Monday, February 17, 2014

Crain's Article on WeDELIVER

How WeDeliver is taking a page from Airbnb and Lyft

 - Jimmy Odom
Jimmy Odom
The frenetic pace that's associated with launching a tech startup burns out plenty of would-be entrepreneurs. Not Jimmy Odom. The 31-year-old founder of Chicago-based WeDeliver says he used to stay awake for three days as he bounced between film school at Columbia College Chicago and jobs as an emergency medical technician and Apple Store employee.
So when Mr. Odom left Apple last year to concentrate on WeDeliver, he wasn't intimidated by the challenge. Indeed, after WeDeliver won the Startup Weekend Chicago competition in November, he plunged headlong into the new business along with several colleagues. The company began testing its product this week with a single client — Lincoln Park florist Dilly Lily.
WeDeliver aims to turn regular folks into delivery personnel for local merchants. It's a similar concept to home- or car-sharing companies, but in this case you're sharing your time. Have a couple of hours? Then sign onto WeDeliver's network and make a couple of deliveries. For local merchants, WeDeliver promises a way to keep up with e-tailers by offering same-day delivery.
Mr. Odom expects to add more merchants this spring; he says several are ready, but he wants to make sure the service works smoothly before adding them. He also says 130 people signed up to be delivery specialists during the week he hosted an application form online. He tells Crain's contributor Steve Hendershot more about the business.
Crain's: Where did you get the idea for WeDeliver?
Jimmy Odom: I like solving hard problems, and I like tackling problems that are difficult for me or people around me. WeDeliver came from my mom asking me to go to the store for her while I was watching "The Walking Dead." It's my No. 1 show, but when it's your mom, you can't say no to going to the store. So I did it, but I thought, "I'd pay somebody 10 bucks just so I don't have to deal with this right now." That was the seed of the idea. From there, I did my research — dug in and grabbed every bit of data I could about the market and the competitors. I've gotten really good at the process of identifying what moves a business.
By the time I headed to Chicago Startup Weekend, I had already talked to the merchants. I knew they wanted this. We were getting further into their story then, and we found out there are a few things that bug them. You've got business owners that have been in the community for long periods of time, but they are getting squeezed out by the big online retail like Amazon. Local merchants needed an alternative to e-commerce. We thought, "How about we give them back a competitive advantage, the ability to get their product to a customer with delivery on the same day?" Sure enough, it clicked.
Think about your economy and how many people are unemployed underemployed right now. It's a huge number. And we're seeing all these companies that use the share model, the sharing economy — Airbnb has created a billion-dollar company around sharing your couch, now Lyft has built a company around sharing your car. So there's power in sharing. We said, "Let's offer time. Let's offer the time that people have, and facilitate the transportation of goods."
Explain your strategy behind adding customers so slowly.
Some people tell entrepreneurs that you should be embarrassed about your first product. That's not how I look at it. I'm very much a perfectionist. So we've been holding off even though merchants have said, "Can we please use you guys?" Then, finally, we brought in one of the owners, Christine Noelle from the flower shop Dilly Lily, and she laid her case out for why she needed us. So I said, "If you're OK with not having the tech — the backend to utilize the website and interact that way — then we can totally do this. I just want the best experience for you." We started with her on Monday.
We don't want to (release beta) until we've worked more on the experience that merchants have with our technology platform. How do I provide a good experience for the merchant? By creating a phenomenal experience for the customer, who's been sent a photo of our delivery specialty and even a description of the vehicle they're coming in. We want there to be that comfort level, that accountability with that.
So Dilly Lily is the first company that we're up and running with. We're purposely restricting access to the platform, and it's not for a lack of interest. It's because I value customer experience so heavily and I want to make sure that we're able to on-board our delivery specialists with the proper expectations so we can deliver the right experience. We want delivery to be a beautiful, white-glove experience.
That's another point that stands out about your model: It's not just crowd-sourced delivery — it aspires to create a very high-end experience. How will you do that?
We purposefully did not advertise to delivery drivers, because that's not our focus. Our focus is on customer experience. We provide a customer experience for the merchant. A merchant like Dilly Lily spends so much time making unbelievably beautiful floral arrangements, but traditionally, those extremely delicate arrangements have been transported by a messenger who is not focused on the end customer.
We want that customer experience to be transformational, not transactional. How beautiful is it when Dilly Lily can say, "You can track the floral arrangement you sent to your wife in real time on a map"? Our customers will be able to watch as our specialists make their way to the delivery site. They're also able to chat in real time, so if the customer finds out they're going to be downstairs instead of upstairs and won't be able to hear the back door, they can send real-time updates to the delivery specialist.
It's sick. There is massive value in that. But we go one more step. When you order something from FedEx, they say, "Hey, it's going to there between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m." And because I don't know when you're coming, I'm going to sit there and wait and wait and wait. With WeDeliver, it's "Why don't you tell us when you'd like it?" It's on-demand delivery, not just same-day. And even if the merchant business is closed, we can still facilitate transportation because we know what time that customer is going to want that item.
Right now, we facilitate delivery and transportation of goods for people who already deliver — companies like florists and bakeries. We find our delivery specialists through advertisements and job applications. They are free to check in when they want to; they don't need to work 9-to-5. It's on their time.

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