By Terry Box The Dallas Morning News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet "Roadie", an app-based service that's striving to become the Uber for packages. "Roadie" lets people seek drivers headed to destinations where they need a package shipped. Drivers sign up with the app, and when a gig gets posted that's on their way to some destination, they can take it. Roadie charges $12 to $500 or so, depending on the object being shipped and the distance. Drivers get 80 percent of the fees.
The Dallas Morning News
In the next few weeks, Milton Green hopes to have some company on his regular drive to Houston -- like maybe a giant birdcage.
Green, a self-employed Irving courier, recently also became a driver for Roadie, an app-based service that's striving to become the Uber for packages.
In the last few months, Green has done three jobs for Roadie -- which it calls gigs -- and he hopes to pick up a bunch more as the nationwide service expands.
"Once it gets more established, I think there will be gigs popping up all over the area," said Green, 39. "People here have things to ship, and I think I can make a decent living."
Founded 18 months ago in Atlanta, Roadie sprang to life after founder Marc Gorlin struggled to get a box of tile delivered to his condo in Florida.
The tile got delayed in Birmingham, and Gorlin couldn't find a company willing to quickly pick it up and deliver it.
Consequently, Gorlin, who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur, began pondering alternatives.
"I look left and see all these cars on the interstate and I look right and see the same thing, and I thought surely someone is headed to Florida," he said. "And that's when it hit me: Someone is going somewhere all the time."
Gorlin, 43, decided to develop an app that lets people seek drivers headed to destinations where they need a package shipped. Drivers sign up with Roadie, and when a gig gets posted that's on their way to some destination, they can take it.
Roadie charges $12 to $500 or so, depending on the object being shipped and the distance, and with drivers get 80 percent of the fees.
"If you're a driver, you're going there anyway, and now you can get paid," said Gorlin, who also founded a company called Kabbage Inc. that provides funding for small businesses that need capital. "We need velocity. We need people going all over the place."
20,000 drivers The company started in eight southeastern states and went nationwide in March 2015.
Dallas has become increasingly important to Roadie because of its location in the middle of the country, Gorlin said, and its thousands of drivers, some of whom regular headed out on road trips.
Roadie, which has 26 employees, has signed up 20,000 drivers in the U.S., Gorlin said, and can provide service now to just about anywhere.
Some, like Ricky Jessie of DeSoto, are Uber drivers as well. Others are traveling salespeople, and some, like Green, have truck routes that regularly take them to major areas.
"When you overlay all the trips people are taking, we have a bigger heat map than UPS or the Postal Service," Gorlin said of Roadie's potential.
Moreover, Roadie can be more flexible about what it delivers than traditional shippers, he said.
"Let's say a guy shows up at UPS with a 6-foot birdcage," Gorlin said. "That's going to be a problem. What he really needs is a dude with a pickup truck and some bungee cords."
To become a Roadie driver, people must scan the front and back of their drivers' licenses and provide information on their vehicles and insurance.
Besides hauling packages for individuals, Roadie gets work from small businesses such as florists, bakeries and print shops, Gorlin said.
"If I'm in Atlanta and need to get something to Birmingham in four hours, there's no traditional transportation server for that," he said.
In addition, Roadie has begun transporting pets for owners who don't want to put them on planes.
"Basically, we are a company that allows people to send all sorts of things, but we don't rely on airlines or trucks or sorters at big shipping companies," Gorlin said. "We want to change the way people send things."
$10 million in funding Once drivers have picked up a package -- and affirm it through their cellphones -- shippers can track the route and progress of their packages through the Roadie app.
All packages are automatically insured for up to $500, and more is available through Roadie.
In 18 months, Gorlin said, the company has had one claim, for a damaged picture frame.
Although privately held Roadie doesn't disclose any information about its finances or revenue, Gorlin said it received $10 million in venture capital.
Among the companies investing in it were TomorrowVentures -- Google chairman Eric Schmidt's firm -- as well as United Parcel Service's Strategic Enterprise Fund and Arkansas-based investment bank Stephens Inc.
Many of the investors, including UPS, helped fund Kabbage.
Though UPS did not disclose how much it invested in Roadie, the company said it wants to learn more about the so-called sharing economy and the opportunities and challenges it poses.
UPS said its Strategic Enterprise Fund "looks at what's coming in two to five years and beyond, and is our way of building knowledge capital," UPS spokeswoman Kim Krebs said.
Jessie, the Uber driver from DeSoto, said he learned about Roadie from a text and signed up a few days later.
"If I see an opportunity, I grab it," said Jessie, who owns two Uber cars and two tractor-trailer rigs. "From what I've done so far, the money has not been big, but they were small jobs. I'm still waiting for one of the $500 jobs.
Though Roadie still wants more drivers, Gorlin said the network is beginning to provide solid coverage in some areas.
"We had a gig going from Coco Beach to Chicago," he said. "It was accepted in 15 minutes. That's the kind of velocity we're trying to build."