If we’ve learned anything about successful business models in the wake of Uber’s exploding market share, it’s that convenience is king. Despite an onslaught of bad press and the growing pains of creating a company valued between $40-50 billion in just six years, Uber is without a doubt making its mark. On the heels of its great success, other entrepreneurs are lining up to see if they can create their own version of on-demand service that cuts out middle men and makes errand running as simple as opening an app on your smartphone.
By creating the mold for the concierge service industry, Uber has now become synonymous with the idea of at-your-doorstep convenience for completing a multitude of household tasks and daily chores. If you don’t want to walk your dog or finish the list of jobs you have for that day, there’s surely an app that can help you get it finished — or there’s one in the works in the depths of Silicon Valley.
Uber maintains it’s not a car service, it’s a technology company that happens to use its platform to provide people with instant access to a taxi alternative in the cities in which it operates. Whether that’s a company vision plan or just a way to get around transportation regulations in countries like India remains to be seen, but regardless, we’re now at the point where other startups are aiming to be the “Uber of X,” where “X” is any other delivery, concierge, or general errand service.
These types of services fit well into tech hubs like Silicon Valley, where “disruptive innovation” (that upends old systems with new technology) is paramount, The Guardian notes. The quest for disruptive innovation replaced manual labor with the cotton gin, substituted letters with email, and now is likely to completely change the ways people with smartphones — and a penchant for convenience — complete numerous tasks in their daily lives. Here are five industries that are already starting to see an onslaught of apps to help people in their daily lives. They’re not always cheaper than the standard method, but they often save time or at least make life a little simpler. Now, it’s an individual question of whether that’s worth it.
Just as parents sometimes sign their college children up for wash ‘n’ fold services that pick up laundry and return it clean and folded, there’s now numerous apps that ensure you never have to touch a dirty sock again for all of adulthood, if you wish.
FlyCleaners, which operates right now in Brooklyn and Manhattan, will have someone pick up the laundry right from your doorstep, and return it to you within less than 24 hours. (If pickups happen before 11 a.m., it’s ready by 7 a.m. the next day.) Pickup and delivery happens from 6 a.m. until midnight daily, seven days a week. The company also offers dry cleaning services. According to estimated pricing from Manhattan ZIP codes, laundry will cost about $1.25 per pound of clothing, with individual pricing on special items like pressed shirts ($2.50 each) and dress or suit cleaning ($12 each). The company also allows you to customize how you’d like your laundry finished, down to the amount of starch or if you’d like to use bleach for an extra cost.
Washio, perhaps a larger name in the industry because it operates in six major cities (Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.), also offers “on demand” services and delivers laundered clothing within 24 hours of pickup, right from your door. Wash and fold services (mostly for t-shirts or jeans) is about $1.39 per pound, with varying prices for blouses ($4.99), dresses ($8.75), coats ($12.99) and more. Minimum orders are $20, with a surcharge of $3.99 for orders less than $35.
This is one of the cases when convenience will have to be more important than cost, as Geoffrey A. Fowler, who tested several concierge apps for the Wall Street Journal, noted. “Washio charged me $1.60 per pound of laundry plus a delivery fee; I could have done it for a little less by bringing the hamper to a wash and fold, or a lot less by doing it myself,” he wrote. Despite the price it seems to be catching on, as TechCrunch reported in February the company has raised more than $13 million in funding.
For individuals and businesses alike, shipping is one of the great logistical headaches. Now, apps are starting to creep up that eliminate your trips to the post office or nearby FedEx, UPS, or DHL site. Shipster is one of them, and basically requires people to take a picture of the item they’d like to send (from a card to a desk chair, and more), and their address plus that of the destination. A ‘Shipster’ arrives at your doorstep and takes the item, packaging it and sending it on its way to anywhere around the world. The app is live in Brooklyn and Manhattan with apparent plans to expand soon, though CEO Christian Vizcaino didn’t mention where in his interview with AlleyWatch in September 2014.
Another similar app is Shyp, which operates in New York City, San Francisco, Miami, and is in beta testing in Los Angeles. Fowler, of the Journal, said that the service picked up a package and shipped it for a fee of $5, for a total cost of about $48 for the shipment. The company negotiates bulk rates with carriers like UPS and FedEx, and the total was about what Fowler would have paid if he had gone to a shipping center and packaged it himself, he said. Both services are rated highly in Apple’s App store at 4.5 stars, though Shyp has had much more user feedback (a total of almost 250 reviews compared to Shipster’s 37).
3. Valet services
Finding a decent parking spot can be a pain in any city, a problem if you’d like to maintain the freedom of having your own car. Of all the apps Fowler used over the course of a week, the GPS-powered valet service Luxe was his favorite. The company operates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and has plans to expand to Seattle and Boston. The service works much like a normal valet, with a few added perks. You let the company know via its app where you’re going to be. A valet picks up your car (and will even wash it or fuel it up for you, if you’d like), and then can return it to any spot within its service area — even if it wasn’t originally where you dropped off the car.
Fowler called the company a “marvel” of logistics, as the app tracks where you’re going so the attendant meets you at your destination at exactly the right time. (Fowler added that each of the attendants are fully vetted, trained, and insured.) The service for the entire day cost Fowler just $15 plus $3 in tip money, much less than the $35 he would normally pay for parking in his own building. That’s largely because the company negotiates better rates with underused parking garages around the city, Fowler explained. The only downside to this, he said, was that the company closes by 6 p.m. on Sundays — other days it’s open until 11 p.m. or midnight.
True to the plot lines of Royal Pains, the idea of concierge medicine is one that immediately evokes images of living in the Hamptons with too much money to bother waiting in an overcrowded waiting room to see a doctor. The cost alone to get personalized care from a doctor used to put the idea of concierge medicine out of reach for most people. But with the rise of some medical apps, that’s not the case as much anymore. One Medical Group has an app that allows people to make doctor’s appointments and request prescription refills at the touch of a button, while also gaining email access to your doctor. One Medical operates in San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Phoenix, and works with most insurance providers. The San Francisco Business Times reports that the annual fee to use the service in the Bay Area is $149, and is an employee benefit offered to those working for Twitter, Airbnb, Pinterest, Adobe, and more.
Another app that is reinstating doctors’ house calls is Heal, which is operating in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The company claims it will have a well-trained doctor to your doorstep in less than an hour from placing a request on the app, with a flat $99 fee per visit. The staff vary in their specialties from pediatric medicine to cardiology — the doctor that arrived on Fowler’s doorstep during his weeklong app tests studied at Stanford. The fee truly is $99, Fowler attested, and didn’t accept his insurance. It might not be Hamptons level, but there’s still definitely a cost for the convenience.
5. Meal preparation
Nothing gives you a range of possible apps to use quite like the food and meal preparation industry. AmazonFresh and others deliver foodstuffs to your door, sometimes without a delivery fee if orders reach a certain value. Instacart, which operates in about 15 national locations including San
Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago, is gaining lots of attention not only for its to-your-door convenience, but also for the quality of foods (especially produce) shoppers select for clients. “Our service is available to anyone who can afford our $3.99 delivery fee,” Apoorva Mehta, CEO of Instacart, told the San Francisco Business Times. The service shops at a variety of stores including Costco, Safeway, and Whole Foods, they reported, and tried to match in-store product prices, though there’s sometimes a mark-up on items like gallons of milk. The company has raised $220 million at a $2 billion valuation, the publication reported in January.
But for those who want more than the raw ingredients delivered to their doorstep, there’s a growing number of apps that will deliver hot meals for your dinner. Munchery operates in San Francisco, New York, and Seattle, and offers custom dishes from on-staff chefs including peppercorn crusted steak ($11.95 per plate), vegetarian pasta with mushrooms, peppers, and fresh pesto ($8.95), and gremolata baked salmon ($11.50). The company also contributes to local food banks for every meal purchased. Delivery is free for every meal with a $39 annual charge, the Business Times reports. Munchery is one of dozens now in the meal delivery game — others also in contention are Postmates, SpoonRocket, Caviar, and Blue Apron.
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