TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 Startup Alley audience choice for day two is ShipHawk, a Santa Barbara-based shipping startup that launched this week at the conference. ShipHawk, co-founded by Jeremy Bodenhamer and Aaron Freeman, is a fully-featured online shipping platform that takes care of everything from providing shipping estimates to handling package pickup, delivery, packing, insurance and more for both residential and commercial addresses, for small and medium-sized businesses.
While the key difference that ShipHawk has from other shipping services is that it provides estimates without having to see items packed beforehand, it also adds to the experience by allowing customers located anywhere to organize pick up and delivery from other locations, so that a client based in SF can ship an item from New York, without doing so much as cutting a piece of packing tape. And the process is made much more transparent, including packing (boxes, materials) and transport.
The company works like any other retail shipping operation, and charges the same as you’d find at any of those. It makes a referral-type commission from the businesses that actually handle fulfillment, including UPS and FedEx, as well as insurance companies and agencies that handle the packing. Right now, Bodenhamer says that they make their revenue strictly by collecting the finder’s fee for referring customers to the services of other companies, but they’re already talking to VP-level execs at FedEx about fostering a deeper partnership.
Both Bodenhamer and Freeman have previous experience in the shipping and logistics worlds. Freeman has 10 years experience in shipping, and Bodenhamer’s business recently acquired Freeman’s retail shipping store in Santa Barbara.
“We got together after I bought the business and we said ‘What’s broken around retail shipping?’ and we came with an idea to solve the problem,” Bodenhamer said. That involved looking at pain points for customers, which included the process mentioned above around assessing the price of a shipping job up front, and around getting the package to a shipper quickly and easily without having to resort to using yet another service provider.[gallery include="809879,809880,809881"]
ShipHawk has around $500,000 in seed funding so far, mostly secured from friends and families, as well as some independent angels and investment firms. Thus far, the focus has been on getting help to make sure the platform addresses the needs of actual users, Bodenhamer says.
“We have a network locally of people who are advising us and helping us to formulate the whole plan,” he said. “We believe strongly that this has the potential to grow into a household name-type business, just like Expedia or Kayak. So just like when you need a plane ticket, you don’t go to American Airlines, you go to Expedia.com, when you want to ship something you won’t go to FedEx.com, you’ll go to ShipHawk.”
At first, ShipHawk will be serving the Southern California area, with plans to expand across the U.S. after that. It’s a good idea to start local with a business like this that involves quite a lot of logistics, and coordinating with local companies and resources. It’ll also offer a “ship free” promotion that rewards people for recommending their friends, the same way that Dropbox has done to ramp up user acquisition as it expands.
The mobile app for ShipHawk, which is now on the web as an MVP product, is currently on the roadmap and will arrive sometime down the road once they have the product up and running smoothly in their initial launch markets.