The concept of a courier service is not a new one. Even before mailmen, carrier pigeons executed note deliveries. Yet despite how connected we’ve become through technology, the courier service is one industry that hasn’t quite followed suit.
Of course there are shipping services like FedEx and UPS for cross country and international deliveries, but within city limits, most modern delivery drivers and seekers rely heavily on Craigslist or two-way radios to match jobs with couriers. Postmates Founder and CEO shared with Business Insider “that people don’t want to post delivery jobs on Craigslist, but they have to. Retail stores in San Francisco spent an average of 15 hours each month fulfilling deliveries or delivery requests.”
At least that was the case until Postmates launched in 2011. Founded by Sam Street, Sean Plaice and Bastian Lehmann, Postmates enables its users to have almost any product picked up and delivered to a city address within one hour. So while the idea of delivery itself is maybe unoriginal, its brilliance resides in the fact that it essentially runs on a peer-to-peer network via a mobile application. Even the about page touts its technology as a “revolutionary urban logistics & on-demand delivery platform [that] connects customers with local couriers, who purchase and deliver goods from any restaurant or store in a city.”
As it stands, it would seem that most users opt for food delivery (i.e., to pick up that Chipotle you’re craving but can’t be bothered to leave the couch for), but it was initially intended for a much broader spectrum. In an interview with This Week in Startups, Lehmann recounted the incident that led him to the idea for Postmates. It was 2006 and the movers he’d hired had left his snowboard behind after taking the rest of his belongings. When trying to get it shipped to his new address proved more difficult than he imagined, he thought, “Why can’t we match a person that travels somewhere with an item that needs to be shipped somewhere?”
Why is it called Postmates?
Lehmann is quoted saying that “the original idea for Postmates was more to connect, or to let you ship an item that you already owned inside your city… So almost like ridesharing for stuff.” The most likely origin of the name, then, is two fold. Post refers to the postal aspect, while mates (British-English for friends) stands as a synonym for the peer-driven approach.
The focus on network is perhaps what makes Postmates as unique as it is successful. One TechCrunch reporter emphasized their use of mobile savviness, “PostMates delivery folks bring their own bikes and gear, but are outfitted with an iPhone running a PostMates app that alerts them to new jobs and shows them where to pick up and drop stuff off.” Using the existing mobile phone network, Postmates is also able to operate a network of couriers who are dispatched by phones to deliver goods from local stores in what is now more than 100 locations across the U.S.
So, wherever you are, Postmates can probably find someone to do your dirty work, whether you’re looking for someone to help move your snowboard, can’t leave your desk for lunch, or you need a last-minute gift before you head out the door. Especially since, according to Gizmodo, Postmates’ is also dabbling in DIY. The company’s most recent partnership with Etsy allows shoppers in NYC to select an express delivery option for an additional $20 through Etsy ASAP.
It’s safe to bet carrier pigeons couldn’t quite compete with that.
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