Tok Tok Tok, a French startup that’s tackling a similar problem to U.S.-based Postmates — having somebody shop on your behalf and deliver the item within the same day or even hour — has raised its first round of funding. It’s taken $2 million in investment from undisclosed, mainly European, angel investors; money the company plans to use to expand beyond Paris where it first launched last April, to other European cities, with London up next.
That’s particularly noteworthy since Postmates, headquartered in San Francisco and funded to the tune of nearly $8 million, has yet to bring its service to Europe, though it is known to have a London office. Let the battle for first-mover-advantage this side of the pond begin.
Founded by serial entrepreneur Serge Alleyne, who has seen two exits, including selling local search engine Nomao to Ebuzzing in 2010, Tok Tok Tok’s platform aims to let customers order practically anything they would otherwise shop for locally in person, and have it delivered by one of its “runners” same-day but usually within the hour (in fact, average delivery times are actually around half an hour so far in Paris). This can be anything from groceries, electronics, office supplies, drinks and beverages, and flowers, though it’s wholly dependent on the local suppliers that Tok Tok Tok partners with. Currently it claims 300,000 items in its catalogue, from a mixture of major retailers/brands to local independents.
Where possible, the retailer’s and Tok Tok Tok’s systems are synced to give a live feed of inventory, but otherwise if something isn’t in stock, such as a food item at a local cafe, the designated and named “runner” will give the customer a call and try to source an alternative.
That’s where things get interesting. Each order placed through Tok Tok Tok can be tracked in real-time so you know exactly where your “runner” is at any one time — a bit like ordering a car on Uber — while the platform’s algorithm and machine learning works incredibly hard to give accurate delivery times and an up front price for the item and delivery so you know exactly what you’re going to pay.
This is a pure headache-inducing tech/logistics problem and something founder Alleyne tells me they worked hard to fine-tune over ten months. The algorithm is powered by a lot of Big Data, he says, and takes into account things like time, day of week, distance and, presumably, traffic. “This is quite tricky,” says Alleyne, in typically understated European fashion.
“Runners” choose how they get around, supplying their own mode of transport, which can be anything from roller-skates to a motorbike or car. They are also recruited, vetted and trained by Tok Tok Tok, including a strict code of conduct.
What’s also interesting about this model is that legally it relies on a shopping “mandate”, in the sense that the buyer is still the end-customer not Tok Tok Tok, who are simply purchasing and delivering the item on their behalf. Therefore, any product returns or related complaints are between the customer and retailer/supplier.
Tok Tok Tok says while in Beta it’s signed up 20,000 customers in Paris in just a few months. Alleyne says customers are “addicted” to the service and that those who try it twice are returning on average 4 times a month. The company expects to double this once it finally rolls out a native mobile app. Right now it’s relying on a browser-based version and SMS only.
The startup makes money by taking a small kickback from its partner retailers for the extra business it sends them, as well as charging customers for delivery.