You know errands. You dread doing them. You make lists and goals of what you need to do and when you need do them by. When you do them efficiently, boy do you feel accomplished! A good parking spot, a string of green lights, and getting in and out of stores quickly is certainly a nice boost to anyone’s day. But what if you didn’t have to do errands?
In American business lore, Silicon Valley is where seemingly outlandish technologies are conceptualized, developed, funded, perfected, adopted, and profited from spanning multiple decades, colorful personalities, and a wide swath of industries. The area’s resume includes big innovation, big companies, and big money from industries that span semiconductor, consumer electronics, internet, mobile, networking, social networks, bio-tech, web 2.0, e-commerce, and software.
While the industries listed all continue to thrive for the most part, it’s become increasingly more apparent that the next wave of growth (which if history tells us, will wash over the rest of the country in time), will be the proliferation of services aimed at eliminating the majority of common errands.
There has been progress on this front for many years with Amazon, Ebay, Craig’s List, Netflix, and others bringing services to you. Many in the Bay Area will remember early forays in the internet bubble such as Waiter on Wheels and WebVan.
But suddenly, we’re in a new age where there is a race to arms to see what remedial stuff that takes away from our family, friends, work, and free time can be eliminated from our busy schedules. At a high level, these services fall into three buckets that include: services provided to you at work, services that come to your home or wherever you are, and streamlined transportation.
Below is a look at some of the services that may be helping to free up more of your time — or depending on how you look at it — enabling you achieve a new level of laziness.
— With a modest $2.1 million in funding, it’s early for Shyp. But given how venture funding has been trending and a burst of positive PR including the New York Times, I imagine you’ll be hearing a lot more about this company in the months to come. Shyp’s aim is to eliminate the headache of shipping a package. You know… finding a box, tape, scissors, driving somewhere to ship it, etc. How do they accomplish this? From the Times article:
“Shyp, a new service operating in San Francisco, promises to take care of all the logistics involved in sending off packages. Just download the firm’s iPhone app and enter your payment information. Then snap a picture of your item, type where you’d like it sent and choose your delivery speed.
Other than alcohol, tobacco, firearms and hazardous materials, Shyp will ship any object under 50 pounds.
The picture is immediately routed to the phone of one of Shyp’s couriers, who patrol the city on bikes and in cars, waiting for the next order. The nearest courier glances at your photo to check if there’s room for your item; if so, the courier rushes over. In the 10 or 20 minutes it takes to get to you, you can chart the courier’s progress on a map in Shyp’s app. The courier shows up, collects your item and rushes it to Shyp’s warehouse. There, your item is packaged and sent off to its destination through the United States Postal Service, U.P.S. or FedEx, whichever is cheapest.
The price for this service? A $5 fee on top of the shipping charge.”
While I’d like to poke fun of this company, $5 seems like a bargain opposed to figuring out the details of packing and shipping something. Unless you’re some type of packing and shipping savant, or have some overly chummy relationship with someone at a shipping location, then hell $5 sounds good to me and hey… you might even save that much on gas, let alone time.
— DoorDash brings you food from your favorite restaurants via its website and app. That doesn’t sound so remarkable, but the execution with which they accomplish this is pretty stellar and probably why it’s growing to the point where they brought in $17.3 million in new funding last week.
What I can tell you personally about DoorDash as a pretty avid customer is they deliver EVERYTHING from EVERYWHERE. Almost every restaurant I like, and then a ton that I’ve never tried suddenly now all deliver to me. You get text updates when your food is picked up and when it’s close, and the exchange at the door is always real smooth as the food is usually in these high-end big bags with sturdy handles with tons of sauces and plastic cutlery.
Basically the door opens, the big bag is placed at your doorstep, you grab it and just like Keyser Soze, he/she’s gone (you’ve prepaid and they got other pickups/deliveries, so there is really no chit-chat). It’s awesome and the idea that I can wake up for early morning football and have a delicious omelette or belgian waffle delivered while potentially feeling awful from a night out is reason No. 205 of why I can’t wait for football season. The delivery fee is $6, up to a $100 order.
— Did you really think Google wasn’t going to get in on this action? Enter Google Shopping Express, a service to basically go to popular retail stores, get what you need and bring it to you on the same day. I haven’t used it but have seen many of their vehicles on my block during the last few months. Upon entering my address, these were the suggested vendors that popped up for me.
Deliveries run about $5 per retailer so if you’re just not in the mood to run around to get a printer cartridge, a guitar, a sleeping bag, and 100 ping pong balls, then this is going to make your life a little bit easier.
— The above services all involve removing the necessity to go somewhere to do errands. But what about errands in the house or those that don’t involve shipping and shopping? With $37.7 million in funding, TaskRabbit aims to be your one stop shop for sourcing errands you’d rather throw money at rather than do yourself. From their Twitter profile:
“Website and mobile app where you can outsource small jobs and tasks to fully-vetted people right in your neighborhood.“
Finally, I don’t have to beg a friend to help (and by help, I mean do 100% of the work) build my new desk!
— On the transportation front, ZipCar and RelayRide now allow those without cars access to them so they can go on trips and errands without having to go through the process of renting and returning a car. For those not looking to drive, most of the larger Silicon Valley companies provide high end commuter shuttles with wifi and work room to navigate the hellish commutes to and from the East Bay, San Francisco, South Bay and Peninsula.
But what seems to be potentially even more disruptive are services like Uber and Lyft, apps that allow you to request and pay for rides/pickup from wherever, usually faster and cheaper than a normal taxi. While you may think the process of getting a taxi didn’t need any improvement, the elimination of dealing with a taxi dispatcher and having to actually know exactly where you are is a lot more beneficial than you’d imagine. With services like these, maybe getting gas will be a thing of the past?
This brings me to the plethora of services now being brought to those working at Silicon Valley’s many larger companies. They call it part of a growing “perks war” between large companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook but now it’s become more of a war on reducing employee inconvenience.
We’re not talking about daycare, free gourmet food, and in-house gyms, trainers, and masseuses but a whole new wave of services that come to the office. Oil changes, haircuts, laundry services, electronic car charging, CrossFit sessions, dental services, bicycle repair, and much much more.
Spoiled Or Just Efficient Convenience?
Part of me laughs at the fact that many in this area don’t cook or even pick up their own food, nor do their own laundry and shopping, cleaning, and shipping. While I do think a lot of these concepts will spill over to the rest of the country in time, part of me realizes that, like most Silicon Valley trends and startups, a lot of these will fizzle out.
We often forget that the rest of the country doesn’t share in the regular 50-70 hour work week or have the traffic and congestion that we have out here. People are just pretty damn frazzled out here, so little slices of convenience can go a long way and we’ll pay for them while the guy with no money, a failed app idea, and working on his next is willing to deliver your food, build your desk, and pick you up drunk to keep him treading water.
All that said, I think about what the future holds if these companies do become the standard of how we do errands. Twenty-five years from now, will teenagers just not know how to ship a package, pump gas, do their laundry, and efficiently navigate and shop at retails stores?
For my generation, I consider the biggest perk not to be any of the amenities of new technology, but rather the fact that no war has forced people my age to serve. Frankly, that alone qualifies as being spoiled by comparison to older generations.
Fast forward to now and it’s both frightening and exciting to think about the onslaught of errands, tasks, and required skills that may become extinct in terms of our willingness and patience to do them. Will it be the age of proliferated specialization or a new era of optimized and efficient laziness?
Like all things from Silicon Valley, this new industry of convenience will probably be a bit of a blessing and a curse, one that will pump billions of more dollars into the area, fueling more innovation and probably a lot more laziness.