Vijaya Rao longed for a tool that could schedule delivery of groceries and household necessities to her door, so free time for the corporate executive would be … free.
So in 2014, she left the corporate world and launched one.
The result was DeliveryCircle, an e-commerce service that connects people who provide delivery services to merchants or individuals who need them. According to Rao, the hyper-local system is cost-effective, timely, and easy to use, thanks to a “one app fits all” platform and drivers who operate as independent contractors.
Think Uber meets FedEx.
The model marries the logistical precision of international delivery companies with the flexibility of a local courier service. Once it gained traction among local merchants last year, Rao successfully pursued corporate accounts and regional city locations.
In just 18 months, the company has jumped from a handful of drivers and 20 ZIP codes to an astounding 250 drivers and 2,000 ZIP codes across six regional hub locations.
But growth demands funds, and Rao said she’s looking for investors who are inspired by the company’s traction and willing to supply the “rocket fuel” for scalability, including a plan for national growth.
“In bigger cities this product sells well,” said Rao, who operates DeliveryCircle headquarters from the Emerging Enterprise Center (EEC) at the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a model that we figured out how we would scale — not just in six states — but it’s a formula that we could expand nationally as well.”
Today, the company serves the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., markets as well as south Jersey and northern Virginia. Rao said merchants love the system for local deliveries and larger companies praise the model’s simple logistics of a shared economy space.
Drivers range from stay-at-home moms to retirees and they undergo a full background screening process, according to Rao. Some work eight hours a day, others just a few hours each week. They earn 70 percent of the delivery fee, which is determined by weight and mileage, plus a flat hourly rate.
“The beauty of the platform is that drivers choose their own schedule,” said Rao. “When a delivery comes into the system it’s automatically connected to a driver based on the size, location, and available vehicles.”
The “one app fits all” model allows for deliveries from any place or business, according to Rao. It’s an option that makes delivery service a competitive option for any business or merchant. Customers can schedule as many as 200 deliveries at a single time, and can track the process in real time.
According to Frank DiSantis, program director at the EEC, Rao’s story is a powerful one for the center, which has seen 26 companies that have generated more than $36 million while at the incubator, and created 128 jobs.
“She was the first tech company that we’ve had,” said DiSantis, who added that Rao has leveraged both her own connections and the chamber’s resources to gain visibility. “And it’s evidence of the entrepreneurial community we have here.”
But Rao said she’s ready to scale and prepared to court investors who will embrace her simple system that she calls the “next generation of logistics.”
“The question is what’s your tolerance for the risk,” she said, of the investors critical to helping her grow. Rao’s own tolerance was high, as she used her own savings to build the software essential to the DeliveryCircle model.
“Our theme for 2016 is customers, customers, customers — these big companies are pulling us into big cities,” said Rao, who added that some Delaware investors have suggested that there simply aren’t enough good entrepreneurs.
“But there are and they need help,” said Rao. “Instead of poo-pooing the entrepreneurs, they need to ask, ‘what do you need,’ or ‘how can we help?’ ”
Big clients outside of Delaware include Zoe’s Kitchen, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant chain that features a catering menu, Diet to Go, a diet delivery service and local companies like Image Wine Cellars.
“They’re very courteous, on point, on times,” said Jim Price, owner of Image Wine Cellars, a custom importer based in Newark who said he’s used Delivery Circle to fill delivery gaps. “Even rush orders — they were there.”
“She’s found a real niche with corporate customers,” said DiSantis. “Because the software fits their needs, once she gets in there she expands rapidly. She’s developed a product that solves a real problem and it performs beyond the customer’s expectations so they’re clamoring for more.”
“It got past all the technology risk it launched and it got into a market,” said Delivery Circle’s marketing development executive, John Currie. “We’re looking for customers who use logistics, particularly large accounts, and then investors who can help with that and who understand logistics enterprise software sales.
“We want to grow the company nationally, and we have a clear strategy and platform to do that.”