You’re in the middle of a marathon study session and you realize that pizza would be perfect right now. But your car is in the shop. Or maybe you’ve just arrived home from the grocery store to find that you forgot the pasta sauce for dinner but you don’t have time to go out again.
Three local entrepreneurs are developing an answer to these kind of problems — an online system called NeighborFavor, which allows anyone with a Cal Poly or Cuesta email address to request purchases from other users in the area, saving time and energy.
Co-founders Ben Doherty, Chris Labasky and Zac Maurais began working on NeighborFavor last July. Doherty, a Cal Poly civil engineering senior, said his roommate Labasky convinced him to take an entrepreneurship class, which led to the pair discussing startup ideas every night.
Labasky, a Cal Poly business administration alumnus, proposed the potential of grocery delivery to Doherty, who was skeptical at first but was swayed by Labasky’s numbers on how inefficient traditional delivery businesses are.
“They all have huge delivery trucks that are refrigerated … and they’re really not an efficient way to deliver to people in your area,” Doherty said. “I was like ‘Wow, I would really like to actually deliver all the time, just deliver to my friends and stuff.’”
The creators considered outsourcing the work or getting a patent and selling the concept, Doherty said, but at the end of last July he said, “Let’s grow some balls” — they decided to make NeighborFavor themselves.
It launched in the beginning of March. According to Labasky, they’re now “living the startup dream, eating Ramen noodles and eggs and sleeping on the floor.”
The process works like this: each user creates an online profile, and when they leave the house, they can update their status about where they’re going so other users can see. There’s even an option to post it to Facebook. NeighborFavor is currently being tested on individuals with a Cal Poly or Cuesta email address, but down the road, it may be available to the public, Maurais said. And NeighborFavor doesn’t charge anything for people to use it.
This startup follows the concept of collaborative consumption, which Doherty said is a new idea and a “very hot space” right now. Maurais agreed.
“It’s like using people in your community to do things with you — like sharing resources, sharing time,” Maurais said. “It’s so new — it’s a little abstract.”
When people ask favors, they specify what they want, from where, when and where they want it delivered to, as well as the tip they will provide, Maurais said. Favors can be sent out to multiple users in the area and are given to the first to accept. Users can also rate the person who makes their delivery and leave comments.
And NeighborFavor isn’t limited to food — users can ask for almost anything. People have even asked for rides, Maurais said.
Users enter their credit card information into a PayPal system, which Maurais said fronts the money to ensure the favor-accepter will be paid. Each request is assigned a four-digit code, which is used to transfer the payment when the delivery is made.
There’s also a NeighborFavor smartphone app available for Androids and iPhones. The app currently can only be used for accepting favors since the service allows the progress of the favor-accepters to be monitored through their phones. But the founders are working toward having two NeighborFavor apps where people can either do or ask favors, Doherty said — the focus is on making NeighborFavor completely mobile.
At this point, 235 people have signed up for NeighborFavor,Doherty said.
One of those is civil engineering junior Chrissy Ford, a friend of Doherty’s who tried NeighborFavor a month-and-a-half ago when she and her roommates wanted sushi but couldn’t get it delivered — until Ford remembered NeighborFavor.
While Ford said she was skeptical about NeighborFavor’s payment system at first, after seeing it work, she would do it again.
“It’s going to be awesome when it opens up to everyone,” Ford said. “If someone’s in the area, why have someone else make the extra trip? I think the green aspect of it is pretty cool.”
Doherty agrees — he said NeighborFavor will change the world for the better.
“We can’t continue as a society and as a world with our growing population to be taking single trips to go do things … people are going to have to be working together in order to get things done or otherwise it’s not sustainable,” Doherty said.
Recently, the co-founders filed for a provisional patent to claim their ideas for components of NeighborFavor. Doherty said the patent is for the idea of the code assigned to each favor as a contract. The process by which NeighborFavor uses real-time location information to help people do favors for multiple people at once and a component by which merchants will be able to receive orders through favor requests and control which users deliver those orders.
And NeighborFavor has already gotten professional attention.
The co-founders had a second interview yesterday with Greenstart, a company that provides financial and developmental support to startups that are environmentally friendly and involved in information technology. It went “really, really well,” Doherty said. The co-founders will find out whether they are accepted into the Greenstart program on June 5.
Greenstart managing partner Mitch Lowe wrote in an email that “NeighborFavor is an exciting new model in the ‘collaborative consumption’ space.”
“We think collaborative consumption is a high-growth, exciting area at the intersection of cleantech and IT,” Lowe wrote. “We’re excited to see startups like NeighborFavor show early traction in the race to serve customers while reducing inefficiency in how goods and services are consumed and transported.”
The only two problems NeighborFavor is currently addressing are fear and inventory, he said — the co-founders want to build up their inventory of people willing to do favors so others aren’t afraid about getting their favors done.
While NeighborFavor hasn’t taken off as much as Doherty thought it would at this point, Labasky isn’t worried. He said the idea of collaborative consumption is only a few years old, and it might be “too soon for people to get comfortable with it.” But he also said this idea “is the future.”
“When people start seeing their friends doing it, it’s gonna kick in and people are going to love it,” Labasky said. “The fact is what we’re doing, people want … what we’re bringing to the world is something that people really want bad.”