San Francisco-based startup and Y Combinator Winter 2013 class member Swapbox has raised $800,000 in seed funding, led by Tony Hsieh’s Vegas Tech Fund investment vehicle and including Fuel Capital, YC founder Trevor Blackwell, Base Ventures and Ace & Company. The startup is hoping to cash in on the rise of ecommerce and home delivery, with shared, centrally located delivery lockers so people never miss a package again.
Swapbox isn’t alone with that aim, and it’s pitting itself against some heavy hitters; both Google and Amazon already have delivery pick-up initiatives in place, Amazon via its Lockers programs in select cities, and Google through BufferBox, a Waterloo-based startup it acquired last year. BufferBox recently went live in San Francisco, where it has packages accepted by local businesses. Swapbox co-founder and CEO Neel Murthy thinks there’s still room for a startup in the space, however.
“We accept any packages from anywhere. Shop online, we give you a new address and you just ship to that address,” he said in an interview. “It’s an independent platform that works for all the other ecommerce players.”
The service is piloting in SF, where it has 15 locations currently. Each consists of heavily modified gym lockers located at businesses around the city, and Murthy says they’ve paid special attention to industrial design with their physical hardware, in order to help with branding. The plan is to expand to surrounding areas near SF within the next year, and then look further afield soon after. Swapbox has different arrangements with its location partners, but most involve some kind of rev share of the service fee paid for by its users.
The business as it stands looks like a prime target for some other online retailer hoping to keep up with Amazon and Google to gobble up, but Murthy says they’ve built Swapbox as a long-term play. There’s plenty they’re planning to add later on, and the intent is to hopefully move the burden of cost from the consumer to the ecommerce players once they get enough scale. There’s also a plan to use Swapbox’s capabilities to essentially build in a type of escro for small merchants and private sale deals, Murthy says.
That would work by allowing sellers, on Craigslist for example, to use the Swapbox locations to exchange goods, with a seller controlling access for a buyer based on when payment clears. It takes out any of the uncertainty around meeting a total stranger online with a wad of cash or expensive gadget in their pocket. The escrow play could extend beyond just the private exchange scenario in theory, too.
Swapbox chose its investors mostly for their value as strategic partners, according to Murthy, and Zappos founder Tony Hsieh is a very strategic one indeed for a company this tied to online commerce. Google and Amazon may have a head start on automated delivery, but there’s definitely room for an open platform to serve everyone else, and Swapbox could be the one to step up in that role.