By Rachel Lerman
The Seattle Times.
All over Seattle, “The Uber for (fill in the industry of your choice)” is popping up.
Delivery services such as Postmates and Peach are the Ubers for Food; TaskRabbit is the Uber for Errands; and Amazon Prime Now, newly launched in Seattle, is the Uber for…. most random things you need right away.
One of the newest segments of the “I need it now” economy is on-demand moving services. Seattle startup Ghostruck announced Tuesday it is expanding to 13 cities in the U.S., after testing in Seattle for about a year and a half.
Ghostruck, named for empty trucks that regularly travel along the road, pairs people who need to move furniture or have it delivered with licensed movers that have empty or partly empty trucks.
Users download the app, take pictures of what needs to be moved and select a pickup time. Ghostruck will send someone within a few hours, if needed, or in the futurefor a cheaper price.
CEO Nathanael Nienaber launched the company after working for nearly 10 years at Georgia-Pacific, the paper-products company.
“I spent a lot of time understanding the empty-truck problem,” he said. “Forty-eight percent of the trucks we see on the road are not full, and 25 percent are completely empty.”
Meanwhile, U.S. consumers are getting used to receiving everything they want within a matter of hours.
Services that involve driving customers to any destination have largely been mastered, so Nienaber decided to target the often-annoying process of moving. He teamed up with Matt Hocking, who had recently left a dating app in New York that worked by locating people near each other to set up same-day dates.
Ghostruck looks at the photos sent in, the distance to the customer’s destination and a few other data points. It then calculates a flat rate for the whole job.
For example, moving most of the contents of a Seattle one-bedroom to an apartment about 4 miles away costs about $400 when planned two weeks ahead. Ghostruck moves items within 30 miles of each city limit where it operates.
The fee amount customers see at the beginning never changes throughout the job, Nienaber said, something he believes sets Ghostruck apart from the growing list of competitors. Companies may give customers a bid or estimation of what the jobs will cost at the beginning, but that number can change depending on how the job goes.
Uber is moving into similar territory with UberCargo, being tested in Hong Kong. Another Seattle startup, Dolly, pairs people who need to move with people who own trucks.
“What makes me sleep well at night (are) the algorithms themselves,” Nienaber said. “For us to solve all the questions of moving without asking users for a lot of information gives us a pretty big leg up in the world of moving things.”
The company’s services seem aimed at anyone moving or buying furniture, but Nienaber said Ghostruck is really bringing in money from partnerships with other businesses, mostly apartment buildings.
Big buildings, such as The Nolo Apartments near CenturyLink Field, sometimes offer free moving services for new tenants and pay Ghostruck to handle it.
Though the company is only about 2 years old, Nienaber said it has been approached by larger companies wanting to acquire it and venture capitalists.
Some of that interest comes from being based in Seattle, he said, which is becoming a “hot bed” for on-demand companies.
With its tech-savvy millennials who work long hours, Seattle is an ideal place for such companies to pop up.
On-demand personal services will likely stick around as long as the economy is strong, serial entrepreneur Matt Mireles, who has worked with food-delivery companies, said in July.
“People like to trade money for time,” he said. “All these services allow people to buy time.”
Ghostruck has 10 full-time employees in its Pioneer Square headquarters and has raised $2.2 million in funding from Seattle’s Founders Co-op and other angel investors.