COTATI -- A young Cotati entrepreneur has launched a potentially game-changing delivery service modeled after Uber, an increasingly popular rider-driver-connecting application that recently rolled into the North Bay.
Shipbird (shipbird.com) operates in a similar fashion, allowing users -- businesses or individuals -- to connect with couriers through proprietary software and have their packages delivered.
"It’s a boon to small businesses and also the environment," said Shipbird founder Marc Diamond, a former Houston resident who relocated to Sonoma County about four years ago.
After about three months in operation, through word-of-mouth and social media the company has amassed more than 1,700 delivery personnel in all nine counties within the Bay Area and 1,000-plus businesses have employed the system, said Mr. Diamond.
According to Megan Wegmann, director of customer service and branding for Rossi and Rovetti Flowers in San Francisco, Shipbird has proved advantageous for out-of-town deliveries.
"Shipbird is a lot more reliable and not that much more expensive" than other services, she said.
The transaction mechanics are fairly simple: Shipbird collects data from potential couriers on its site and uses it to match the route of a particular delivery. The sender, who can specify a time frame, pays the calculated fee into a PayPal account and generates a confirmation code number, which is sent electronically to the recipient. Upon arrival, the courier receives and activates the code and is paid immediately by PayPal.
Couriers are notified by text or email when a delivery order comes in. They can also check the site for listings of deliveries.
"It’s seamless," said Mr. Diamond. "It’s a great way for commuters to generate some extra cash, and they don’t even have to be in a car. They can be on foot or a bike or a bus."
Shipbird takes 15 percent of the delivery fee, and the courier gets the rest. Mr. Diamond is also looking into other sources of revenue, including advertising on the site, which sees a lot of traffic.
"We’re also looking at crowd funding to raise expansion money, and we’re in talks with some pretty heavy-hitters from Silicon Valley," Mr. Diamond said.
The proprietary software is easily scalable, he said, requiring little more than the addition of zip codes to bring the service to other regions.
"We’re already actively recruiting couriers in about 33 major U.S. cities," he said. "Following a national rollout, we’ll take the service overseas by the end of 2015. Our overhead is so low we think we can do it for under $5 million."
UPS spokesperson Susan Rosenberg said the giant global delivery service feels no threat.
"Small courier services have been around for a long time," she said. "What they promise in the way of speed and flexibility we actually deliver, plus a range of ancillary services."
According to Mr. Diamond, companies like his are looking to "shift the paradigm in the shipping industry" in two ways.
"Shipbird’s technology can enable pickup within minutes of entering an order -- 24/seven -- and we offer a variety of communication options between sender, recipient and delivery person," he said. "But there’s also the community aspect: relationships are formed with delivery people and the transaction is more personal. Our courier might have only one package to deliver, caring for it with kid gloves to ensure delivery and the ability to earn money that day."