I was sitting at The Creamery coffee shop a couple months ago with a friend, who without much segueway started raving about a local company called The Juice Shop. “Have you tried their A+ Deep Green juice? Life changing!” I was of course open to try it but their nearest location was in Cow Hollow, and so I resigned myself to likely forgetting this recommendation by the next time I was in the neighborhood.
Not to be deterred, my friend whipped out his phone and 10 minutes later a Postmate walked into the coffee shop where we sat and delivered our juices. I’ve been a regular of The Juice Shop since then.
When people talk effusively about Postmates it’s often stories like this. From the point of view of the customer this is another example of your phone as a “remote control to the physical world,” much like Uber or HotelTonight. Postmates is also often described as Kozmo, probably the most beloved of the late 90s flameout startups, only with a business model.
For a firm like Spark where we guide ourselves by the product, the strength of the experiences Postmates generates is incredibly compelling. We’ve seen the type of businesses those reactions can build. But the long term effects on the supplier side are actually just as interesting.
The Juice Shop gained a new loyal customer that day, leaning on a local logistics infrastructure for growth even though they have no formal relationship with Postmates. They did not have to hire a van and a driver, open a website or buy Facebook ads, and it did not disrupt their business, it just augmented it.
Commerce on the Internet has always had two stories to tell. There have been marketplaces that enable smaller companies (Ebay, Etsy, Storify, Storenvy) and those that run centralized services (Amazon, Walmart). This isn’t a value judgement, I love my Amazon Prime and I’m a regular buyer at Etsy as well.
In a new world of mobile local commerce there are also two models emerging. After all Postmates is hardly the only company trying to deliver goods to your home, and companies like Amazon Fresh, FreshDirect, Instacart, and Google Shopping Express are all in various early states of success. In attempting to compare them you could talk about who is growing the fastest and has the largest fleet, in this case that would be Postmates. Or you could simply say they have a different selection or target audience. But more importantly they have taken fundamentally different approaches to the supply side of their business.
While Amazon and others are using a centralized resource and distribution model, much like their offline approach, Postmates delivers from local businesses. As a user, Postmates feels to me more like a window into the local businesses of the city. The service is necessarily delivering very different things in Seattle, San Francisco, or New York, as it’s a reflection of the local culture. When you are in San Francisco you don’t get pizza, you get Delfina’s Pizza. When you are in New York you get Joe’s.
When I first met Postmates co-founder and CEO Bastian Lehmann almost a year ago this was the topic he first dug deep on. He talked about the specific ways, and traits, of how local businesses compete well with national brands. We talked about how to showcase the uniqueness of what a local store has to offer (ideas you’ll see start to come to fruition over the next few months). And of course he talked about his vision for the consumer side of the product.
That day wasn’t the opportunity to invest, it was just a product and strategy session. But it was an illuminating one and led to many more where we got to know his team and what they are accomplishing. Today we are happy to be able to count ourselves as investors and believers in Postmates.