When it's 2 a.m. and the ice-cream cravings are hitting hard, who you gonna call? Obviously, you could try the Ghostbusters, but if you live in Philadelphia, Phoenix, Boston, New York, Seattle, Chicago or any of the other 500 plus cities they serve, you'll probably have better luck with goPuff. As one of the fast-growing (and fastest delivering) start-ups around, goPuff has captured the market in super-fast food, groceries and beer. Whether you want a toaster or a mousetrap, some dog food or a charger, goPuff aims to get it to your door in less time than it takes to download their app. And so far, they're succeeding. Since starting as a small student concern in 2013, goPuff has developed into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, leaving conventional convenience stores quaking in their wake. To find out more, keep reading.
1. It all started at Drexel University
What do Jerry Yang, Steve Huffman, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Yakir Gola, and Rafael Ilishayev all have in common? If you answered 'they all launched a start-up at college', give yourself a pat on the back. The goPuff story started back in 2013 when two freshmen by the names of Yakir Gola and Rafael Ilishayev met on the first day of their Business 101 class at Drexel University in Philadelphia. After bonding over their studies, their shared heritage, and their hatred of standard convenience stores, goPuff was born in the pair's dorm room just over a year later.
2. It found its market on Philly's campuses
Philadelphia isn't short on universities, something that served goPuff particularly well in its early days. Before they started their country-wide expansion plans, Yakir Gola and Rafael Ilishayev made college students their targets, tapping into their 1am needs for donuts and beer and making a killing in the process. But while the market was there, the funds for a team of drivers wasn't, meaning Gola and Ilishayev became the default delivery agents. “For the first four months of the business, it was just Yakir and I making deliveries seven days a week, every day until four in the morning to anyone in our delivery zone in Philadelphia,” Ilishayev has since recalled to technical.ly.
3. The company name was designed to make a stir
If you were asked to think of an appropriate name for a startup that sells groceries, goPuff wouldn't necessarily be the first name that came to mind. So why exactly did its founders pick it? According to Ilishayev, that's exactly the question they were hoping you'd ask. Despite tobacco being pretty much the only thing goPuff doesn't deliver, the hookah associations of the name are intended to spark curiosity. Get people curious, and it'll only be a matter of time before they start using the service - or so goes the logic. And considering the company is now worth over $3 billion, it certainly seems to have worked out as intended.
4. It was funded by furniture sales
When Gola and Ilishayev decided the time was up for everyday convenience stores, it would only be a matter of time (and one or two drunken conversations into the wee hours) before goPuff turned from a theory into a reality. But while the market was there from the off (as sure as apples are apples, students are going to want beer, and more likely than not, they'll prefer not having to leave the party to get it), the fund weren't. If Ilishayev and Gola wanted to make a success of their fledgling enterprise, they were going to have to come up with some cash, fast. They did it by flipping office furniture on eBay and Craigslist - within just a few months, they'd managed to come up with the $50,000 they needed to hit the ground running.
5. Only one of its founders graduated
Launching a startup is hard. It takes huge amounts of time, energy, and money... three things budding student entrepreneurs rarely have. Thanks to Ilishayev and Gola's furniture flipping activities, they at least had the money side of things covered. But the rest was no easy matter. With both of them pulling 16-hour days, 7 days a week, they soon found they had little room for their studies. “Everything else was secondary. We would have to leave class sometimes to make deliveries," Ilishayev has since said. Eventually, the stress of juggling the demands of the business with his studies forced Gola's hand, and he quit mid-way through his degree to concentrate on goPuff. Ilishayev continued, graduating in 2015 with a degree in legal studies.
6. Money was tight at the beginning
They may have succeeded in generating the initial funds needed to launch goPuff to a wider market, but $50,000 will only take you so far. When Ilishayev and Gola started expanding their business outside the limits of Philly's campuses, they soon found that sacrifices had to be made. “Expanding through the first three cities was difficult because we were bootstrapped,” Ilishayev has since recalled to NBC News. “We had no money to do anything but the bare minimum operations. We slept in the warehouses to save money that would have been spent on hotels."
7. It offered beer openers as an incentive
How do you get students to use your business? Offer them a beer opener for free. So ran the thought process behind goPuff's early efforts to convince the student population of Philadelphia to use its services. And it worked. Although it came at a cost. Business was booming, but for the first 6 months, Gola and Ilishayev were too cash strapped to employ any outside help. “We did orders, inventory marketing, bookkeeping, customer service — every part of the business, A to Z,” Gola has since recalled. “We couldn’t afford to pay anyone.”
8. It's a great place to work
Working for a startup can go one of two ways. It can either push you to the limits of your patience, endurance, and talents (especially if you're working for a CEO with bright ideas but no business sense), or it can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life. By all accounts, working for goPuff falls into the second category. According to comparably.com, goPuff has an approval rating of 88% among its staff, placing it in the top five percent of all US companies of the same size.
9. It offers beer on tap
Want a beer but don't fancy a trip to the bar? goPuff have you covered. In December 2015, lishayev and Gola expanded their range to include a beer delivery service called goBeer. The idea of having beverages delivered to your doorstep clearly found an audience, and a year later, they launched a second alcohol delivery service called goBooze.
10. It's been named to CNBC’s Disruptor 50
Despite each being only 27 years old, Ilishayev and Gola have already achieved remarkable things over the course of their 7 years at goPuff. And remarkable things don't go unnoticed. In 2017, both founders were named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list in the “Retail & Ecommerce” category. They've also been named as Target Magazine’s Marketer of the Year and 'Emerging Leaders' by Valley Youth House. This year, they added to their list of accolades when CNBC’s mentioned goPuff on its Disruptor 50 list, an annual list of companies credited with shaking up the economy.
11. It believes sharing is caring
These days, it's not enough for a company to go about its business without worrying about the wider world. As soon as it starts making money, it's expected to start giving back. And that's exactly what goPuff have been doing. Whether it's to show they care or because they actually do, Ilishayev and Gola have made names for themselves as some of the most generous entrepreneurs in the business. As well as donating hefty sums to their old alma mater, they've also been heavily involved in COVID related philanthropy, launching the Health Care Support Initiative to commit $1 million in free delivery orders to healthcare workers across the U.S. and pledging to match donations of up to $1 million for the Boys & Girls Clubs COVID-19 Relief Fund.
12. It's revolutionizing the industry
goPuff started because two college students didn't think the average convenience store was capable of meeting the needs of millennials. And apparently, it wasn't just them that thought so. Since starting off with around 50 products and a single warehouse in Philly, goPuff has grown into a dominating force in the industry, serving 31 states and offering thousands of products. But it's still not enough. “I don’t think it’s going to end there,” Gola has said. “It’s exciting to change an industry.”
13. 2019 was a great year for goPuff....
2019 was a banner year for goPuff. As well as moving into a very fancy new 30,000 square-foot headquarters at Finnigan's Wake building in Northern Liberties, it managed to scoop a $750 million investment from SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund (with a commitment for up to $250 million more) and grab the title of Growth Company of the Year at the 2019 Technical.ly Awards. Business was booming, with more and more customers signing up for their services. And then a global pandemic hit.
14. .... But 2020 has been even better
COVID hasn't exactly been good for business for most companies. As well as devasting the nation's health, Coronavirus has cut a swathe through the economy. But not everyone's wilting under the pressure. With lockdown came an increased need for home deliveries and a huge opportunity for the businesses already occupied in that particular sector.... an opportunity that goPuff grabbed with both hands. With only essential businesses allowed to stay open, the demand for goPuff's services swelled astronomically overnight. So much so, in fact, it had to take on thousands of new employees and drivers to keep up with demand.
15. It puts employee needs first
COVID might have been the goose that laid a golden egg for goPuff, but with the uptick in demand came challenges. How does a business cope with an exponential increase in its customer base and maintain its standards at the same time? According to comms head Liz Romaine, it all comes down to keeping a firm focus on the needs and welfare of its employees. "The first priority is the health and wellness of driver partners, employees and customers," she told technical.ly. “We also recognize that delivery is playing an integral role in this public health crisis, and we take this responsibility seriously,” she added. As well as keeping their drivers well supplied with cleaning supplies, protective equipment and hand sanitizer, it also encouraged the use of a no-contact delivery option to ensure the safety of both its employees and customers.
16. It's one of the biggest ice cream suppliers in Philadelphia
Everyone loves ice cream, but Philadelphian's seem to love it more than most - especially if that ice cream gets delivered straight to their door for a great price. Ever since its days as a student start up, goPuff has made Ben & Jerry’s, Häagen-Dazs and Talenti a mainstay of its Philly deliveries, to the point that it now ranks as one of Philadelphia’s largest sellers of ice cream. But the city's love for ice cream is outweighed by an even deeper passion. According to reports, Nerds Rope, the nostalgic candy that’s become a huge hit with millennials, is the business’ No. 1 seller in Philadelphia.
17. It supports local businesses
With doom and gloom the pervading theme of every newspaper, we're all in dire need of a good news day. Earlier this year, goPuff provided exactly that when it showed us the power of partnership... even at a 2m distance. When lockdown forced Philadelphians to take to their homes, businesses started to suffer. The city's need for coffee and sweet treats, on the other hand, had never been greater. So, what else was a good-hearted delivery service to do other than join forces with two local staples (Federal Donuts and La Colombe, in this case), to keep their stores afloat and deliver a much-needed caffeine and sugar hit to the quarantined masses?
18. It's got stiff competition
Back when goPuff started in 2013, the idea of an on-demand delivery service might have seemed pretty radical. These days, it's anything but. The market is teeming with companies competing to grab a slice of the delivery-service pie. Not all of them have been as successful as others, but there's more than enough competition to keep goPuff on its toes. One of its biggest rivals is Postmates, a company which started in 2011 (a full two years before goPuff) and has since gone on to become one of the biggest delivery services in the US. By the time it was acquired by Uber in July 2020, it had grown to a point that it could set its asking price at a whopping $2.65 billion.
19. It runs its own warehouses
There might be no shortage of delivery companies offering similar services as goPuff, but it has a trick up its sleeve that sets it apart from the competition - namely, its own warehouses. According to an interview Ilishayev gave to CNBC, this gives them the unique vantage point of being able to control every aspect of the user experience from start to finish. Their app's predictive algorithm lets them know exactly what they have in stock and exactly when it's time to order in more supplies, minimizing the risk of ever having to call on a customer to make a last-minute product change.
20. It covers 500+ cities
goPuff is no longer a tiny little student start up. It's big, and it's growing bigger by the day. According to its website, it now operates from over 500 U.S. cities and employs more than 4,000 staff. With its coverage increasing by the day, it can only be a matter of time before it starts taking on global aspirations.
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee