Welcome to the Overshare, where we talk with other startups and small companies who are breaking the mold and revolutionizing tired industries in unexpected ways. Each week, we’ll feature a different company and focus on a specific aspect of their operation that sets them apart from the pack.
Let’s set the scene. You’ve been tracking a package like a hawk on UPS.com. You come home from work, expecting to pounce upon your package and feverishly tear it open, adult that you are. Instead, you open the door and see only a “could not deliver” sticker from UPS covered in some impossible-to-read scrawl. You have no idea where your package is, and even if you did, you have no time to go get it. You are on the verge of swearing off online shopping for life.
Parcel founder Jesse Kaplan started his business after many nightmarish New York City package delivery experiences. City dwellers without the luxury of a doorman in their building are all too familiar with the wild goose chase required to find a package that couldn’t be delivered during normal business hours. Parcel solves that issue. Just have your package delivered to Parcel’s warehouse in Brooklyn and schedule a drop-off any time between 7-11PM. Parcel will hand-deliver your package at the time you choose (and eliminate the need for Excedrin headache). This all comes at the flat-rate price tag of $5.
We talked to Jesse about Parcel’s focus on the customer and how he’s using his obsession with quality customer experiences to turn the package delivery industry on its head.
Location-based services have really taken off recently, from laundry on demand to courier services. Why is the market ripe for these kind of services right now, when in theory, we’ve had the infrastructure to make them happen for a while?
Today’s consumers have higher standards than ever before. With our schedules getting busier and companies like Uber promising to reduce friction from our everyday tasks, we’ve all come to expect a superior level of service. And given recent advancements in technology, there’s no longer an excuse for the inefficient systems and processes we’d become accustomed to. Previously, New Yorkers might have been willing to track down their packages at distant post offices or ship them to work and haul them home. Today, they demand a simple, affordable solution to resolve all their package delivery woes. And luckily for them, we’re here!
Parcel founder Jesse Kaplan
Parcel is one of those services that we can’t believe never existed before now. What was the inspiration that sparked the endeavor, and how did you research what people ultimately wanted to get out of the service?
I moved into a non-doorman building in the Village right after graduating from college, and the months that followed were plagued by one frustrating delivery mishap after another. After more missed package slips and post office trips than I could count, I started meeting with friends who didn’t have doormen to understand how they got their packages delivered. It turns out everyone loved complaining about their package delivery nightmares, each one eager to prove that theirs was the most traumatic! My doorman-less friends introduced me to their doorman-less friends, and within a few weeks I’d met with 73 doorman-less New Yorkers. In each meeting, I asked tons of questions. How do you currently get your stuff delivered? What do you think of this idea? How would you want to schedule your deliveries? When are you usually home? How much would you pay per delivery? Per month? I recorded all the answers in a big spreadsheet and used the learnings to quickly get the Parcel alpha off the ground!
Parcel is working to disrupt a really old-school industry with some really big players. How are you guys doing things differently from the package delivery system?
On the simplest level, we’re letting people schedule one-hour windows for their deliveries and hand-delivering their packages when they’re actually home. On a broader level, what really differentiates us from traditional carriers is our focus on the customer. We want to make the package delivery experience easier and more customizable than ever before, so the customer drives every decision we make as a company. For instance, when they sign up, customers can request a text message or a phone call upon arrival, in case their buzzers are broken or they have children who might be asleep when we arrive. We also guarantee our one-hour windows, so if a delivery is even just one minute late, it’s totally free of charge. In short, we’re putting control over the delivery process in the hands of online shoppers, where it belongs.
Jesse hanging out with a Parcel delivery van
Your delivery drivers are all employees of Parcel. Why this decision, and how does this help with your mission for a top-notch customer experience?
We decided to work with employees (rather than contractors) in order to provide our customers with the friendliest, most polished experiences possible. After speaking to a number of founders who had hired contractors for their startups, I decided that the inconsistent availability and high turnover rate of a contractor workforce wouldn't allow for the stable operation we were looking to build. By reviewing and enforcing customer service best practices with our delivery team, we’re able to ensure that every Parcel experience is polished and predictable. And from a morale and culture perspective, it’s important for all of our team members to know that they’re an instrumental part of our company.
The key to providing a consistently amazing customer experience is clear and helpful communication.
How do you ensure that every customer gets a seamless, awesome experience, even when something doesn’t go according to plan?
The key to providing a consistently amazing customer experience is clear and helpful communication. We’re very proactive about resolving issues even before they arise. For example, each time a package arrives at our facility, we take a photo and store it in our database. If a package appears to already be damaged, we’ll reach out to the customer to give her a heads-up and confirm that she’d still like the item delivered — that way, there are no surprises upon the final delivery. Similarly, in the rare case that a delivery is going to be late, we text the customer to apologize and to confirm that the delivery will be free of charge. And in case anything ever does come up during the day or during our delivery hours, we boast friendly, round-the-clock customer service to quickly and gracefully handle any issues.
Startups are by nature unpredictable beasts. What’s the wackiest thing you’ve had to do so far to get this startup off the ground?
When I was first testing out the idea, I did all the deliveries myself. I’d load all of the packages into a huge IKEA blue bag and spend my night traversing Manhattan on the subway. One night, a customer ordered an enormous “pouf” (an ottoman-like furniture piece). It was about three feet in each dimension and weighed over 50 pounds, exceeding our size and weight limits, but I was too excited about our first customers to reject any oversized packages. While getting it on and off the subway was no easy feat (and elicited some unusual reactions), lugging it up her six flights of stairs was the real struggle. (Contrary to popular belief, there are indeed seven-floor walk-ups.) I almost asked her for a glass of water when I finally got to her apartment!
Packages ready to go
Where do you see Parcel five years from now?
It’s tough to say! If I’ve learned anything since my nights spent delivering our first packages, it’s that nothing ever turns out exactly as you expected it. We’re just focused on continuing to grow the business and delight as many customers as possible, and we’re excited to see where the journey takes us.
More wild and in-depth startup secrets can be found on our Overshare series. We post a new story every Friday.