On his most recent trip to Iran, Houman Pournasseh needed a quick and easy way to get prescription cancer drugs to a friend. He found a delivery service for a reasonable price and received a call minutes later notifying him that the delivery was complete.
“The huge degree of simplicity and convenience of that experience convinced me to build something similar here at home,” Pournasseh said.
So began RingARush, a new startup based in Redmond that hires independent drivers to shuttle products around Seattle. The idea is similar to that of the innovative “ride-sharing” services like Lyft, Sidecar and UberX — but instead of utilizing everyday drivers to move people around town, RingARush moves products.
The process is fairly simple. Clients who need something delivered enter their product and destination information online. The independent drivers, who are pre-screened by Ring-A-Rush for valid insurance and background checks, are then notified via a smartphone app with the trip information and expected payment that is calculated on distance.
Once accepting the job, clients can track the status of their delivery and rate the drivers on their performance. RingARush makes money by taking a small fraction of the commission made by the drivers.
Pournasseh, who co-founded the company in November 2012 with fellow Microsoft veterans Rajashree Varma and William Kwok, notes a big opportunity in the delivery space. There are some companies that have been delivering products for a long time — namely restaurants — in addition to a few local competitors in the courier business. But Pournasseh is convinced that there is demand for something like RingARush.
“The concept of delivering anything to anyone in a local area is a totally untapped market when you think about other sectors that could benefit from this type of service,” he said.
RingARush has two distinct target markets: consumers who use the service on a sporadic basis, and business owners who may not be able to hire a full-time driver but have periodic demand for local delivery.
Much like startups such as Lyft and Sidecar have done, Ring-A-Rush allows independent drivers to use their vehicle to make money while setting their own hours. But Pournasseh explained that unlike those companies, which are challenging an established market and business model, RingARush is creating new possibilities. He sees brick-and-mortar shops using something like RingARush to compete with big online retailers like Amazon.com that are investing heavily to improve their shipping times.
“The one big advantage that brick and mortar businesses have over Amazon is the instant gratification they offer their customers,” Pournasseh said. “RingARush will allow these businesses to be even more competitive. Their customers could have the best of the two worlds: having their purchase delivered in few minutes without having to leave the comfort of their home.”
Pournasseh is well aware of the legal problems companies like Lyft are having with Seattle government and said his company spent “countless hours” on consultation to ensure RingARush was operating properly under city and state regulations. As far as his opinions on a service like Lyft, Pournasseh hopes that Seattle’s leaders focus on the consumer when deciding how to regulate.
“Change is unavoidable in and the ultimate beneficiary of this change are the customers who demand more choice,” he said. “The key priority for our lawmakers, as they are reviewing the regulations and establishing new rules, should be the public safety and consumer protection rather than trying to protect one industry against another.”
For now, RingARush services the Greater Seattle area as it builds an ecosystem of delivery people and delivery requestors. It employs 10 and is bootstrapped, although Pournasseh is looking to raise money.