In our Uber-powered world, people call upon strangers to take them wherever their typing fingers take them. For Uber, riders are in control of Points A and B—drivers are glorified chauffeurs.
With Roadie, it's put in reverse (just to back it up). The startup, backed by rapper-turned-movie star-turned-tech entrepreneur Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, shows people opportunities to deliver items—be it a 7-foot-tall statue of Jar Jar Binks, or someone's fluffy puppy.
"There’s an unbelievable natural resource, bigger than San Francisco, made up of all the places that people go every day, 250 million vehicles, a billion square footage of capacity every day that hits the road," said Marc Gorlin, CEO and founder of Roadie.
Gorlin and I caught up in the backroom of the ChooseATL house during South by Southwest, where he and several other Atlanta-based entrepreneurs presented their startups. Earlier in the day, Ludacris had endorsed Roadie.
— Roadie (@Roadie) March 13, 2017
Gorlin—a serial entrepreneur who also found Kabbage, an automated lending platform for small business—said he had the idea for Roadie when he was re-tiling his bathroom.
"I get a call from Glenn, the tile guy. He doesn't know where the tile is. He says he thinks it's in Birmingham. I hang up. I'm on the overpass. I see all thee cars going north. There’s bound to be someone leaving Birmingham going to Montgomery, he thought," Gorlin said.
The app creates a community of senders and drivers. Anyone can apply to be a driver and open the app to see potential gigs. Roadie also sends "simple, politely intrusive text messages. Do you want to make $20?" Gorlin said.
Gorlin doesn't like my comparison of Roadie to Uber. "It's more eBay and Airbnb. If you suck [as a driver], I'm going to see that you suck," he said. Potential drivers are able to comment on gigs, asking senders for more information on package size, for example.
Through this community, Gorlin has customer success stories for days.
"We had a cat named Velma," Gorlin said. "There was recently a guy who bought on Craigslist a 7-foot Jar Jar Binks. He needed it shipped to California. He looked at the pricing. It was almost $1000 to send. Put in on Roadie, and he paid $250."
There are plenty of opportunities to use Roadie. "You get married. You get divorced. Somebody dies," Gorlin said; his friendly Southern twang pausing at the last example. "A kid goes to college, there’s constant transportation."
Roadie is also partnering with businesses. For example, airline Delta partners with Roadie to transport lost bags. He also works with UPS and Waffle House ("because who doesn't like waffles," Gorlin said).
He's hoping to line up more retail partners. "They have a precious asset in people that will still come in their stores. They need to do everything they can to keep them loyal. Why not pay them for coming into the store?" Gorlin said. "Someone could bring a lamp home in a Prius, and I could bring a dresser home in my Expedition."
For now, business is good, Gorlin said. Ludacris, on stage earlier, admitted that the tech world isn't easy: "This is a very competitive market. Everyone and their mama has an app."