A Blog by Jonathan Low


Feb 25, 2015

The Genius of Combining Sharing-Economy Principles, Tech-Enabled Package Delivery - and Waffle House's Infrastructure

Hey, the great thing about convergence is that it's supposed to surprise us. If it were so predictable everyone would be doing it (yes, they certainly are trying) - or at least doing it well. 

A startup called Roadie is taking on Fed Ex and UPS with a sharing economy approach that involved one of the old school networks: a traditional, calorie-laden enterprise called Waffle House.

People who want something delivered go online, identify a pick-up - at the Waffle House nearest them - and a drop-off - at the Waffle House nearest the destination. People who are going or willing to go that way get paid a few bucks to do the work.

What's interesting is that this utilizes big data, current infrastructure and tech to provide a solution. The company has identified the most heavily traveled routes in America (see below) and - what do you know - that just happens to correspond with most Waffle House locations. They dont have to invest in expensive structural warehouses, retail sites or even trucks and drivers. Meanwhile, Waffle House gets a piece of the action which helps its bottom line since it's already invested (and depreciated) the structures it built.

Win-win-win? Who knows. But it's creative and it demonstrates that many of the assets we take for granted can be profitably repurposed in an increasingly urbanized economy. What a syrupy solution. JL

Sarah Perez reports in TechCrunch:

A recently launched mobile application called Roadie, which connects those who need to ship something quickly with drivers who are already going in that same direction and are willing to haul the cargo for a small fee, has partnered with Waffle House restaurants
A recently launched mobile application called Roadie, which connects those who need to ship something quickly with drivers who are already going in that same direction and are willing to haul the cargo for a small fee, has today partnered with Waffle House restaurants. The restaurant chain will be promoting the app across its 1,750 location in 25 states, and will serve as the first of several official “Roadie Roadhouses,” or meet-up spots, where drivers and senders can connect to unload a shipment.
The restaurants will be featuring Roadie on window clings, poster boards in the store, and on tabletop signage. Inside, staff will even wear Roadie buttons and metal pins – the latter they’ll receive if they sign up to be a Roadie driver themselves.
The startup, founded by entrepreneur Marc Gorlin, who previously co-founded finance technology company Kabbage, has only been live for a matter of weeks, but has already seen its application downloaded over 7,500 times and has had 50 gigs (shipments) take place across its platform.
The idea, explains Gorlin, is not to be another delivery service, but to build a community of people who help each other out.
Roadie drivers are not professional shippers, but are everyday people who want to make a little extra money by carrying something someone else needs shipped. The service has been used for short hauls of as little as 7 miles up to long trips of 300 miles or more. Those using Roadie to ship their items to date have sent a number of different types of items including toys, mattresses, boxes of shirts, and more. A medical device company even used Roadie to ship something it needed to send quickly.
Marc Gorlin and Waffle House staff in Atlanta

Shippers may turn to Roadie to save money when their item is oversized, like golf clubs, or extra heavy, like a box of books. Or they may choose to use it when urgency is involved. After all, shipping companies can’t necessarily get an item delivered any faster than throwing it in a car with someone who’s heading to your destination right now – but they’re happy to charge you increased fees for the expedited delivery. Meanwhile, the fees for deliveries on Roadie are often more affordable than traditional shippers, with costs that range from $12 to $200 depending on the item’s size and the distance traveled.
Gorlin believes there’s great potential in tapping into this network of everyday drivers, noting that it’s a “much more powerful, on-demand transportation heat map than UPS and FedEx combined,” he says.
He says he pitched the idea to Waffle House CEO Walt Ehmer at a nighttime, glow-in-the-dark golf tournament, and Ehmer was receptive to the idea. (Perhaps he was just in a good mood?)

Waffle House, says Gorlin, will be the first of many “roadhouses” that the company will work with in the future, offering drivers things like free coffee or discounts on gas in order to encourage the drivers to frequent businesses that partner with the shipping service. In Waffle House’s case, drivers get a free waffle when they sign up to be a roadie, and then receive free beverages when they meet up with the sender at the restaurant.
Pat Warner, Waffle House’s VP of Culture, says the deal with Roadie made sense because “it’s a natural extension of what our restaurants are right now,” he explains. “We’re kind of a meeting place, a gathering place for people in the community now. We’re along the interstate, so a lot of people use us as landmarks and meeting places already.”
The goal, of course, is that Roadies and senders will end up having a meal at Waffle House during the meetup, which will be promoted in the app as a place to connect.
Warner also notes that Waffle House has never partnered with a company like this before, and certainly not an early-stage startup like Roadie, but it’s something they wanted to try.
Roadie recently closed on $10 million in Series A financing, which included funds from UPS’s Strategic Enterprise Fund, the shipping company’s investment arm, among others. The service is currently live in 10 U.S. Southeastern states, in terms of initiating a gig, but drivers already already crossing the country. (See map below.) A national expansion is rolling out soon.


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