D.C. is a town chock full of food delivery services. Between Door Dash, Grub Hub, Eat 24, Caviar, there are a bevy of options available and leaving your house has essentially become optional. Postmates is one of the forefathers of this super powered delivery movement, and gives users the option to have practically anything brought to their front door. I spoke with Postmates Director of Communications April Conyers (shortly after they debuted their new Plus Unlimited subscription) about how the company got its start and what lies on the horizon.
Oh an we also talked about Chipotle. Because people fucking love Chipotle.
Tell me about Postmates’ origin story.
So the origin story. The company was founded by three guys, Bastian Lehmann, Sam Street, and Sean Plaice. They met while they were all working on different startups in an incubator. Bastian, who is our CEO, had an idea years ago, before the iPhone, that was what if we could create a ride sharing service for stuff? He was moving from Munich to the UK and was trying to get his snowboard to his parents house, which was right outside of Berlin. He had a really tough time and that’s when the idea was born. A friend of his was like, “Oh, I’m driving up there… I’ll just take it for you.”
So you fast forward five years, after they’ve all done different things. There was the dot-com bubble, the smartphone comes out, and they start working on this thing. The original idea was that it would just be a traditional courier service. So if you bought something from a local store, you could use the Postmates app to have that item delivered. They noticed that people were trying to get things bought by Postmates. Either people would put in custom orders like, “Could you grab me a Super Duper Burger and I’ll pay you when you get here?” They noticed an uptick in that and changed the app. Gave all of the Postmates that were making deliveries on the platform gift cards, and the rest was history. Since then we’ve been focused on building not only a logistics company, but also an e-commerce company. If you look at the app today, you can order food, you can order retail items, you can send a Postmate to pick something up for you like a traditional courier. There’s a lot of different uses for the app now.
How did you get involved with the company?
I got involved because I was a huge Postmates fan. I moved from New York to San Francisco about three years ago and I used Postmates to make my life easier. San Francisco doesn’t have that traditional “everything delivers” feeling like New York does, so I used Postmates. A friend of mine works for Founder Fund, which is one of our investors, and she knew my love for the company and she was like, “Hey, they’re looking for a new director of communications. Are you interested?” And I was like yes!
What do you think sets Postmates apart from so many of the other courier and delivery services?
Postmates is unique because we offer more than food. We are at our core a logistics company. We like to say that Postmates is the remote control for your city. You really, truly can point it at anything and have it brought to you. We also have a lot of choice in the app because we have the anywhere product. You can literally order from anywhere. Then we also have Plus, our more affordable product, those are the restaurants and merchants we partner with and can deliver at a lower fee. It’s only $3.99 for delivery. For the Anywhere product, because it is a bit more premium, delivery starts at $6 and goes up according to distance. We are the only company that offers that service.
What’s an average day like at Postmates?
Hmmm. Average. I don’t know if you could say we have an average day at Postmates. We’re constantly thinking about how we can grow the service more. We’re constantly talking to new partners. On a national level we have partnerships with Chipotle, Starbucks, Apple, American Apparel, some really big names, and then we have a lot of local merchant partners as well that are city specific. We’re constantly talking to new restaurants and new merchants. On the communications side we’re always thinking about how we can tell new stories. How was can highlight the merchants that are on the platform, or how we can highlight Postmates that are making deliveries. One of the coolest things about Postmates is that we really do focus on the local. We want to make sure that local merchants are successful. Especially when it comes to competing against the large Internet companies in the world, like Amazon. We want to make sure that people are still buying shoes from your corner store. Or that people are still buying unique items from local merchants. Our focus is to keep business and tax money in those cities. So, local people doing deliveries, local merchants. Everything stays local. We think a lot about how we can communicate that. We are a national brand, but we really do focus on the local. Our CEO likes to say we’re the anti-Amazon.
What’s the future of Postmates? What are you guys looking forward to?
We’re going to continue to grow and expand. We haven’t launched any new cities this year. We launched 23 last year… We’re in about 200 cities now. We’re looking at our different cities and expanding them. When we enter a market we start off fairly small and then as more people use us, we start to expand. So we spent the last year really focused on growing our current market.
Is there anywhere in particular you’d really like to see Postmates?
I think we’d love to see it in London. We’d love to expand overseas. We’ve talked about Toronto… Montreal. We have all of the major cities in the U.S. pretty much covered at this point. There are still some smaller tier three cities that we’re still looking at, but we’ve got a majority of the country, or the urban areas at least, covered.
Expanding Internationally would be a huge deal. Different countries have different rules and competitors already set up.
Oh yeah, there’s a lot that goes into expansion. You have to think about currency. You have to think about their laws and regulations. There’s a lot of delivery services already live in a lot of countries, so it’s a whole different set of things we need to prepare for.
Yeah. I just got back from Scotland and Uber is readily available there, but I barely used it (and never really saw people use it) because the taxi drivers are so much better than ours. You can basically give them any address and they know exactly the best way to get there.
Yeah! I haven’t been in D.C. in a while, but do taxis still charge by zones?
No, but that was bonkers.
That was so weird! I think I was in a taxi for maybe ten minutes and it was the most expensive taxi ride I’ve ever been in because we went through five zones. I was like, I don’t understand! I just don’t understand.
Anyway! Is there anything people order that surprises you? Is there an item or restaurant that’s weirdly popular?
Hmm. That’s a good question. I can tell you that the most popular thing on our platform is Chipotle.
Really? Even with their recent problems?
People love Chipotle! Regardless of the problems they’ve had, Chipotle is number one. They’re a terrific partner. Otherwise, we do a lot of hamburgers, a lot of pizza. It’s funny to see people using Postmates for pizza because that was traditionally the one thing you could always have delivered. The magic of Postmates is that you can get anything you want, so you can order from a restaurant that doesn’t deliver. That’s what makes us special, but it’s funny to see deliveries from pizza places that clearly have been delivering from years and years. Like Dominos. People order Dominos on Postmates.
That’s fascinating. I don’t know why you would do that.
[laughs] It’s a great service! It’s super easy to use and if you’re a big user, I think all of the other ways to order just go out the window.
How do you guys decide which restaurants or items you’re going to highlight right in the app?
So the Plus list is all based on restaurants that we’re partnered with and then it’s also based on where you’re located. So when you open it in a certain spot, you’ll see restaurants within a certain radius of you and we do that because those are typically the food we can get to you the fastest. In the Anywhere tab we have a mixture of partners and popular spots, so the places the most people are ordering from. But you can search for anything you want.
What do you guys look for in a partner?
We look for popularity. Are people really ordering from this place? Is it something that’s going to be successful on the platform? If there’s a lot of people ordering from your restaurant than we want to be a partner with you. And then vice versa. There are a lot of restaurants that come to us because they’re looking for growth and we can really drive a ton of growth from our app.
What do you guys look for in a delivery person?
Anyone can become a Postmate. All you have to do is sign up. We do background checks on our Postmates but we don’t discriminate. Anyone can be a Postmate if they want to be.
Is there any cool feature you guys would like to have on the app that you don’t yet?
I think what you’ll see in the next few months is an uptick in traditional retail. So you’ll see more of a broad range of stores appear, making Postmates about way more than food delivery. Obviously food delivery is the most popular thing that we do because people eat three times a day, but there is more to come to make the experience even broader.
What do you use Postmates for?
Oh, everything. I’ll send things to my husband during the day sometimes. He’ll say something and I’ll send him a coffee. Use it to send flowers. What’s really cool is that you can browse other cities too/ My husband works across town, so I can send him something, but I’ve used it to send my sister things during the day, she lives in Seattle. I just open up the Seattle menu and choose something for her. There’s a lot of things you can do in the app.
Do you think people realize you can use Postmates to send things to people in other cities?
That feature is relatively new. In the last year I think, we’ve been able to do that. People figure it out, or people will tweet at us and ask, “Can I send my friend this?” and we can help them out. But we probably could do a better job at telling people you can send gifts through Postmates. There’s a lot you can do. It’s way more than just food delivery.