Startup changes the landscape of direct-to-consumer shipping
Less than a year after being founded, Louisville-based ecommerce startup XpressRun has acquired about 50 customers for its last-mile delivery marketplace service. XpressRun aggregates the buying power of local businesses to give them affordable, customizable access to a delivery network it’s building that includes partners such as FedEx and DoorDash. Its tech predicts the best delivery rate for a transaction – promotional materials promise to beat Amazon Prime on price and speed – and its API integrates directly with direct-to-customer (DTC) brand’s ecommerce systems.
Founded in part by high school friends Sada Wane and Ahmadou Diop, who immigrated to Louisville in 2013, XpressRun has raised more than $50,000 in seed money from local investors, including Keyhorse Capital, as well as running an ongoing crowdfunding campaign that, to date, has raised more $80,000. And the XpressRun team was recently selected to participate in both the Google for Startups Accelerator: Black Founders Class of 2022 and the Techstars Chicago Accelerator.
We spoke to Wane, the startup’s CEO, about how his team stays agile and looks to capitalize on opportunities and resources as it aspires to change the landscape of DTC shipping, which they estimate as a rapidly growing $257 billion addressable market.
XpressRun released its minimum viable product just a few months after being founded in December 2021. How has your offering and technology matured since that time?
Wane: We believe in continuous development, and are very close to our customers, so we are constantly making updates and improvements … One of my co-founders, Jordan [Mariotti-Wood], worked at Slack, and we have a Slack channel where our customers can tell us about their issues in real time. We also reach out to our customers for feedback, so it is a continuous loop.
So, if I understand correctly, your business model is to aggregate the buying power of your customers within a region to sign competitive deals with last-mile delivery service providers? And your technology/API plugs directly into the brand’s shopping cart experience to present the best shipping option to customers?
Wane: Yes. We like to say that we are the operating system for last-mile delivery. We saw that there was really no need to create a new delivery service – we just wanted to make these services accessible to smaller businesses, not just major retailers. … Smaller, local businesses are often forced to use a watered-down shipping experience that does not support their brand, and we wanted to create a customizable experience that addresses that.
What sort of customizations are available?
Wane: It starts during the onboarding process. We can create custom pricing structures for how the business wants to present shipping costs to customers. We also offer customized SMS and email communications, and tracking. And, again, it’s all completely whitelabeled under our customer’s brand.
What inspired you and your partners to develop this particular technology?
Wane: I began my entrepreneurial career in ecommerce [Wane and co-founder Diop were once involved in a Senegalese startup e-marketplace], so the interest has always been there. … I saw these local businesses with great products, and I’d ask myself why consumers aren’t able to find or access their products outside Kentucky in the same way they can with major brands. … We worked with the LaunchIt program at UofL to interview 100 businesses about their needs, and we found that delivery services like DoorDash do what they do well – they just are not accessible to a lot of businesses. So we set out to fix that.
You’ve been selected for two prestigious accelerator programs. What aspect of these opportunities – technical support, business training or mentorship for your leadership team – will be most beneficial to your near-term growth?
Wane: Really, it’s all about access to resources and product development expertise. We do a lot with machine learning and AI, so of course we are very interested in what we can learn from Google there. … With that access, it’s really up to us to take full advantage of it. That’s our culture; we empower our people to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. … Techstars has a strong focus on mentoring, and we are looking forward to that.
Has being based in an ecommerce shipping hub like Louisville helped your business grow?
Wane: You know, it’s weird. About 95 percent of our customers are not in Kentucky, and that’s mostly because we have not spent on marketing. We have grown organically, really, as we have added new features. [The company likes to say it has spent $0 on customer acquisition so far. Many of XpressRun’s customers came onboard after it released a turnkey integration with industry-leading ecommerce platform Shopify.]
How has the Louisville startup ecosystem helped you find funding and other resources?
Wane: Many people here have been so supportive in helping point us to opportunities, and that is really what it takes. … While the startup ecosystem in Louisville is somewhat small, they are very open and are willing to share resources. So in that way we have a very strong startup community here.