Lazy urbanites and venture capitalists love Postmates, a service that allows you get anything delivered with a few touches to your phone. The startup has grown significantly over the last two years, raising $16 million in VC funds and expanding to cities across the country, including Denver, Boston, Portland, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Houston, Dallas, and the San Francisco Bay area.
And now that Postmates has new deals with McDonald's and Chipotle, you can bet we'll see an increasing number of food deliveries.
It’s easy to see why anyone with disposable cash and a late-night ice cream craving, as well as professional investors, might be keen on the idea. But how does Postmates look from the other side of the equation? How worthwhile is the service for people who work as its couriers?
How much cash can you earn, and is it worth the effort?
The company webpage lays out logistics for applying to be a courier. You need to live in one of the markets served -- here's a complete list of cities where Postmates operates -- and own a car, bike, scooter or motorcycle. You also have to be at least 18 and either own an iPhone or lease one from Postmates.
Once you’re signed up, have passed a background check and attended an orientation, you set your own hours and keep 80 percent of the delivery fee, which starts at $5 (depending on distance), along with tips. Postmates says experienced couriers can earn up to $25 an hour.
The median earning per hour during peak times is $19, CEO Bastian Lehmann said at a TechCrunch event. TechCrunch also quoted him as saying it's best as a part-time gig, rather than a full-time job:
“I’d like it to be a full-time job in the future, but the reality is it’s probably a really good part-time job,” he said. “It pays a lot more than other part-time jobs. If we look at median compensation during peak times, that’s 40 percent to 50 percent more than a barista makes.”
Postmates uses a system they call "Blitz Pricing," whereby deliveries cost more during peak hours. It's similar to car service Uber's surge pricing and is meant to incentivize couriers to work when it's busy. If you're available when Blitz goes into effect, that's an opportunity to earn a higher hourly rate.
Unlike Uber, Postmates also allows customers to tip couriers, which can add to your earnings. The app gives options of a 5%, 10%, 15% or 20% tip.
Perhaps the best perk of this gig is the hours: you get to choose your own. That means you can work after your day job or on the weekend, or if you're a freelancer with flexible hours, hop onto your bike to make a few deliveries when you see Blitz Pricing go into effect. Postmates says it's a great fit for college students looking to earn some money, too.
To get a street-level view of the experience, TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler gave it a go as a Postmates courier. His entire write up is worth reading if you’re seriously thinking of signing up (or check out the video version), but the basic headlines are as follows:
You often have to wait a long time to pick things up -- at least in San Francisco when Lawler tried it. “Based on my limited experience, delivering for Postmates means you spend more time waiting in line than doing anything else,” he writes.
The pay isn’t mindblowing. Lawler did three deliveries in three hours, earning $8 in tips (though the last was to a friend who stiffed him, so regular jobs might have earned him $12). Say a $5 fee for three jobs plus $12 in tips, that’s $27 for three hours or $9 an hour. Is that typical? Not according to the official company line, but the jury's still out.
For the right person, it can be fun. Postmates might not be a route to riches, but if you like to zigzag around time and have time to kill (students, I’m looking at you), this could be a fun way to earn some extra money. “It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed my day as a Postmate,” concludes Lawler, though he resolved not to quit his day job.
Looking for more perspectives? Glassdoor has a bunch of reviews from couriers. Some complain about low pay and lack of benefits, though the level of angst seems to correlate with pre-employment expectations. Those who wanted to earn a little cash on flexible schedule doing something they enjoy are clearly far happier than anyone expecting this to be a real job.
The bottom line: Want a steady, high-paying gig? Postmates might not be for you. But if you enjoy biking or driving around town and are eager to earn a few extra dollars on the side, give it a whirl.
Your Turn: Have you worked as a courier for Postmates? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
Editor's note: This post was originally published in May 2014. We revamped and updated it so the information is even more helpful for you as this opportunity grows!
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in Cyprus. She has a daily column for Inc.com and has written for Forbes, CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, Brazen Careerist and Women 2.0. Follow her @EntryLevelRebel.
Among the many ways to burn through money while traveling is the exorbitant cost of airport parking. But thanks to a new startup, you just might be able to dodge that annoying expense -- and even earn a little extra cash to put towards a hotel upgrade or a few extra cocktails in the airport lounge.
Often described as Airbnb for airport rentals, FlightCar allows willing travelers to list their vehicle for rental when they go away on a trip. Owners simply drop the car at a FlightCar location near the airport and are shuttled to their terminal by a towncar. When they return, another car picks them up and returns them to their washed and cleaned car.
Car owners get compensated between 5 and 20 cents a mile depending on the make and model of the car (on average that adds up to $100-$125 for a five-day rental) or, if no one opts to rent the car, free parking and a car wash, as well as valet car service to and from the airport. Should you opt to rent with FlightCar once you arrive at your destination (hopefully after using this hack to get into airport lounges for free), you also receive a discount.
What happens if the driver damages your car? The vehicle is covered by $1 million of insurance should any mishaps occur. The company also checks renters’ driving records to make sure nothing terrible has occurred in the last three years, which offers some peace of mind that you won’t have a total wacko behind the wheel.
On their side of the deal, renters get a slightly less pristine car than they would with a traditional rental company, but pay something like 40-50 percent less. That’s considerable savings, which means this service might not only be a way for you to make money, but potentially a way to save money, too.
This service is the latest addition to the much-buzzed-about sharing economy, and it eliminates a huge inefficiency in the current system that sees thousands of cars sitting idle in airport parking while rental companies pack their own lots with thousands more. But as ever, there are several limitations, catches and concerns to consider when pondering whether to utilize such an innovative, new company.
First off, you have to be located in one of the cities where FlightCar operates. The Y Combinator-backed company (which was started by three 18-year-olds, all of whom opted for startup life over an Ivy League education) launched in February 2013 serving SFO in San Francisco. It has since expanded to Logan in Boston and LAX in Los Angeles, with Seattle-Tacoma International Airport next on the list of cities to tackle. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)
Your car can’t be a total beater. To be listed on FlightCar, it needs to have been made after 1999, have fewer than 150,000 miles, and be in good working order. Plus, you can’t be too put off by the whole weirdness factor of turning over what for some people is a prized possession to a driver you’ve never even met before.
“It’s a little weird to give your baby to someone,” Jim Newton of Redwood City, California told the Boston Globe about his experience using the service. For others, it’s a total deal-breaker. “For me, a car is as personal an extension of space, as my house is,” Count Sidra Coleman said in the same article. “I wouldn’t want strangers driving my car any more than I’d want one sleeping in my bed.”
Yelp reviews for FlightCar have been mostly positive, but at least one reporter who tested the service wasn’t totally satisfied with the company’s repairs of damage his car sustained. Those thinking of renting from FlightCar should also be aware that credit cards that offer insurance on rentals may not always pay out if the car needs repairing.
If none of these caveats bothers you, act fast, as FlightCar is facing some pretty significant legal challenges by entrenched industry players. San Francisco has filed suit against the company, which it wants to pay additional fees and taxes for using the airport like a traditional rental company. FlightCar has raised a total of $6.2 million from big-name investor, and it will certainly need all those resources, if not more, to fight these challenges.
Your Turn: Would you allow others to drive your car while you travel, rather than leaving it idle in an airport parking lot? Let us know in the comments!
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London. She writes a daily column for Inc.com, contributes regularly to Forbes and Women 2.0 and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch and GigaOM, among others.