When Sarah broke off her engagement with Will at the last minute, Will was understandably upset, and even a little angry. The last thing he wanted to do was spend hundreds of dollars shipping boxes of his ex-fiancée’s stuff across two states – but she insisted he send it all back, tout de suite.
Luckily, a local guy just happened to be headed that way and was more than happy to take three trash bags full of Sarah’s stuff off Will’s hands for a fraction of what Will would have spent mailing it from the post office or via one of the freight forwarders.
Here’s another one: A Florida clothing retailer needed to move a bunch of mannequin arms and legs up to Wisconsin. It just so happened that a local man was headed up there shortly – and he had a pickup truck. He was more than happy to fill the bed with spare mannequin limbs and drop them off when he arrived.
Then there was the cat that simply had to arrive at its owner’s NYC location before the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve. Very lucky that someone was already headed that way. Another driver was traveling from Las Vegas to Santa Monica, so it was really no trouble to throw that seven-foot statue of Star Wars’ Jar Jar Binks in the back of the car on his way.
These strange stories are all in a day’s work for a Roadie – that is, one of the regular people driving their own, regular vehicles from place to place, who sign up for Roadie’s two-sided marketplace app to help transport goods on their way to places they’re already going.
Of course, these drivers aren’t just moving stuff out of the goodness of their hearts; they do make a decent fee for their service, especially considering that they’re not doing any extra work.
Roadie CEO Marc Gorlin would call it a win-win-win-win. The sender saves money on shipping, with regular updates along the way, anytime access to the driver – and their package may even arrive sooner than if they’d sent it by UPS. The driver earns money by going wherever he or she was already going.
This ridesharing service for things mitigates the environmental and traffic congestion-based impacts of adding more trucks to the road to meet consumer demand for the cheap, fast delivery promised by industry giants like Amazon.
And, of course, it’s a win for Roadie every time the company puts down roots in a new market, thus expanding its network of drivers and increasing demand for the platform – both of which are needed for such a marketplace to be sustainable.
In a recent episode of “The Matchmaker Is In,” Gorlin spoke with Karen Webster about why the platform got started, how it all works, and why he believes it can continue to grow in the coming years.
The Origin Story
Roadie is based in Atlanta, GA, but Gorlin also owns a condo on the Gulf Coast, which suffered water damage after a developer’s error in an adjacent unit’s master bathroom destroyed bathrooms in six other units. Gorlin decided that, since he would have to redo the bathroom anyway, he was going to make the shower nicer by putting in some tile.
The day of the tiling project rolled around. Gorlin hopped in his car and started driving. About halfway to his destination, he got a call from the tiler that the shipment wouldn’t be there until Monday. It was Thursday at the time.
The shipment, it turned out, was in Birmingham – about 90 minutes from where Gorlin had stopped to make the call. Gorlin reflected that someone from Birmingham must be headed in that direction, and surely that person would have been happy to throw those tiles in his trunk to hand off once he arrived in Montgomery. Gorlin gladly would’ve paid him $20 for the favor.
That’s when Gorlin began to see the existing transportation network as an untapped, sustainable resource.
“It’s probably the most on-time, on-demand, efficient transportation network there is, and it already exists,” he said. “It’s just a matter of figuring out who’s going where, when.”
“When I tell the tile story,” Gorlin went on, “people always tell it right back to me. Their tile might be a dog, the order they made from the local hardware store, or the ladder they bought from Home Depot and needed to get home, but they only had a Prius. Everybody has a tile story.”
How It Works
On-the-way delivery only works if drivers are on their way to places where things need to be delivered, from places where people want things delivered.
That’s what makes marketplaces hard, said Gorlin: You have to build up both sides. For Roadie, that meant building up a base of engaged drivers who are available in all the places they’re needed, all the time – and that meant building up a base load of demand in those markets.
Drivers can download the app from the App Store or Google Play and sign up to receive gig suggestions based on their patterns and routes. They’re “always on” in that a request could come at any time, said Gorlin, but the app uses data science to put the right opportunities in front of the driver – and the driver always has the choice not to accept a gig.
Gorlin explained that cost is calculated by size and distance. Weight is irrelevant, and there are no fuel surcharges. For instance, a bowling ball weighs a lot more than a box of feathers, but both could fit in the front seat of a car, so why should one cost more to transport than the other?
“We call it ‘friend-shipping’ because you shouldn’t care about your friends’ weight,” Gorlin quipped.
At the end of the day, drivers keep 80 percent of their fees – which is not too shabby for taking a trip to a place they would have taken a trip to either way. Customers can give drivers a performance rating.
In a worst-case scenario, if a driver turns out to be untrustworthy and never delivers the item, Gorlin said everything is insured with the same backing as a UPS shipment, thanks to an investment by the legacy freight forwarder.
There are two niches that Roadie has found itself filling, said Gorlin.
First, it enables small and medium businesses (SMBs) to compete with Amazon by meeting customer expectations for fast shipping, cheap or free. It can be especially useful for SMBs with daily sending needs, Gorlin said, mentioning florists and dry cleaners as examples. The possibility of delivery may open new doors for an SMB, such as a bakery, that may not have thought about delivering before.
Second, it taps into the ever-expanding sharing economy and gig-work culture while filling the insatiable need for people to get things delivered on the same day they’re ordered – a capability that Gorlin said has become table stakes for almost every business today.
As an added bonus, if there’s anything millennials love more than the sharing and gig economies, it’s a business that has retained some level of human interaction. Sure, this generation is all about efficiency and loves to do business on their phones – anything from shopping to banking – but millennials’ willingness to pay a premium for anything artisanal belies their true priorities.
As other businesses bend over backwards to remove the human elements from their business, Gorlin said that Roadie connects people. Maybe a customer and driver found out they went to the same college, for example. He even mentioned one couple that met and got married because of Roadie.
“We had a guy that brought a dog from a lady in California on his way to New York,” Gorlin shared. “He dropped it off in Chicago, met her … they wound up having dinner, he dropped by on his way back through, and they got engaged to be married last Valentine’s Day.”
With a laugh, he adds: “That’s the Roadie Tinder angle we don’t advertise.”