2016 is definitely the year of on-demand. Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft have cemented their position as the future of transportation, and other on-demand services like Postmates have shown us that there is a real demand for, well, ordering things on-demand.
But here’s the problem: On-demand apps require a smartphone to use, and there are still more than 75 million Americans who don’t have a smartphone — essentially making them ineligible to use these life-changing services.
While these people range in economic status and location, there does seem to be one common factor — older Americans are especially likely to not have a smartphone (or even a cell phone).
Meet GoGoGrandparent. The company, part of Y Combinator’s Summer ’16 batch, is developing a way for those without smartphones to still use on-demand services like Uber.
The story of the company’s founding is pretty interesting. One of the founders, Justin Booogaard, was living with his grandmother. She saw him Ubering so much and asked how she could use it. Once Justin let her know you needed a smartphone to hail a ride, she told him to create a company that would let her use it!
Justin and his co-founder David Lung liked the idea, but wanted to impartially test it, because everyone knows your grandma automatically likes everything you do. So they created a postcard from a faux company and mailed it to Justin’s grandmother, advertising a company that lets you order an Uber by calling a phone number from a landline or dumb cell phone. She tried it and loved it, and GoGoGrandparent was born.
Interestingly, postcards are still an integral part of the business — the company says they are a great way to communicate with an older generation, and are helping GoGoGrandparent grow 20 percent week-over-week.
In the early days, Justin and David literally had a hotline and would receive calls and order an Uber on their cell phone — but this obviously wouldn’t scale. So they used Twilio to create an automated phone line.
After initially speaking to an operator and giving them your credit card and home address, you just call back and use their automated system, pressing 1 for a pickup at your home. The company hails an Uber, and you just tell your driver where you want to go. If you ever need a pickup at a different location (it will remember where you were dropped off last, so you can request a pickup there), just call the company’s hotline and request to talk to a real person.
GoGoGrandparent charges a 13 percent commission on each ride, as well as a $1.80 fee to cover their backend costs. They say that this total fee comes out to about $2.50 per ride on average. Definitely more than ordering your own Uber, but a small price to pay for the gift of mobility.
But what’s stopping Uber from rolling out this feature overnight, putting GoGoGrandparent out of business? Booogaard explained that they discussed this with the rideshare company, who told GoGoGrandparent that this older demographic is just 3 percent of Uber’s customer base. Essentially Uber has “easier fruit to grasp,” and is content letting GoGoGrandparent do the heavy lifting on its behalf while they focus on scaling amongst the smartphone generation.
So what’s the future of the company? The founders explained that eventually they hope to partner with nonprofits and city governments to offer the service to under-resourced populations, who may not be old but just can’t afford a smartphone. The startup also sees itself as potentially replacing costly and inefficient paratransit programs, which are basically in every major city.
Lastly, the startup wants to eventually offer other services to customers. This could be access to on-demand apps like Postmates or Instacart, home maintenance like Handy or even a caregiving service. These additional services will all provide GoGoGrandparent with more diverse and frequent streams of revenue, as well as potentially large referral fees for the company.