Most cars on the road are mostly empty. If you’re on an errand, driving alone, you’re probably hauling around dozens of cubic feet of air. What if you made better use of cargo space? A new startup turns your trunk into a neighbor-to-neighbor shipping company: If you’re going from point A to point B, you can help deliver something that needs to go in the same direction.
“If you’re going to a certain neighborhood anyway, it’s another car that’s not going to get on the road,” says Marc Gorlin, founder of Roadie, the new app. “And that UPS truck or FedEx truck doesn’t have to come into the neighborhood to pick it up.”
Anyone with the app can snap a photo of the object they need to move–a sofa, a painting, or anything else that might fit in a car or truck–and add some details about location. Then “Roadies” respond to say when they’ll be going that way.
Gorlin had the idea for the company after a botched shipping job stalled work on his new home in Montgomery, Alabama; a shipment of tiles arrived broken, and the closest replacements were 90 miles away in Birmingham. Gorlin, who was on the road when he heard the news from his contractor, was struck with inspiration.
“I’m sitting there at the overpass looking at all the cars moving, thinking, there’s gotta be someone leaving Birmingham right now heading to Montgomery. I just knew if they were, surely they’d throw a box of tile in their trunk and bring it to me for $20–hell, they’re coming here anyway,” he says.
“Then I thought, there’s someone leaving everywhere, going just about everywhere, all the time. If you could create that transportation heat map, it would be more powerful than UPS, FedEx, and USPS combined, because it’s everyone going everywhere. It also does something they can’t do–which is one-to-one delivery at a reasonable cost and a minimal environmental impact.”
The Roadie making the delivery gets paid a fee they can use to cover the cost of gas for the trip. Unlike services like Uber, or a standard courier service, Roadie makes the most sense to use when a driver is already going somewhere. That means it’s not burning extra fuel, and that helps make it much more affordable.
“When you use Uber and Lyft, you’re essentially summoning someone to come somewhere they weren’t already going, to take you somewhere they also weren’t already going,” Gorlin says. “In this case, if someone’s in your general vicinity, heading in the direction your package needs a lift, you suck a lot of cost out of that equation.”
The service also eliminates the need for packaging. “We say your cargo can ride commando,” he says. “It actually can–it’s not going to have to bounce through four trucks and an airplane to get there. It’s going to sit in a blanket safely in my backseat. You’re reducing packaging materials by at least 80%.”
It’s not an entirely new idea–I used Craigslist rideshare to help deliver a dresser from storage just last weekend. But by vetting drivers and providing some accountability, it’s a lot less sketchy than something like Craigslist. The service also insures all items up to $500, more than you’d get through a traditional shipper.
While Roadie is starting with a focus on peer-to-peer deliveries, it may eventually make deliveries for businesses as well. “You see folks dipping their toes in the water with this idea already,” Gorlin says. Walmart, he points out, has already experimented with asking shoppers to make deliveries to their neighbors on their way home.
For some drivers, being a courier might turn into a job. “We’re going to be able to build consolidation maps where we can allow people to take multiple packages,” Gorlin explains. “The best analogy I can make is eBay–it’s a technology platform that can allow small businesses to start. It’s an empowering thing. And I think Roadie could eventually do the same thing.”
The startup launched in nine Southeastern states, but it’s quickly growing; after enough people download the app in a particular area, the company turns on access there. Days after launch, they were able to open a new service area in Texas.
Pricey courier fees or same-day shipping may someday be a thing of the past. Traditional shippers charge so much because the service is expensive to run, but Gorlin thinks he’s found the answer to that problem. “I’d rather take it from the perspective that everyone’s going everywhere, and use that capacity, which I think removes a lot of costs from the equation,” he says.
“There are a ton of benefits for the person driving,” he says. “You’re getting paid for being a good neighbor. You’re helping someone out, helping the environment, you’re getting discounts. What more could you want?”