Neel Murthy was eagerly looking forward to a pie he had ordered on the Internet. Unfortunately, he wasn’t home to take delivery. The pie went bad at the post office.
There will be no more “sorry we missed you” notices from home delivery services for Murthy — or anyone else in San Francisco who signs up for Swapbox. Now they can go to one of 23 pre-designated Swapbox outlets in the city and pick up parcels at their convenience.
Murthy, along with childhood friend Nitin Shantharam, were inspired to develop Swapbox after seeing so many of their fellow Stanford students miss packages just because they weren’t home at the time of delivery.
Swapboxes are secure, automated kiosks about the size of soda vending machine. They’re located in various coffee shops, convenience stores and other retail outlets.
Gaining access requires opening an account online, which results in procuring a PIN code that allows you to pick up your package. Swapbox utilizes traditional carriers like UPS and FedEx. Packages are sent to the Swapbox site the customer chooses and arrive in the same amount of time they would as if they were sent to a recipient’s home.
“Swapbox is just the new, better way to interact with logistics that are already in place,” Murthy says.
The service is enjoying so much success in San Francisco that Murthy and Shantharam will soon be offering it in New York City. After that, they hope to continue expanding nationwide.
Solving a problem
Identifying missed deliveries as the biggest pain point in the home shipment industry was the seed that would become Swapbox. The next step was to create and test possible solutions.
Murthy manned a booth in the Stanford University computer lab for two straight days, where he held packages for people until they came to pick them up. However, he realized he’d have to more fully automate the process if he wanted a scalable business.
“That’s what led us to build the first Swapbox,” he says, adding that he also realized that Swapboxes would need to be located in dedicated locations in order to attract sufficient business.
A winning attitude
Convinced they now had a winning business strategy, he and Shantharam built a Swapbox prototype with their savings. Then they used it to pitch potential investors.
The willingness to invest their own money played a key role in enlisting investors to help them launch their enterprise, Murthy says. He conducted multiple customer surveys and brainstormed with software developers and other technically savvy people.
Armed with funding and feedback, he set up a rudimentary manufacturing facility and started promoting the service throughout San Francisco. Free service in December proved to be a smart move, as it not only resulted in a considerable increase in business, but also invaluable of word-of-mouth advertising.
How to reach: Swapbox, (415) 335-9324 or www.swapbox.com.