Premium rush: when old services become new tech companies

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on September 16, 2013

From The News Desk

Couriers predate the birth of Christ, which means way before that meh bike messenger movie, "Premium Rush." One account has them rising to prominence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even farther back there's Hermes, the Greek messenger god, who could be considered the first courier sans bike and hip messenger bag. And, of course, there was Greek messenger Pheidippides, who ran from the battle of Marathon to Athens to deliver news about the battle.

Even today, after the advent of the telephone, fax, email attachments and videoconferencing, courier services are thriving. For one there's Zipments, a New York-based startup that offers businesses same-day deliveries. Today the company is announcing that it has raised a $2.25 million seed round led by FirstMark Capital and Huron River Ventures.

When Zipments first started out a few years back, it touted an updated version of the well-known courier service -- one that used its online platform to crowdsource couriers, and focused on a peer-to-peer clientele. It was sort of a TaskRabbit for deliveries. This first iteration launched in 2011 in both New York and Chicago, but didn't quite work out as planned. As Zipment's CEO Garrick Pohl explained to me, the company found that "while the occasional [peer to peer] request was great, it wasn't predictable or sustainable" -- kind of like Skype when Verizon is your Internet Service Provider.

Zipment decided to go back to the drawing board to cultivate more demand, and what it found was that a no-shenanigans online courier service would have a far reater chance to succeed. None of this peer-to-peer, crowdsourced stuff had really gone to plan.

Over the last few months Zipments quietly extended a trial period in New York and Michigan to see if this was indeed a better recipe, and it may be the case. Pohl says the company has used more than 100 couriers and between 200 and 300 business have begun to use the Zipments platform over the last few months, with businesses comprising over 90 percent of its transactions.

Now the company is looking to expand and is introducing pilots in other cities.

While Pohl wouldn't tell me which cities the company is looking at, he did say that the brunt of this new cash would go toward product development, business development, and this aforementioned expansion.

So will this throwback human-centric technology become the next new thing?

Couriers have been a business exigency for so long, it strikes me as a service that companies generally have a handle on. That said, perhaps a more centralized web platform could alleviate the stress of dealing with same-day delivery headaches. And if there's any way to circumvent using our ailing postal system, I'm all for it.

In the movie "Premium Rush," the main character, Wilee, played by the dude who once played an alien on Third Rock From the Sun, is hit by a car. He survives.

Let's hope Zipments can overcome its challenges without anyone getting hurt.