If a new Capitol Hill-based startup has its way, nearly every storefront will be turned into a drive-through. Flybuy, a new mobile app company, is headquartered in an unassuming retail space on E Pine. Its business model is to help retailers and customers avoid the hassle of parking and be part of the next wave of online commerce.
There was huge buzz in tech media this week as an Uber co-founder unveiled details of Operator, a “shopping concierge” system designed to “unlock the 90% of commerce that’s not on the Internet.”
On E Pine near 14th Ave, Henry and Flybuy are making a push for similar turf. The app allows users to make orders for goods and services through participating retailers. The stores provide an estimate of how long it will take to fill the order. Customers can then drive to the store as the business is notified that the customer has arrived. An employee then meets the person at the curb for a quick pick-up. People pay through the app.
It might seem somewhat cumbersome but when the new turf of an Operator-type world of commerce starts to get claimed, there’s a good chance services like Flybuy could play a part.
Restaurants have been quick to show interest, but other services that have a quick in-and-out model, for example a dry cleaner (where people might also use the app for drop-off), florist or pet supply store, has also seen value in the idea, Henry said.
For those on Capitol Hill, who might be just as likely to bike or walk to the location, Henry said the app would easily support non-drivers. They’re even working on a boat-up option for folks wanting to grab a quick bite from Ivar’s Salmon House on Lake Union.
“All around the city, parking is an issue,” Henry said. Many of the early businesses to sign on were excited because they felt they were losing customers who were frustrated by not being able to find a spot. “They were all interested in the idea because the access is so poor.”
The company started about a year and a half ago, and had an office in Fremont, Henry said. They did some testing, mostly with friends and family for a while, then took the app down in January to rebuild it based on what they learned. Now, they’re ready to re-launch.
In March, their landlord helped move them to their new location on Capitol Hill, and Henry said they are very happy with the move. For one, it helps them to be in a street-level retail spot, where they can better observe the patterns people use when shopping. They’re also in an area where many of their neighbors are natural customers.
“It was ideal to be in a retail location,” Henry said.
And, yes, parking around Capitol Hill can sometimes be a thorough drag.
Henry said Flybuy is sensitive to the venture that this might encourage people to drive in a city already gridlocked with traffic, but argues that it may actually serve to help the situation. He pointed to a UCLA study which looked at studies of 16 cities between 1927 and 2001 and found that on average, up to 30 percent of traffic can be attributed to people circling the block looking for a place to park. Although, only six of those studies actually tried to quantify the percentage of people looking for parking.
“I think we’re going to save traffic,” Henry said.
There is still likely to be some circling, however. Drivers need to arrive on the same side of the street as the business. If the driver is coming from the wrong direction, they’re probably going to have do a loop-de-loop around the block to get on the right side of the road, and then another to get back pointing their original direction.
Flybuy is available for iOS and Android. The company is running a promotion to allow people to test it out by picking up a free item at its headquarters at 14th and Pine. You can learn more at flybuy.com.