..And it felt awesome! Uber for Delivery is not something that’s common but hopefully you can remember that time when you needed something urgently or forgot something back home and had to ask a friend to get it delivered? You would have so loved it if there was a way to just pay someone to have it reach you. That’s exactly the situation I was in recently and the idea of hacking Uber struck me. Read on to find the story and also how I think there maybe other ways than UberRush for Uber to really make this an actual service.
Bangalore being the Silicon Valley of India has grown in size faster than anyone anticipated. With thousands of people moving into the city daily and the government unable to keep the infrastructure plans in check, it is becoming a nightmare for anyone to travel across the city. An hour of transit for under 10kms distance during peak hours is considered being lucky.
So recently I faced a situation where I needed to pickup a package at around 10pm from a friend in Basveshwaranagar while I was in Bellandur. Now if you are not familiar with Bangalore, that’s about 28kms or 15miles. Not much you may say! In fact, even google mentioned this as an under 90minute ride. Since I was flying out the next day, I had to make sure the package gets picked and delivered to Banashankari (halfway to Basveshwaranagar).
The first thing I did was the most obvious one. Find if any of your friends can make the pickup on your behalf. That did not take me anywhere. So the next thing I did was check out if there are any intra-city delivery startups. Afterall I was sitting in the Silicon valley of India and I cannot be the first person to have faced this situation. Voila, a quick google search gave me names of a couple of startups in the delivery space. Hopeful, I started checking their websites and ways to reach them. Turns out most of them gave me a form to fill up which will allows scheduling a delivery. Not really the kind of on-demand service I was looking for.
Then I found another which listed its WhatsApp number for communication. Saved the number and started chatting. The chat transcript will just prove why startups fail – the person was giving me a specific time when he can pick it up the next day and the booking has to be done 24hrs before. And when you do list whatsapp as your mode of communication, it has to be atleast manned by a person who knows how to chat.
Anyway, with no other way to go, I planned to drive down from work to my friend’s place and pick it myself. It seemed such an ordeal. Based on Google maps, I optimistically projected that I can reach in under 90mins but oh I so forgot that I will have to cross Silk Board Junction!! 45mins later I have just covered 5miles on the Outer Ring Road and am stuck like most others at the Silk Board Junction when it struck me – Why can’t I just UBER it to my place?
Uber for Delivery – The Idea
Sounds simple right? Uber is an on-demand cab service that picks people from point A to B. I need to get the same done but instead of a person, it’s going to be just a package. That’s the very basic ‘Jugaad’ way of thinking.
- Uber driver can refuse to get a package. This is not what the service was designed for and has risk involved which the driver may not be willing to take.
- Driver may just take the package but not show up! There is no reason why he can’t keep it technically.
- Uber driver may just end the trip early and still get the trip money. Also, may take longer route/increase wait time to hike the bill.
- May fiddle with the contents of the package.
- How to ensure that the driver can connect to both the sender and receiver.
Keeping all these challenges in mind, I charted out a plan and thought it was worth the risk.
So here is how I hacked Uber to make this delivery happen.
Step 1 – Called my friend and explained her the plan. Told her to talk to the driver once he arrives and convince him to take the package.
Step 2 – Get the accurate location of my friend. For this, I asked her to use Whatsapp and share her location on maps. Once she did that, I opened the location on Google maps. Based on recent experiences with Whatsapp, the location sharing has been quite accurate with a differential of about 30mtrs.
Step 3 – Load the Uber app. In the From/Pickup text box, I entered the address whatsapp listed. This made the pointer land in that place. I verified with google maps to see if the typed address is resolving to the accurate location. Turns out it was slight off! I then simply moved the marker around in the uber app to the right location and made sure it matches google maps. This manual step was required because there is no way for me to enter exact co-ordinates or directly share the location from whatsapp to uber.
Step 4 – I enter my exact address/location as the destination.
Step 5 – I chose uberGo as my choice of ride type and clicked on “Set Pickup Location”
Step 6 – There has been recently a new feature added to Uber which allows you to book a ride on behalf of someone else. Now technically this was something that was always happening but Uber wanted to track such rides and ensure that the last-mile connectivity issues can be sorted. So after clicking “Set Pickup Location”, it asked if the ride was for myself or someone else. I saved the contact details of my friend and selected her as the rider. This step was crucial for this hack since it allowed the driver to directly call my friend for location confirmation and I did not have to co-ordinate.
Step 7 – I selected “Cash” as the mode of transaction. I did this as a safety measure to ensure that driver does not end the trip early. Also, I checked the fare estimate to ensure that I can find out later if I the driver tried to take lengthier route or make stops.
Step 8 – I initiated the process to find me a Uber. Once an Uber was assigned to me, I took a screenshot of the car details and sent it to my friend over whatsapp along with the driver contact info. The driver called her directly for confirmation (thanks to step 6) and arrived at her doorstep in 10mins. An interesting thing that happened in this process was that, initially I was assigned a different driver but within a couple of mins the same was updated to another automatically. This may have been something Uber is experimenting based on proximity to pick-up point. So I had to share the details again. I also checked driver rating which was 4.5. Generally, 4.5 or above can be considered slightly more reliable.
Step 9 – The driver came and my friend told her that only the package will be making the travel. I half-expected the driver to ask a lot of questions before he says yes but turned out it did not take a lot of convincing. The only thing he asked was about the payment which was called out as “Cash”. My friend asked the driver to start the trip, kept the package in the backseat and the Uber took off.
Step 10 – Since I had made the booking, I could track the location and ETA of the cab. I stepped out five minutes before the person was expected to arrive to ensure I don’t miss it. The driver did not have my contact number, so there is no way he could have called me. His only hope was to reach the point mentioned in the app and meet me. When the driver was quite close as per the app, I called him and checked his location. He reached, got paid in Cash and left. And just like that I saved time and energy while getting my parcel delivered. YAY!!
Step 11 – Gave 5 Star rating to the driver and added thanked him heartfully.
Tip – If you have never used Uber before and wanna give it a try – click here to register and get free rides. You can also download the app and use the code ‘zvfcp’. Using the code gets me a free ride as well. So win-win! 🙂
Disclaimer – This whole experiment was a risk and depended a lot on the driver. So the result may not have been the same if it was another driver. If you end up trying this in India, do so at your own risk. Uber will not take any responsibility for losses made this way. Also, turns out I am not the first person who has done. Quite a few people did so in US and that prompted Uber to launch the pilot of its delivery service UberRush.
So what’s UberRush?
It’s basically Uber for Delivery but does not work the way I ended up using above. Its designed for enterprises and uses a combination of Bikes and Cars to make same-day deliveries from businesses to individuals at a nominal cost. Currently only operational in NewYork, SFO and Chicago.
But how can Uber make such a service real!?
Since I completed this experiment successfully, I put my Product Manager hat and tried to dig around a little on the use case and possible solutions. Inter-city delivery can really be a great revenue stream for both drivers & uber. And with a fleet of the kind Uber has, this should not be too difficult to make it happen. However, I do not think one has to wait for a UberRush-like business model to make it happen. Uber can make it happen and quite profitable with a small tweak. Here are some thoughts:
- Uber should allow users to book the cars for deliveries. There should be size/weight limitations to ensure people do not misuse the property.
- Instead of just using the normal Uber service for such deliveries, they should leverage UberPool and combine packages with people. This will incentivize drivers to opt for such an hassle and help avoid situations where cabs become unavailable for people leading to surge. Also, this ensures the carbon footprint for such small deliveries is not massive.
- A fixed fee will be charged for the delivery
- This model will work really well for instant deliveries and will require details of both sender & receiver. Both also need the ability to track the shipment. But if delivery has be a key driver, Uber can also explore a hub and spoke model which allows people to select both a pickup time and a delivery time adding convenience/higher pricing. Imagine managing e-commerce shipments/couriers when you are not at home.
- Using a People+Packages model also avoid the pain in user adoption along with the fact that 1 user does not need to send stuff around too often. But there are multiple use-cases and user stories here that can be addresses with the above model.
There are a lot of other factors that definitely needs to be explored but it does seem doable with little tweak to the actual service. The delivery market size is significant enough. This would be a great addition for a country like India where deliveries are mostly unorganized and app-based cab services are picking up. Uber has been expanding its on-demand delivery service and also recently rolled out UberEats in Japan, so I am sure the above idea is something they have been looking into for a while.
Some more digging around also tells me that US-based ride-sharing startup – Sidecar had actually tried this and made it a real service. Sidecar unfortunately has shutdown last year due to lack of capital and high competition.
Anyway, hoping to see a hack like this turned to reality. What do you think? Do share thoughts in the comment section below.