By Tim Esterdahl
Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft have exploded in popularity, benefiting from how easy they are to use. These services can be great transportation alternatives, but what if you need to move a couch or haul a load of topsoil? And what if you need help? You could pay for movers, rent a pickup truck, schedule a delivery or even call a buddy.
It all adds up to one big hassle.
That might be about to change. Burro, a growing business based in Austin, Texas, aims to address this problem by being the truck version of Uber, and it's growing in popularity.
On a particularly hot and humid day in the summer of 2014, Burro co-founder Jason Ervin and his son were hauling some new furniture from a store. As usual, they had rented a U-Haul and were moving the furniture themselves. During this process, Ervin said his son had had enough and thought they could come up with something better. "This sucks!" Ervin recalled his son saying. "There should be something where you just push a button and get somebody else to come do this."
While furniture delivery isn't a new idea — most stores have been offering it for years — the idea of an on-demand truck delivery service was. In just a few years, Burro has grown from a simple idea into a booming business, with revenues growing as much as a thousand percent each year and more than a hundred drivers requesting to work for the company. These drivers can earn upward of $35 per hour. Plus, according to Ervin, local furniture stores have seen a boom in their business.
A Booming Convenience Industry
The sweaty job of moving furniture has inspired more than just Ervin. A quick internet search reveals a host of startups based around the same idea of a truck-hailing economy, including Burro, Buddytruk, GoShare, HashMove and Pickup. They have similar stories of not wanting to wait on the furniture store's delivery schedule, overpay for movers or deal with the hassle of renting a truck. And their process is as simple as using an app.
On-demand delivery works by matching up truck owners who want to earn extra cash with customers who need help moving bulky items. Once a customer places an order, the job is broadcast out to the network of drivers who respond to the job. Payment is handled with the app and the job is typically done in hours.
While pricing varies depending on mileage, Burro says a typical hourlong delivery will cost a customer anywhere from $19 to $50 depending on distance traveled, and all the labor is included.
Legal Troubles Threaten Hailing Services
The booming growth of mobile phone, application-based businesses like Burro hasn't gone unnoticed by government officials. On May 6, 2015, Burro received a letter from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles requesting it stop operating until its drivers acquired commercial licenses.
"Anyone moving household goods in a pickup truck or other type or size of vehicle for hire is required to register with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and show proof of insurance in the amounts required by law," wrote Bill Harbeson, the department's director of enforcement, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The letter went on to state that this included anyone who, for example, moves a piece of furniture bought at a garage sale in exchange for pay. Buddytruk, HashMove and Pickup received similar letters in 2015, according to The Texas Tribune.
Since the majority of these businesses' services involves moving furniture and getting a commercial driver's license for each driver would be both costly and time-consuming, Harbeson's letter could have been the end of them. Ervin said Burro hired a lawyer and worked out a deal with the Texas DMV to improve transparency, use GPS tracking and include background checks on its drivers.
With the Texas legal matter resolved for now, Burro is looking to expand beyond Austin as other truck-hailing companies have done — Buddytruk, for example, operates in other densely populated areas including Austin, Los Angeles and Orange County in California, and Chicago. In these places it is increasingly difficult to own, park and drive a good-sized pickup truck. Services like Burro could save the city-dweller pickup from extinction and create a whole new reason for consumers to purchase them.