I recently learned about a new social shipping startup: BuddyExpress. The business model is similar to other crowdsourced delivery services that connect travelers to folks who want something delivered. But BuddyExpress has a social network twist on this concept: they want to build trust for delivery by connecting people with other folks who share someone in their social network. The idea is that you’d feel more comfortable handing over grandma’s vase for delivery to your aunt if you know the person doing the delivering, or at least have some social connection to them.
I think this model makes sense for deliveries of personal things. Most of the crowdsourced delivery sites I’ve looked at are focused on people who want to buy something abroad and get it delivered (i.e. Iphones are cheaper in the U.S. than in many other countries). But for those looking to transport personal items, the social aspect might be appealing.
While playing around with BuddyExpress to see how it works I listed my upcoming trip to Chicago in the app. And it turned out the founder of BuddyExpress needed something delivered there. We happen to live in the same area, so we arranged a convenient time for him to hand off the item (an envelope, which he admitted he could have just mailed, but this was a good opportunity to test out the functionality of BuddyExpress).
The app is actually pretty slick. Travelers can set a price for deliveries and people needing deliveries can bid on your trip. Once you agree on a price for a delivery you see the contact info for a pickup, and then once the pickup is confirmed you get the information for the drop off. You can upload pictures and check in to provide updates on the status of the delivery. The app still needs some tweaks, but overall it worked pretty well.
A new version of the app is scheduled to be released soon, and then BuddyExpress will have to tackle the problem that I think is the biggest hurdle for social shipping companies: how to acquire lots of users so that the odds of people traveling and people needing items delivered will find matches.