynamically ship and adapt their shipping solutions on the fly, on demand, and collapse their package contents and their containerised solutions to the contents of their boxes with the ability to allow them to ship more. My personal background is in architecture and engineering, and we took a very first principle approach to redesigning and coming up with our ultimate solution. What we realised was that a lot of these plastic boxes are over-engineered. They're over-engineered for their life expectancy, they predominantly use virgin plastics in their manufacturing, they're very heavy, they use multiple parts and multiple components, and what we wanted to do was to come along and to change some of our leading solutions. We produced up to 200 grams of plastic content.


We're using fully environmentally-friendly sourced plastics from the UK. We're using ELV plastics, which stands for End-of-Life Vehicle plastic. It's all the black plastic you'll find around cars, gets mulched down, cleaned up, re-injection moulded back into our products, and we have the ability to reduce our carbon footprint by up to 80% per product. So, very first principle approach. What we were finding was in the logistics sector was there has been a huge shift in the last couple of years and a lot of R&D investment going into very advanced software solutions and AI-driven sorting algorithms to make the operation as efficient as possible. Coupled with that there's a huge tranche of investment going towards ELV solutions, whether it's charging, parking and the development of vehicles. You've seen that with the likes of Tesla and Arrival. A lot of the more mundane products at the bottom of the food chain haven't been reinvented since the advent of injection moulding, and where we came to this was saying plastic containerised solutions are always going to be needed, regardless of how advanced your AI sorting algorithm is, and if we take a first principle approach to how these products work and are adapted we can make quite a large dent in the market in both carbon offset and carbon footprint, as well as cost and the ability to reduce our operational cost for our clients.


Charles Brecque: That's really interesting and I agree that the markets always go for the hype, but actually a simple and first principle is often what you need to get started and have maximum impact from day one. Congratulations on leading the way. Seems like you've really achieved quite a lot. What has been your favourite moment so far?


James Della Valle: Favourite moment so far? As a startup, you're constantly looking for validation. You're constantly going out and speaking to people and making sure that you're not barking up the wrong tree. For me, personally, it was when we first went to meet our manufacturers in person. That was a bit of a giveaway that we were on to something, we could actually manufacture something to scale. We could manufacture something at a cost-competitive price point. We're hoping to launch our product to market by the end of the year, which is competitive to our-, even though the price of plastics has gone through the roof and we realised when we went to meet our manufacturers that we were on to something and that this could be made in the UK and what we wanted to do was achievable. There are a number of things along the way that have been really enjoyable. Receiving the first prototype and then the further iterations of-, winning the TechRound, the top 100 UK prize was another tick in the box of validation that we were doing something correct. I don't think there has been one particular stand-out moment for me, personally. As a team it's just keeping up the momentum, keeping up the pace, and actually working hard you start to see some pretty good benefits along the way that keep you going.


Charles Brecque: Especially in a startup, those wins are really important to keep going.


James Della Valle: Yes, absolutely.


Charles Brecque: What do you wish you had known before starting BoxxDocks?


James Della Valle: It would probably be more the legal brainwork to starting businesses, to understanding how they're structured and set up. We're very lucky at BoxxDocks that one of my co-founders, Ali, his background is in corporate law. He has been great to navigate that kind of environment and to really figure out what's the best solution for us and how we can fit and set things up for advantage and hopefully for our clients to take advantage of as well. From my standpoint, I mainly stick towards the manufacturing product, development and outreach of the business, and so I guess it would have been probably a bit more understanding about how as a company we could organise and sell ourselves, which was something which isn't my bread and butter trade. At the same time, with any startup and anyone in a startup, you understand that the majority of things you don't know, and if through that process you start to accumulate knowledge and push it further. I don't think there's particularly one thing in general that I would say, 'I wish I had known this.' However, more of a legal understanding to how businesses are set up, run and structured would have been better at the beginning, probably just to iron creases out along the road.


Charles Brecque: I was lucky to start the company with our chief legal officer, who had that background of creating startups, and it's true that you can use the bog standard everything, and the standard is often great but it needs to be standard but tailored to you. It's one thing getting the foundational documents ready and filed, it's next getting those essential contracts when you're hiring your first employees, or even consultants. Now you've been at this, meeting manufacturers, you've got your MVPcoming out, what's the vision for the next three, five years?


James Della Valle: The vision for the next three to five years, we've got a series of products we're working on. Obviously, given the way in which we manufacture and build these products, the process to actually acquire manufacturing, build the tools required to actually manufacture our boxes, they take up to four to six months to manufacture and make. From our standpoint, if there's a constant refreshing of a product pipeline, of new ideas, new things that we want to work on, both reinventing what's already out there in the market and taking a different approach to those, but also thinking about the future of logistics, whether that's in B2C and moped delivery, or whether that's drone technology, or whether that's smart-chipping devices for security purposes and reasons. We've got a few products in the pipeline that we're working on, which will be coming out after the release of our first two forerunning products. Then, what we want to do is then expand to the European market and global market. We started the mission, all three of us are in England, in London, right now, but we started BoxxDocks thinking that this is going to be a UK company supporting the UK economy, job market and sector, and obviously taking a very environmentally-conscious approach to how we design, manufacture and develop our products. Now it's how do we now roll that model out in Europe? How do we roll that model out in North America, and to make the widest impact as possible. Our products are designed for immediate deployment, and they're designed for the international standard, so there's no real differential between a product in China compared to Paris or France. It's now putting that in place with investors and with guardians, and people, to help us, to say who are the right people to speak to? How do we roll and scale BoxxDocks out across the country, across Europe, and then hopefully across the planet.


Charles Brecque: And how do you scale in a sustainable way.


James Della Valle: Yes. Our biggest carbon footprint is obviously to do with manufacturing, and we're very open with everyone, we're still using plastics and we're looking for future plastics to use. We're looking at hemp and bioplastics and biofuels to manufacture our products from. It's then finding who are the right manufactures for that, what's the scalability of those, what's the cost-competitive price point of those products, and how do they compare to our current recycled plastic products? Where can they be manufactured in Europe or North America? Also, it's our business model. We're taking a very different approach to how we're selling and providing our service to clients, and it's mainly set up around the end-of-life of plastics because that's something which is lacking a lot of investment and not being addressed. Where we're coming from, this is trying to set up a very unique business model, which is allowing us to retain and upcycle those products once they are broken, damaged or lost, we can then reinject those back into the market. So, it's trying to understand and navigate that scaling out across Europe and other countries.


Charles Brecque: As a entrepreneur I imagine you interact with contracts on a daily basis.


James Della Valle: Yes.


Charles Brecque: What are the most common ones that you've come across and what can you tell us about them?


James Della Valle: The most things that we deal with at the moment, from Ali's perspective as well, is IP, trademark, protection over the products that we're working with. From a day-to-day standpoint, when we first started out we took an approach of we wanted to find a series of prototyping and manufacturing partners and then to work with them. During that period of time, because what our product is and what we're working on is confidential, it's patent-pending, and so it was just providing the comfort to us that the people that we're speaking to were bound into what we're working on. From our standpoint, it was mainly NDAs and then IP, trademarks and protection, is our predominant, legal paperworking framework that we work with.


Charles Brecque: With that patent-pending application, was that filed in the UK, in the US?


James Della Valle: It was the UK. We're part of the UCL Hatchery incubator programme as well. Myself, being a former UCL student. Because of that, we had a lot of support from their team and from their guardians onboard, who have reached out and gave us time with legal specialists who understand the patent process, the documents you need to file, what exactly you're trying to get a patent upon and how is that unique. Of course, from our standpoint as well, and referencing back to your earlier question, was how do you get something patented and protected but also allows you the flexibility to scale that product for multiple products, allowing that technology that makes us unique at BoxxDocks to be used across multiple products. That was a difficult period of time, trying to figure out the best approach and who to go with and how to file it, and how to speed up the process, and where to spend the money and allocate the right funds to the right place. UCL have been great at helping us with that process.


Charles Brecque: I imagine with UCL support it probably made the whole patent application process a bit more cost effective?


James Della Valle: Yes. It just makes it a bit easier because they point you to the right places. They've got a great community down there where people have obviously worked with multiple people and met different companies, have worked with other legal firms, and so they point you to the right place first, because other people have also gone through that process. So, it just speeds everything up.


Charles Brecque: At Legislate, our chief legal officer is a qualified solicitor, she started a career as a patent attorney. From day one, she helped us though the patent application process and we received our patent last summer, a US patent, which we're now scaling through Patent Treaties. With those contracts, you mentioned NDAs and IP protection contracts, were there any objections or challenges or areas of friction that you had to overcome, and how did you overcome them?


James Della Valle: There were a few with some of our designs that we're working on. It was mainly just the images that we submitted weren't clear enough for the exact process that they wanted for the trademark. So, there were a few little snags. However, the feedback that you receive from those changes is pretty clear, so it was implementing a quick change and then resubmitting them. Like I said, it's great because with one of my co-founders being a corporate solicitor by trade it makes life a million times easier, because you've got someone who already understands the landscape and can point you and guide you into the right direction about what to change and how to, which has massively helped. Yes, there were a few snag and tweaks on the way that we had to change and make.


Charles Brecque: I'm conscious, James, that I have already taken a lot of your time so I'm going to ask you the closing question we ask all our guests. If you're being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you?


James Della Valle: From my standpoint, it's just about being as clear and as punctual, getting to the point as easily as possible, explaining exactly what I'm signing up towards and what exactly the contract is binding me too. So, I guess it would just be clarity and punctuality in what you're trying to say. It also depends on the contract, because it depends on how you're being bound to it. If it's something you need to deliberate on for longer, but from my standpoint it would be a clear layout of exactly what I'm signing up towards, and clarity, is key.


Charles Brecque: At Legislate, that's the gap we're trying to bridge. We try to offer inline explanations for clauses which need to be worded a certain way, so that people understand what they mean, why they're there. Finally, we try to offer different views of the contracts, both as a set of questions and answers, but also as a breakdown of obligations and the restrictions of each side to really help, we call them the unlawyered, our community, to navigate those contracts.


James Della Valle: Thank you.


Charles Brecque: Best of luck conquering the UK and Europe. Hopefully we can have you on the show again at some point.


James Della Valle: Amazing. Thank you very much, Charles, for your time, and I look forward to seeing how it goes


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