It all began when a humble remodeling project stalled out. Marc Gorlin had ordered tile from a manufacturer, but it was smashed to bits when it reached his doorstep. There was a warehouse a few hours away that had a couple boxes of tile, but he had no practical way of getting the tile that day except for making the five-hour round-trip drive himself.
“I knew there had to be someone already making that trip who would be more than willing to throw my tile in his or her trunk for $20. From that problem, Roadie was born,” he tells FreightWaves.
Part of the power of crowdsourced tech is the elegance of the solution. Who doesn’t wish they’d invented the relatively “simple” idea of Airbnb or Uber? In the hyper-competitive age of online commerce, and the retail apocalypse, retailers from all over are struggling to meet high consumer expectations: free same-day and next-day delivery. While many believe it’s unreasonable to continue to expect the trend to continue, others are banking on a growing intensity to solve the last-mile conundrum.
Roadie is one of the reasons why you can expect to have your cake and eat it too. Roadie is the first “on-the-way” delivery service that puts unused capacity in passenger vehicles to work by connecting senders with drivers who are already going that way. The company works with top retailers, airlines, and grocers to provide them with a faster, more efficient, and more scalable solution for same-day and last-mile deliveries nationwide.
With over 80,000 verified drivers, Roadie makes it possible for companies to ramp up service in new markets in weeks and to quickly scale up by adding employees, customers, and other nearby drivers to the platform. The company has delivered to more than 11,000 cities and towns nationwide—a larger footprint than Amazon Prime. They cover all 50 states and offer a photographic chain of custody, real-time tracking, and security code delivery confirmation.
The beauty of the crowdsourced delivery business model is that it leverages existing resources. The model taps into the 1 billion square-feet of unused space in cars already on the road. The net effect amounts to helping retailers create a cost-effective delivery service that exceeds customer expectations, increases sales, and has a minimal impact on margins. It also can have a net direct effect for individuals who want to use the service.
Roadie is more of what you would call an on-the-way delivery, with less emphasis on the “on-demand” part. That’s part of what makes it so efficient and affordable. Most on-demand or courier-style delivery providers have higher fixed costs, limited geographic footprints, and restrictions on package size.
What distinguishes them from some other fly-by-night competitor that might just come along, throw out an app, and say they’re doing the same thing?
“Really it’s four things,” Gorlin says. “It’s customer service. You can literally talk to a real person anytime. It’s also distance. Generally competitors are tight with radius. We don’t care. We can do miles over 70. We can do big and bulky too. We can do a couch as easily as a hammer from Home Depot. And probably when you start looking into this industry, what you want to see is flex capacity. What if you go from a standard amount of delivery like at unlimited amount of drivers that can flex when things get busy you can handle the peaks and valleys?”
The company is seeing partnerships with Home Depot, Tractor Supply, and Delta Airlines as things expand and develop. “Lots of brand names,” says Gorlin.
“Home Depot’s going great. They’re getting their supply chain hyper-localized and everything omnichannel. 5 days or 2 days or 2 hours. Whatever you need. Items can move from local stores. You can meet that rapid customer response time. You’re using your customers and employees in your very store. And we’re doing it all over. In rural communities, too. Not just in the major hubs. We’re all over. We’re also in markets that a lot of people might not expect like Chattanooga and Eugene and Savannah. People can crowdsource from all over.”
When you consider all the implications of the service, it may be one of the biggest deals happening in the industry that you haven’t heard about. “There’s an environmental impact,” says Gorlin. “You’re using people that are already on the road. Secondly, the overpacking. That’s such a big issue for retailers—you’re not worrying about the packing and peanuts and stuff because essentially the product can sit in someone’s backseat.”
Gorlin agrees. “It’s incredibly undercovered.”
The company, which was launched in February of 2015, has now raised a Series B in funding to accelerate their reach. Among their investors are celebrities like local Atlanta native, Ludicrous.
“He’s sort of an Atlanta icon,” says Gorlin. “He does a lot for the community, does things for kids. Same thing with Roadie. It’s about community. Same thing with Waffle House. They’re a partner. You’ll see a theme in partnerships.”