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The PackageRoute team, from left to right: Justin Fogall, FedEx Ground domain expert; Pankaj Nauriyal, CEO; Emile Fleming, software developer; and Jamieson Bates, software developer. (PackageRoute Photo)

Amazon recently announced a program to encourage independent delivery drivers, but what many people don’t know is that one of the major U.S. couriers is already following the “gig economy” model. Drivers for FedEx Ground are actually independently owned, small businesses that work for the company through contractors.

And the people who sort, load, drive and deliver packages to our homes and businesses face significant logistical hurdles, said Pankaj Nauriyal, CEO and founder of PackageRoute.

“They must navigate these challenges everyday, many of them starting their workday as early as 4:30 a.m. and working up to 12-hour shifts,” said Nauriyal, who previously founded Naurtech Corporation, a company that created barcode technologies for handheld terminals. “PackageRoute was founded with a mission to simplify the work lives of these last-mile package delivery operators.”

PackageRoute is a mobile-based app that helps contractors and drivers easily track packages and deliveries. Based on his research, the existing tools for this work is cumbersome, out-of-date or requires expensive hardware, Nauriyal said. So last year he created his four-person, Seattle-based startup to provide a solution that’s more intuitive to use and doesn’t require special devices.

There are about 7,000 contractors for FedEx Ground managing some 50,000 routes nationwide (each driver generally has one route). PackageRoute charges contractors $20 per route on a monthly basis. The company is approved by FedEx to operate as a vendor. They launched their product in beta mode a few weeks ago, working with 12 contractors, and plans to at least double that number soon.

While the current product is tailored for FedEx, it could be modified to fit other major couriers such as UPS or DHL Express. Nauriyal doesn’t hold out for Amazon, given its in-house software engineering expertise.

But with Amazon jumping into the delivery game, a smoother, more efficient delivery system might be just what FedEx and others need to compete.

“Although the FedEx Ground contractors have access to their pickup and delivery data, the steps required to get to the data and the manner in which they view it is archaic — so much so that the majority of them choose to just run blind instead,” Nauriyal said, “and ultimately their service and profitability suffer.”

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: PackageRoute has developed an app and technology exclusively for FedEx Ground delivery operators and drivers to help run their pickup and delivery operations efficiently. It makes route manifests instantly available on their phones, provides details for every package and stop (recipient phone numbers, gate codes, etc.) to prevent any problems with deliveries. Drivers can optimize their route and get turn-by-turn navigation. Pickup and delivery progress, such as number of packages delivered, stops serviced and location of all trucks is visible throughout the day in real time. Managers can easily redirect tomorrow’s deliveries to balance the load across all of their trucks.

Inspiration hit us when: We saw paper manifests, laminated maps and markers being used by operators and drivers to plot their delivery routes.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrapped all the way. We want to remain focused on our mission, the solution that we are building and the customers we are serving.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Tight integration with FedEx Ground pickup and delivery data, which our app curates and organizes intuitively so delivery operators and their drivers have the information that they need when they need it.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Spending time to understand our domain’s needs by talking with hundreds of prospective customers — FedEx Ground route operators and their drivers — to clarify the problems and pain points we were solving. We wanted the product to fit our market absolutely right.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Underestimated what and how long it could take for a large corporate organization such as FedEx Ground to move forward with certain deliverables — namely data that we needed to tailor the product.

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: Neither! With all due respect to Gates, Zuckerberg and Bezos, who are amazing in their own right, I would prefer Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX. Never met the guy, but from what I have read, he is a true engineer at heart, as I am, and an out-of-the-box thinker. And I think that Musk would just be more fun to be around.

Pankaj Nauriyal, founder and CEO of PackageRoute. (Package Route Photo)

Our favorite team-building activity is: PackageRoute “UnPackers.” All team members and their families get together for a challenging and fun-filled activity. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone while having a good time. That includes mountain biking, paddle boarding on the lake and WhirlyBall, a sort of bumper car-lacrosse hybrid.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Someone humble, hungry and smart. Not necessarily in that order, but all those traits are essential. We look for respect and helpfulness in our team members. As part of a startup, every member has autonomy in their role and must be able to complete deliverables independently. We are frugal and proud to question the value of what we are buying. We don’t look for impressive titles and don’t work in fancy offices. We are doers who obsess over our customers.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Take the time to understand the problem or need that you are solving. The individuals in your core team will define your success factors so don’t settle. Hold on to your high standards and don’t compromise your values. Finally, the work is likely to take a little bit longer and cost a little more than your projections. So be frugal, plan for the worst and hope for the best.

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