September 3, 2014

Rickshaw Same-day Delivery Uses Zipcars Instead Of, Well, Rickshaws

Imagine running a small laundry business when, one day, a customer requests same-day delivery service. You have a staff of three people (including yourself), but you manage (jumping a few logistical hurdles) to make it work. Then, word spreads and more customers want the same service. With limited funds to hire additional staff, you have a problem.

Co-founders Gautam Jayaraman and Divya Bhat, the masterminds behind Rickshaw’s seamless same-day delivery system (via Zipcars, natch).

Or maybe you operate a meal subscription service and a few of your drivers call in sick on the same day, causing orders to go unfulfilled and customers to leave nasty online reviews. 

Rickshaw is here to solve headache-inducing delivery issues for business owners. Based in San Francisco, the company is a same-day delivery service for local companies. It functions in a “white label” format — drivers from Rickshaw seamlessly represent themselves as drivers from client companies. That way, customers don’t know the difference. A much less sweaty enterprise than a traditional rickshaw, these guys use Zipcars and vans to carry out the deliveries. 

Launched in May 2013, Rickshaw was created by Divya Bhat and Gautam Jayaraman, a married pair of MIT graduates who have long histories in tech (they previously co-founded the music technology startup, Jamglue). We stopped by their garage/warehouse workspace in San Francisco’s South of Market district to hear more about how the company will revolutionize delivery for businesses.

Zipcar: How did you and Gautam come up with the idea for Rickshaw?

Divya: We closed our previous business in 2010 and were both working at other tech companies [Divya was director of rentals at Trulia; Gautam was an engineer at Dropbox]. We wanted to get back into the startup scene, and I thought it would be fun to create an Airbnb-style company for food, formalizing meal preparation from the home (i.e. enabling people to make extra money by selling homemade food). I started thinking about the distribution logistics and realized that delivery would be difficult with a company like that.

Then, we thought that other small businesses probably deal with delivery issues all the time — issues that take away from their core business — so why not start a same-day delivery service instead. 

Take me back to the early days of Rickshaw. Do you remember your first order?

Absolutely. It was on July 29, 2013. We actually had two customers that wanted deliveries on that day. It was just Gautam and I back then, so we went out, rented Zipcars and did the deliveries ourselves. We actually did the deliveries ourselves for about the first four months of our company.

Is it true that you use Zipcars even today? Why?  

Yes. Zipcar is such an easy option for us. It helps us control our costs because everything — gas, insurance, maintenance — is included, so we know exactly what we’re spending, which is incredibly important as an early stage company. Also, Zipcars are always in good shape, which is good for our image, and we love that the company rents out cargo vans.

How many drivers do you have right now, and how do you recruit new talent?

We currently have 12 drivers. We rely on referrals and Craigslist postings to find our drivers. Once we find someone, we put him or her through a vetting process, which includes a background check.

Tech and service are the heart of the company, from order placement to fulfillment.

How do you dress your drivers so the customer doesn’t know he or she is from Rickshaw?

We do this in a variety of ways with lanyards, sometimes hats; we also have a few t-shirts that our drivers wear for certain clients.  

How do you inform each driver where they are going and how they should act with particular clients?

We’ve created an internal app for our drivers that includes directions to wherever they are going and notes specific to the client, who their main contact is, etc. It is hugely helpful in making the client experience go smoothly. 

Is it difficult to find customers? How are you attracting new clients?

No, it hasn’t been difficult. I do some business development, but we are also getting unsolicited inbound requests and calls from client referrals. It seems like a lot of companies need help with the delivery part of their business. We are filling a real need. 

How does a client book a delivery with Rickshaw?

There are several ways, depending on the customer and order. If the order is small, a company can fill in an online form. For larger orders, we synchronize with a spreadsheet to schedule orders. For our steady, large-order clients, we use an API (application programming interface) that we’ve created. The API plugs into the client’s system so that when a customer submits an order to the company, that order goes directly to us, making it even more seamless for our clients.

What does the future hold for Rickshaw? Are you planning to expand to other areas?

Right now we are working hard to build tools that will help automate the booking and dispatch process and allow us to scale. We hope to expand to other parts of the Bay Area later this year and are looking to get involved with other niche companies because we see same-day delivery as a huge market — one that could use a lot of help. It’s a really exciting time.