85: Bundling vs Ondemand with Sam Lerdahl of PikupPublished July 6, 2021
Run time: 01:02:43
Stability isn’t a growth hack. Sam Lerdahl is Head of Product at Pikup, a neighbor-powered delivery app that pivoted its strategy during the pandemic.
Sam joins the show to talk about being a young entrepreneur, when not to build an app, how to change user behavior, and why the era of “We’ll make money later” is coming to an end. Sigh of relief.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The challenges and advantages of being a young entrepreneur
- What characteristics to look for when building a team
- When to build a web app over a mobile app
- How changing user behavior is similar to being a scientist
- How to be self-aware when asking for advice
- How an equitable delivery model exists for consumers, communities, stores, and brands
- How the notion of growth hacking is pretty much B.S.
This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, where we make sense of mobile app development with our non-technical approach to building custom mobile software solutions. Learn more at https://jmg.mn.
Recorded June 22, 2021 | Edited by Jordan Daoust | Produced by Jenny Karkowski
Follow Sam on Twitter | https://twitter.com/samldahl
Follow Sam on Instagram | https://www.instagram.com/samldahl/
Email Sam | firstname.lastname@example.org
Get Pikup | https://www.trypikup.com/
Techstars | https://www.techstars.com/
JMG Careers Page | https://jmg.mn/careers
Connect with Tim Bornholdt on LinkedIn | https://www.linkedin.com/in/timbornholdt/
Chat with The Jed Mahonis Group about your app dev questions | https://jmg.mn
Tim Bornholdt 0:00
Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a non-technical look at building and growing digital products. I'm Tim Bornholdt. Let's get nerdy.
A quick note before jumping into this week's episode. We at The Jed Mahonis Group have some fun projects coming in the door. And as a result we need to hire. We are looking for some iOS and Android developers to come on board and help us out. We place an emphasis here on hiring for fit as opposed to skills. Skills are something that can be taught and fostered through mentorship and experience, where fit on the other hand is harder to define. But we've tried our best on our Careers Page. So check that out at jmg.mn/careers. Whether you have one year of experience 20 years of experience, if you're interested in talking with us, check out our Careers Page or just email us email@example.com. We'll put that link and a link to our Careers Page in the show notes as well.
Today we are chatting with Sam Lerdahl, co founder and head of product at Pikup. Pikup is a neighbor-powered delivery app which connects neighbors and friends who are already at local stores with people nearby who need something. Sam joins the show to talk to us about a whole host of things. We really go off into the weeds on a lot of different topics with entrepreneurship and running a business and lessons learned from the venture capital world. Seriously, you are going to really enjoy this episode. So without further ado, here is my interview with Sam Lerdahl.
Sam, welcome to the show,
Sam Lerdahl 1:45
Tim, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Tim Bornholdt 1:47
I'm very excited to have you on. I'd love it if you took a chance to talk to my audience here about yourself and kind of what got you into the whole Pikup game.
Sam Lerdahl 1:55
Of course, of course. So yeah, I mean, I met Tim way back, like, honestly, on like my first project. I started working on projects in high school. The first one was an edtech product called EduPass. It was trying to track, you know, students' free hours in high schools. And Tim's company actually, you know, quoted us for our first project or product before pivoting, which was like a bus tracker app, which now looking back on that, that's kind of crazy. But yeah, I mean, that was like one of my first projects and you know, I just kind of fell in love with software development and like UI/UX, building user experiences and interfaces, and how should it feel, and really just focused on solving problems with technology or just honestly, just in general. And so, you know, was very entrepreneurial kind of throughout high school and ended up going to U of M for a year. That's where I met my co founders at Runerra, which is now Pikup. But yeah, basically, I spent a year at the University of Minnesota, ended up, you know, working on Pikup, you know, then and there and had got a little traction actually, and got into the TechStars Target Retail Accelerator Program. And so ended up leaving school and taking some time to do that full time. So, I have been doing that, you know, ever since and you know, the occasional consulting and just kind of side projects here and there. But I mean, it's been, you know, Pikup full time where we're really trying to change the grocery space.
Tim Bornholdt 3:27
I love it. And I just want to make sure that it doesn't go unnoticed that you mentioned before we recorded that you were 22. And I think being that young and having as much experience as you do in this space is unique. And I wanted to get your thoughts around what you think age and being young, like, how has that impacted your journey so far? Like has it made it easier, made it harder? Where do you fall on that spectrum?
Sam Lerdahl 3:57
It's hard to say, you know, like, one or the other, you know, it's definitely a double edged sword. Right. So on one end, you know, it's really new and exciting. I started doing this when I was, you know, I've been doing this for, what, four or five years now, but I've been doing this and again, like, I'm always learning more. There's so much more to learn, people to meet. People are so nice when you're young, you know. It's like, Hey, like, you know, do you have 30 minutes to talk about this? Or, Hey, I would love to learn more about what you do. And again, like people are generally much more open to meeting, you know, whereas, again, when you're older, it's like, oh, it's probably a little harder to say, Hey, I'm working on a project and need some feedback. It's a little more intimidating being a grown man now and stuff like that. So, again, yeah, it's definitely interesting, though. But again, I'd say like, at least considering the problems that I don't have right now, I can really kind of focus on me, and, you know, being 22 is like, I don't have a lot of responsibilities, responsibilities, other than like working on the business and I mean that's really it like, and, of course, living and stuff like that. But, yeah, I mean, I honestly I love it, I think that it's really, really great.
And also too, I'd say, on the flip side of things, you know, people think, oh, we're younger, less educated, you know, you have less experience and like that is true. You know, there are guys that I've worked with that have been doing this longer than I've been alive. But what's really, really fun about the entire thing, though, is that, you know, all of us working together, it's like, yeah, they have, you know, 20 years of industry experience, Hey, we should build it this way. And I'm thinking, Hey, like, this is how I want to, you know, this is how it should feel, this is how it should be based on like, you know, methods and stuff that I'm doing, you know, just creatively. I'm trying to think, like, for example, when you give people together for a feedback session, right, you can do things different ways, and not because, you know, it's to be different, but because, you know, I haven't done it before. Again, I'm like, Hey, I need to learn more about this. And so however, I can do that, I'm going to do that. So that's been kind of cool.
Tim Bornholdt 6:08
Yeah, I think it's one of those things where it's age just really doesn't matter. Because no matter what age you are, there's pros and cons to it. And I kind of asked that question in it, I don't know why, it's almost in jest. But I just want to underscore because I do feel like no matter what age you could always ask that question, you know, like, how does it feel to be 70 and running an app development business? There's so many pros and cons, like the balance between experience and innovation. And I think it's just what I appreciate about you and your journey is that you started so young, and you've already made a ton of mistakes that some people wait until, you know, when you're 40, and you start your first business. Not that it's, you know, bad to start when you're 40. But it's like, by the time you get to be 40, you'll have had 20 years of of entrepreneurship experience, and you'll be able to draw on that and get to different places than you could have otherwise gone. So it's just cool to hear that you've got that perspective on it already at only being 22 years old.
Sam Lerdahl 7:11
Oh, well, yeah, no, I appreciate it. Yeah, no, it's definitely different than like, some of my friends or peers, you know, having to, you know, take on some of these tasks, or, like, you know, have like, internal team issues that you have to kind of figure out, you know. It's definitely a little unique. But again, I think to your point, like whether you solve it or go through it, you know, when you're 22 or 50, it's the same problem that you kind of have to get used to and have to work through. And the more you can work through it, you know, the better you get at it. So I mean, more time to practice, I guess.
Tim Bornholdt 7:48
Exactly. So I keep saying Runerra, and I know I need to start saying Pikup, but it's just been drilled into my head, and I have to undrilled it. But you have a group of co founders at Pikup. Knowing that you work in a team like that, how do you decide who handles which responsibilities?
Sam Lerdahl 8:07
I'd say a couple things. And kind of the one really important thing is probably bandwidth. So like, again, like, regardless of what else you have on the table, you know, if someone else is busy, or someone else is working on something else, you know, you want to make sure that they, you know, have their attention on that one task. So, that's a big thing. So like, sometimes I'll go like, you know, Bharat might need help with outbound or Josh might need help working on content, and so I can kind of step in and use the skill set that I have. And you know. it'd be faster for him because speed is really important.
Honestly, I mean, speed is everything so, if, again, if I can do it faster than then someone else because they're bogged down, like I can step in. And also too like, yeah, skill, so it kind of ties in with speed. So if I have to go into the database, and like, change a couple things, and someone else has more experience, and can do it way faster than I can, then they should do it. So that's kind of how we decide but also too, like, each of us kind of come from different experiences, like Bharat had some business before. And his role was more CEO and operational. So he's very good at doing some of those things, emailing, building relationships, kind of being the forefront, whereas again, like my experience has been more in like product management. And so I'm better with like roadmaps and, you know, qualitative and quantitative things, and using intuition to build stuff. And actually Josh has experience with marketing and working with nonprofits beforehand. So we're all kind of aware of what it takes. And so yeah, like, all three of us are kind of putting our heads together to like, get the job done, as fast as we can.
Tim Bornholdt 9:55
When you put your team together, and when you guys came together, did you purposefully look for people that had strengths in certain areas? Or were you kind of trying to find, it seems like you have a lot of generalists and a lot of utility players you'd say, in baseball, for example, where you can hit and be in different positions, and everyone can kind of shift around. Was that something that you intentionally came to? Or is that just kind of a byproduct of being in a startup?
Sam Lerdahl 10:27
I'd love to say that it was, you know, all on purpose. But, no, I think the big thing that I've learned and honestly, the one really only purposeful thing that I've looked for when, like, you know, building a team. And again, this kind of goes beyond like the core team, but just people that are super hungry and people that know a lot about a certain thing. And again it's tough saying, Oh, I know a lot about UI\UX, because again, I'm 22, you know. There are guys that have been doing this longer than I've been alive. So I'm careful to kind of preach that, but again, from my experience, like, I knew how to build products end to end. As a high schooler, I got pretty good at it, like it looked pretty professional, and I knew how to build iterations from other ones, too.
So I kind of had an understanding of that. Whereas Bharat knew how to, you know, how to go from, Oh, here's where to go from one to two, to three to five, you know what I mean, to level it up. And then Josh has had a lot of experience doing outbound and marketing, and now putting things together. So, you know, having that trust I think was really kind of crucial. And the trust kind of came from this being a solid group of guys that I've done other projects with, and, so like, generalists, for sure. But at the same time, there's definitely some, again, I like design. I can do it faster. So, that's kind of my skill set. But also, as a small team, it's we say jump, how high. So, our job, again, is to get the job done. So if I have to step out of balance, and start writing emails that I'm not comfortable writing, I have to do it. Action kills fear. So it's like, you know, you have to just kind of jump into it and learn.
Tim Bornholdt 12:20
Yeah, and I think one thing I'd counter you on was, you were saying there are people out there that have been doing it longer. And like, I think that's always, again, until you're, like, 80 years old, and you can be an outlier, then there's always gonna be somebody that knows more than you or is more experienced. I think what I get the vibe is that your team is, is kind of you fall into interests. And it's like, if something doesn't, if something matches your interests, like if it's UI/UX, you kind of own that and go from there. And then your CEO kind of handles like fundraising and the kind of CEO-y things and people go towards where their interests are, and then when they need help or backup, then people can jump in and provide that backup. But I think it kind of, again, undercuts the whole notion of, you know, there's no one set path to being a successful entrepreneur, right? Like, you guys didn't go through and get your MBAs and go work for Deloitte for 20 years, and then go off and start your own consultancy and build your own products. It's like, you saw a gap in the market, and you jumped into it, and you figured it out. And that's literally what everyone does. It's just, you did it way earlier than most people do it.
Sam Lerdahl 13:35
Yeah. And what was interesting too, is like, growing it even initially, as we began to hire people, other than this core team, and that kind of came with building it all out technically, because we couldn't build it ourselves, you know? Yeah. But we'd hire these, like, senior developers, right, that everyone's talking about. Oh, yeah, you know, these guys get paid 200 grand a year, and these guys get it done. And like, that is true. Like, there are a lot of guys that you can pay 200 grand a year, and they're really, you know, really smart. They can work through things end to end. And, you know, they're worth that buck. But at the same time too, part of the equation is like the startup energy. It's like, you got to be able to take the heat on the weekend, you know. You gotta be putting out fires all the time. And, again, like, some of those things that, you know maybe, that guy isn't cut out to do, you know, isn't cut out to be a one man show, isn't cut out to work all the time and to take equity. Those kinds of things that again are another part of the equation. So, again, like, skill was important, you know, clearly it's important, but again, like, at the same time, we're really just about speed and pace and velocity.
Tim Bornholdt 14:56
No, that makes perfect sense. Since you brought it up. And you were talking about the early days of development. I'm curious to hear where you did start with building the platform. Did you do it all inhouse? It sounded like you brought in some outside help. So just talk about that, the early days of Pikup and when it was Runerra, and then talk through just how that experience went from going from the idea to actually having an app that you can start getting some usage for.
Sam Lerdahl 15:24
For sure. For sure. No, there's, again, like there's a lot, like there was so much learnings, you know, in this first couple of years that it wasn't even funny. Like, it was an absolute mess. But, again, I think what the first couple years really got down were like those fundamentals. I read every book that there ever was. It's like Good Will Hunting, you know what I mean. This guy reads all the books, you know, does all the work, you know, can tell you anything, can talk the talk, but you know, couldn't walk the walk. And so the first like, basically a year and a half, two years was just me keeping my face beat in, you know, by like, Oh, this is the worst, or this is terrible, you're doing it wrong. And all these things that I had to learn really, really quick. And again, like I had to learn, because if we had didn't learn those things, you just wouldn't know. And then you'd be, you know, you'd be building naively, and you can't do that.
And so yeah, like, in the early days, I mean, I haven't thought about this in a while, but like, our app was all purple cause I thought that was cool. And we're trying to use, like, native elements to like, you know, be simple. I thought white text and purple background would work. And it did, but it did, you know, just didn't hold. It was bad. And, again, one big thing that we learned early on was like building apps is really hard. And so use three had like technical experience, you know, but definitely couldn't build like a graph qL powered shopping platform, you know, on React Native. So, we had found some guys to help us out, you know, and we raised some money to kind of continue building the product out. And so we worked with our Modern Logic. I can shout out to those guys. Phenomenal team of very, very smart guys. And again, like, they built us a really great app. And again, in talking about team and needs and that kind of stuff, like looking back on it, I don't think that we needed an app per se. You know, I think that we could have done it with a web app. And it would have been like less limited technically, right? Because, again, like in Chrome and everything, it's way easier to build on web. But regardless, it started off there and basically iterated over and over again. And it because really there was no one that was like doing what we were doing. So really, we had to kind of prove, like, each step of the way. And every time that we took like one more step than we should have with like building an app or doing whatever, we learned from it, but it would also bite us and you learn from that.
So again, like, initially, it was about moving as fast and as calculated as we could. And so there's a handful of things that happened that kind of defined the product, initially. And that was one. When we had launched at the U, and we're doing these drops, people, they were helping each other. Because, again, for anyone who doesn't know, the the Pikup or Runerra, gosh, it's a peer to peer platform that basically we wanted to help neighbors connect with other neighbors to deliver, you know, things when one neighbor's at the store. So it's kinda like, Hey, I'm at the store. Who needs something?
And basically, the issue was that people, you know, thought that they deserved a lot more credit and rewards for grabbing a sandwich, which again we're kind of trained to get a free meal for doing the bare minimum. We're like, Hey, sign up for the app and get, you know, $15 credit and you use and you delete it, right. And so, we bumped into problems like that. And what was really super funny, too, is that as we grew out into more colleges and stuff like that, again, the problems that kept persisting was like, Oh, well, this isn't enough work slash like, I'm going to Chipotle for myself. And like, part of the big, you know, user behavior change of like remembering your friend when you're at the store, like that was really, really hard to overcome. Because, again, people were just so trained, like, I'm going to the store, I'm getting my coffee, I'm going home, and it's like, oh, by the time you get home, like I forgot that my friend actually wanted something or could have wanted something.
And so when COVID hit, it was a double edged sword because we had to pivot into like neighborhoods. And we had to move into doing these things called drops. Which were basically like these, Hey, Costco's coming to the neighborhood on Thursday. What do you need? So a very similar thing, but we were the ones that were fulfilling the deliveries. And again, it was even funnier. What was funny too is that even with these grown adults, which again, like we thought it would be, Oh, yeah, I understand this community thing a lot better. Because they live in these neighborhoods that are, you know, established, and they're staying for a while, whereas the college kids, you know, they're operable for four years, and they leave. So there's community there, but it's more so for the school. But I'm sorry, I'm kind of jumping around here and there. But basically with the adults, the adults are saying the same thing, like, Oh, well, there's like some sort of charity aspect to this, and then I would pick up for somebody. And basically, like, at that point, that's when we realized, like, Hey, we need to pivot more into just like neighborhood drop offs, you know, and kind of have, you know, have a partner that owns the delivery, or we own the delivery, but, you know, people weren't gonna help each other. And so that's kind of how the business grew. And again, like, in regards to like the stack and the team and growing the team, it would have been a lot easier if we just had built a web app, built and started with a web app. Sorry, I will stutter. I've caught myself on a soapbox, so I'm going to stop talking.
Tim Bornholdt 21:33
No, it's just fine. I think you made so many good points in there. So I think the first of all, you said you worked with Modern Logic. And yes, I know, Dustin and the crew over there. They are really, really good and top notch, but you know, if you need an app built come tp The Jed Mahonis Group instead. I won't hold that against you Sam. I never have.
I think one of the most interesting things you said was that if you had a chance to go back, you would have never built the app to start. You would have worked on the web side of things. And I wanted to underscore that particularly because I think a lot of times people find that apps, because they're still relatively novel, I mean, for the most part, people still feel like that's the hot new thing. And like, Oh, you got an app. And like that kind of thing. It's still kind of a big milestone in a business to say we have an app. But I still firmly believe that just like any other piece of software, an app is just a tool in the toolbox. And there are more than enough times where it is appropriate to pull out the app hammer as opposed to the like, you know, website screwdriver for whatever your problem is. But it's one of those things like, I think people just get so caught up in the excitement of having an app that they don't actually think through what it means to their user to have an app because I know, as a user, I hate going to the App Store. If I have to go and download something again, and set up an account and go through that whole process, it is such a pain in the ass. But there are times where it's worth it, and I will go through it. But if it's just like, you know, Speedway, for example, like getting gasoline, I saw signs where it's like, Download our new app today. And it's like, Why so I can see that donuts are 45 cents instead of 50 cents. Like what value is that providing to me?
Sam Lerdahl 23:26
No, I mean, you hit the nail right on the head. It's like I saw that Lowe's had an app the other day. And it's like, Why do I need the Lowe's app? Honestly the funniest part about our whole experience is like, we spent all this time, probably two and a half years or so building out, you know, an app and it's a great app. It serves community, you know, it moves the food and logistics. I mean, it's everything I want it to be. And the thought that I'm having right now that I'm having everyday is like, Man, I wish we had just like a web ordering platform. I wish people could order on the web, because it'd be so much easier for people to order. And again, like we should have started with a web ordering thing so that it was easy to order, and then you build out other things. And so that's kind of like the thought that I can have now and I would use later. But you know, again, I also can't say that, Oh, I wish I would have known it earlier because again, I didn't even know that earlier. And I learned it from going through this. So like now I know, Hey, like before you start building it's like, do you even want to go through the headache of having an app because apps are like, they're kind of the worst? And like everyone's kind of moving away from them anyways, you know, like you're seeing like, what was it, like a fast app or whatever on Android and iOS. Now you can just use the app without downloading it. Like, oh, man, like just make web better.
Tim Bornholdt 24:47
Yeah, again, there is a time and a place for it. And there's plenty of times where an app really is the best solution but I would say more often than not, I find that usually people think of apps when they should really be building websites. And when they do need an app, they don't even think that it could be an app like it's this weird issue where you like I'm thinking of like internal business tools, for example, that if you work in a factory or something where you're mobile, and you're doing something from your phone, and you keep doing this repetitive task over and over again, sometimes that is perfect for an app, where it's just a quick thing, you tap a button, you fill out a thing, and you're done. ,And that can also easily be a website. But again, it just kind of comes back to listen to your users, listen to whoever's going to actually use the software at the end of the day and get their feedback to see whether or not it makes sense to be, I guess whether whatever format digitally it should be. You know, maybe a TV app is better for Pikup. I don't know, that's up to your users, I guess.
Sam Lerdahl 25:57
Oh, for sure. No, I had a friend that was like, Oh, I have an idea for an app, like where you can feed the dogs. You put the dog's name in, it has a schedule on taking it to the vet and all those things, you know, like dog management. And we were talking and I was like, You'd be wasting about 80 grand if you build this thing out. And not because it's a bad idea. Because like, again, someone's already doing it. And there's always more space to improve it. So like, that's not the issue. The issue is, because no one's ever beat by like, their competitor. But the real problem you're trying to solve is like my mom doesn't know how to use Google Calendar effectively to, you know, manage your dog's schedule. So it's like, if you had just like a web app that you could kind of tap through, link a Gmail account to, and then generate a calendar, you know, that would save you a bunch of money and a client side and everything. And it's also solving the issue of like, my mom, you know, being able to get notified that the dog has to get fed every morning. So I'm totally all for that. Like had we thought about anything else first before we thought app, I mean, honestly, I mean, it could be like a PDF you can print off and mark it down with pen and paper. That's ideal.
Tim Bornholdt 27:11
Yeah. Honestly, pen and paper can sometimes be the right solution to your problem. Like, it doesn't have to jump into an $80,000 app. Like if it can be at a minimum solved with a $10 notebook,and a $4 pen, then you're made in the shade. But there was another thing that you had brought up was kind of retraining users and resetting user expectations. And I wanted to kind of dive in on that one for a second too. To me, it strikes me that the user, the kind of person that would use Pikup is, I'm trying to think of like how to phrase this, right. Because I think of, there's certain people in my life, where I know that if they're going to the store, they're going to text me and say, Hey, do you want me to pick something up? It's like, my neighbor and my sister and my wife. And it's like, those are the three people that I think would do it. And it's not again, it's not like a fault to everybody else that is in my life. Like, there's a lot of lovely people in my life, but just making people have that level of empathy, where they're going to go out of their way to think about somebody else to go through that and then add it on top of it. Like you said, people expect a reward for doing like the bare minimum. I mean, just ask any husband that says, Hey, I unloaded the dishwasher, like, Where's my high five? And then every wife is kind of sitting there, like, What's your point? You know what I mean? It's interesting, and I'd love to hear your thoughts around that of like, what steps did you take? Or like, how did you collect the feedback in order to kind of shift the way that the app was designed to guide people to be more thoughtful and empathetic and preemptive with asking whether or not they can go grab something for somebody?
Sam Lerdahl 28:56
Yeah. So I've been watching my language, you know, throughout but one of my big phrases I that again, Oh, how's work? Or, How are things going? I always say, My job is like, I'm in a business of eating shit. And I say that in the most respectful way possible, because my job is to basically spend like a week and a half falling in love with a design or an idea. And then basically sending it off to just be destroyed by anyone and everyone that wants to, you know, just tear it apart. And so it's been in like falling in love with that process that I've gotten to see the growth because againn, what I've learned is that you have to just kind of get things out as fast as you can, because nothing survives the first launch. What also happened to Quibi, like they tried to skip it, and they got like another billion dollars raised, you know, backpacked by everybody. And I think what killed them was that you couldn't cast to the TV.
So again, it can't be perfect and won't be perfect and never will be perfect. And again, like with all those things being true, just move as quick as you can. And so part of that is like, Hey, like, I know that there's like mistakes in this. Say, Hey, I know this isn't complete, but that's okay. It just has to get out. I mean, it's probably gonna take the users a month to even realize that there's a new thing anyway, you know what I mean. So yeah, that's kind of like, as far as like moving forward and moving quickly and iterating fast, that's kind of the big thing there is, you have to just get it out. And again, it's not going to survive the first launch, never will. And so like, honestly what I'm really good at is like getting up. You know, the whole phrase, Oh, it isn't done about how hard you can get hit, it's about how you can get hit and get back up. Like, I'm really good at that. And that's partly because I'm a little crazy, you know, like naive, but also I'm a little numb. And I've gotten used to it at all. This comes with the territory. I'm gonna, you know, spend time on this, people are gonna hate it, or I'm gonna have missed this or this is gonna be delayed or, you know, always a fire to put out, I guess, is kind of the point.
Tim Bornholdt 31:26
Well, yeah, I would think that with regards to like adjusting user behavior, and getting them to do a certain thing or perform a certain task, it probably is just relentlessly trying and failing and being a scientist in the true sense of the word of setting up an experiment, or gathering a hypothesis, I guess, first of all, setting an experiment, conducting the experiment, grabbing results, seeing what happened, and then coming up with a new hypothesis. And so what you would call maybe getting knocked down and getting back up, I would just call being a purebred scientist.
Sam Lerdahl 32:03
You're exactly right. We have hypothesis. You know, we have to say, We need users to do more of this, you know, how are we going to do that? What levers do we have to pull? What levers work? Do we need a new lever? And so yeah, it's really understanding, like, when we do this, this happens. Like, , that's all the business is, you know, like, when we make calls and say that we have the best, you know, Dev shop in the Midwest, then this happens. It's the same thing, like we post a drop saying, Hey, this is happening in the area. We have to follow up a few different ways. And then enough people join where, you know, it can be packed and delivered and fulfilled. And there's also a model there where there's money being made, and it's not being subsidized. So yeah, you're totally right. Like we push it out, it doesn't work the first week. You can't, like, get sad about that, like, Oh, you know, it didn't work. And back to the drawing board, like you have to measure the patterns, not like the individual occurrences of things. So it's definitely a hard task of setting up an experiment, letting it run, you know, being wrong almost every time. It's great when you're right, though, it really is. It's definitely all in the little victories. But yeah, that is that is the day to day of the task is just try new things over and over again. And even things as simple as like email templates. It's not an app, it's not a feature. It's like, Hey, we're looking to work with you. And it's like, no. And again, you need to figure out why they said no. Maybe call them and say, Hey, like, I know you said no, but I want to know more about that. Stuff like that.
Tim Bornholdt 33:54
Yeah, that's great lesson for people to take away is if you're going to try to build a marketplace and adjust people's expectations, it's going to require some failure, and you have to be comfortable with that. Otherwise, you're in the wrong industry.
Sam Lerdahl 34:11
Oh my gosh, for sure. And I guess on that note what has have been really, really cool too is, and again, this is something that I'm really the kind of privileged to feel is like, we had the idea initially. Everyone when they any idea on the first couple days, it's the same honeymoon phase that you have. It's gonna be this brand. It is gonna be this color. It's gonna do this and this, and it's gonna be so sleek and amazing. And then you realize that it was never your idea. Like, a, if it's gonna be yours, it's only gonna be an idea, I guess is the point like, and if you want it to be like a real business, it's gonna get changed. So you kind of have to go into it expecting it to change and honestly, like, lean into it. Like, just get really excited when something changes because when it's changing, that means that it's evolving or that it's growing. Whereas you get comfortable and things feel static and it's like, Oh, it's working, but not as good as you want it to. You kind of have to find energy to make the team want to change or want to try a new experiment, and that kind of stuff. And again, it's definitely a roller coaster of ups and downs.
Tim Bornholdt 35:22
One thing you had mentioned earlier was going through the TechStars Accelerator Program. And I, frankly, would love to hear your experience in that. Well, first of all, did it help accelerate the product or the business side of things? And if so, how did it do that accelerating?
Sam Lerdahl 35:43
Yeah. TechStars was amazing. Again, that was our first big break, you know, someone taking us seriously. And yeah, TechStars was an amazing experience. I think any kind of program like that, it's all about the people and the connections. So that was kind of the really big thing for us, you know, getting to network with eight other startups that are just from all around the world. I mean, that was super inspiring. And finding people that were more like-minded, you know, being college kids is kind of, again, exciting. Having them be a little older, and not being able to really go out and get drinks after work, that was kind of a bummer. But amazing experience.
And it was a double edged sword in a sense. We love that phrase, but yeah, loved meeting everyone and taking meetings and figuring all kinds of stuff about the industry. The project grew fast, it grew legs fast, and the team grew legs fast. We all really got a much better understanding of the market vertical, and all kinds of problems in supply chains and things like that. Because at the time, it was like, Oh, when I can't have Chipotle, and I don't want to pay five bucks for it. And, you know, I wish that I would've know that you were at Target so I can get like a bowl of Cheerios, like, that was the legs of the idea. But we were just like sandblasted with three months of like, an industry is broken. And the acronyms I still don't know. I still can't even say right, like, EBITA. And things where it's like, I have no idea what the people are talking about, but it's like logistics and delivery. We basically opened a wormhole. I was like, Oh my gosh, delivery is a mess, and we stepped into this terribly complex problem.
And I guess on the flip side, anything that TechStars didn't do. And again, one of the things that I can look back on and say now is like, because we were so young and so early, again, like super exciting, love to see it. The other part of the equation is like taking those conversations with a grain of salt. Because in an environment like that, it's so noisy. So and So wants to give you money, you know, you should do this. And you should do that. And, oh, let's get the CEO of this in here. And the operator of this in here, and the marketer of this scenario. It's like, again, those guys do those things. As far as like working on a project or a problem goes, you are the closest person to that project, always. And it's your job to be the most well versed person in that space. And so again, like, you can have all these conversations, but if you're a chameleon, and your kind of a yes man, you're kind of acting on what others are saying, because they've done it. It's like that's really, really cool. But like, again, like those guys did it, done it, aren't doing what you're doing. And so it should be taken with a grain of salt. And so again, I wish that, you know, going back, I would have been less in awe of some of the people that I worked with. But also I put people like less on pedestals and more like, you know, just kind of really took what they said verbatim, and said, Okay, great points. I'll put it in my satchel, you know, and the team will look through it later. And we'll kind of like decide what the best move is. So yeah, so that's kind of how TechStars was, but it was, again, like I'd say, net positive. It's easy to get hung up saying, Oh, I wish you would have done this or done that before. But again, you wouldn't have known that, hence, if wouldn't have gotten this far. So it's again, like, you know, I'm grateful that the company has been around long enough to say that, you know, it's changed this much.
Tim Bornholdt 39:34
Well, and it's also you were, what 19, 20, something like that at that point. So I think it is easy to, I mean, I still get in that case. There's still people that I see at meetups and events where you get a little star struck and you get a little, you just kind of sit there and you're so grateful that this other person is there to give you advice or that is interested in you so you kind of get starry eyed a little bit. But then yeah, as you as you get older, you realize they're not any more or less capable than you. They just had done it already. And so I also think that was really poignant what you said about being able to take someone's advice and not just immediately take whatever it was you were doing and put yourself on a different car, or like on a different trail, because then you're kind of in the, if you ever saw the movie Cool Runnings, it's like when the Jamaican bobsled team all of a sudden decided to be like the Swiss bobsled team. And they're like speaking in German and doing all this stuff that's like not them. It doesn't feel like them, even though it's good advice. And it worked for the Swiss, it doesn't work for the Jamaicans. They've got their own style and their own way of doing things. And I think that is very applicable to whenever anyone offers you advice. And I try to always caveat that whenever I, and I mean, I dole allow advice. But I mean, you're the one listening to this podcast, so if you don't want my advice, you can always hit stop, I guess. But yeah, just I think that's really important when you take advice from anyone is, don't get starstruck and don't just take it at face value. Like you have to kind of figure out how that advice may or may not be applicable to whatever situation you're in at any given point.
Sam Lerdahl 41:17
Yeah. Oh, for sure. And same thing with the users too. It's like, you can't ask a user, Hey, we're trying to solve this, like what would you build? Because they'd say faster horses if they're asked. Like, Oh you want cars? No I want a faster horse. It's the same thing. It's like, Oh, hey, so and so, we're trying to figure out where the money's going in this process? Like, what do you know about this? And you kind of have to be like self aware enough to know what you're looking for. And at the same time, open minded enough to know that, okay, I don't know anything about this at all. You know, what's important? And so again, you just get better and better at figuring out what's important. And again, like, the better that you can become my bad, that's kind of where I think things kind of, you know, come together. I have experience doing this and I have experience doing this. And again, like over time , you just get better and better at it.
Tim Bornholdt 42:13
Oh, yeah. A couple of times you've mentioned here how messed up the delivery system is. Just logistics and everything, it's constantly a nightmare. I wonder how that relates to like, the revenue model. Because I know how typically delivery apps charge and generate revenue, but how does Pikup's revenue model differ from any other kind of typical delivery app?
Sam Lerdahl 42:41
Yeah, so our big thing is that Pikup isn't one to one delivery, and it's not on demand delivery. Like first and foremost, that's the big difference between what you see out there currently. What we are is basically, we are a shoppable neighborhood grocery route that you can join for free and just see what's happening in the neighborhood. And what's cool is it's powered by the neighborhood. So yeah, we have partners that do weekly deliveries. And again, it's kinda like the milkman, but for everything, right? Oh, I need Costco groceries. Okay, I'll join Pikup on Thursday, and I need X, Y, and Z this week. And then maybe next week, again, part of the appeal is like, Oh, if I need something next week. I can just join for $1.95 the next week. So it's really, really cheap in that sense. Because, you know, you get everyone on the route to kind of get in the habit of ordering weekly. And that's really, really cool is that, you know, we have people that are doing that, ordering weekly, you know, and just that.
It's equitable for everybody, you know, the stores aren't losing money here, and they're not being bullied by a third third party delivery company. On the flip side, you know, the customers aren't paying like 100% markup on items. One thing I always say is, you always get those free delivery ads from Chipotle, but whenever I click on it, and whenever I enter my order in, it always ends up being like 20 bucks. Like, I don't remember a burrito costing 20 bucks. And because we batch it and do it in this way, it's a lot cheaper. Because it features ghost kitchens and like go stores, right? You know, you see them go pop and you've seen like, Oh, you know, those kinds of things. The issue with those stores, because it's a great idea. Oh, we will just do delivery and focus on like the kitchen stuff. The issue is no one's tried the food before. And like how often are you ordering for the first time on delivery. Generally when I'm using delivery app, I'm ordering food that I've gotten before. And so again, like those guys in these companies just need like a way to like get a sample out and have it be super duper cheap and so like this is a way to do that. And then on the flip side too then, we're a tool for apartments and stuff to like monitor these deliveries and that we're an amenity in that sense. So yeah, so it's kind of like a big virtual like food hauler, big virtual farmers market, kind of, where you can kind of browse and shop.
Tim Bornholdt 45:13
Do you think this idea of like a community based app where you got kind of one list that somebody is going out and running and getting everything and dropping it off to the different houses, do you think that would play better in like an international market or in like a culture where, you know, like, Americans, we're all known for how loving and community oriented and thoughtful we are of each other and our neighbors, right? There's a big sarcasm, air quotes, happening right now. But there's like other cultures, like in Africa and out in Asia, where they really are, it's very community centric, and the setup of the community is very much, you are part of this, like you have your family. But it's more important to be part of the community. Have you investigated anything like an international wise, or have you been really focused on just, you know, trying to make, building the market here in the US?
Sam Lerdahl 46:13
Oh, yeah. There are. I mean, Pinduoduo is is like a, it just recently has a bigger valuation than Alibaba. And Pinduoduo means like, save something together. It's China's version of what we're doing. I mean, it's group buy, it's like shopping together, big discounts. Huge company. They tried launching actually in California a couple couple years ago, and it flopped. It was really interesting. Like, your question is, we've been following these guys for a long time. And we've seen some of their key plays. And honestly too, we've been running some of their key plays to see how it pans out here. Because it's so different. And that's what I think is also kind of really interesting is like this model, like it does work. But the question isn't like, Hh, how does it work? Cause we know how it works. It sounds super cool. Oh, yeah, I order, you order. They order, we all ordered, it comes cheaper. But it's like, how do you execute that? And how do you get there? Which, as it turns out, is a really, really hard problem to solve. Because, like, if you're not already at scale, and you don't already have everyone's attention, how do you do that? And with all the delivery noise right now, when like, you know, Uber Eats and Duber Eats and, you know, insert delivery brand here, I mean, they're all being subsidized by SoftBank and, you know, these VC firms and stuff like that, though.
I think what's really interesting is that we're seeing these old dogs, I don't wanna say burnout. I don't know what's gonna happen. There's way too much money in it for it to juse kind of fizzle out. But again, also Enron popped, so who knows? But yeah, it's interesting to see, I think, regardless, the next version of food delivery, which again, it's kind of weird to say that because delivery seems like it's just happening now. But that's kind of how these things work. It's like, you know, Uber Eats started in 2009, 2008. So like, it's kind of had its reign. And then like, there's gonna be a new company that is gonna basically be like the second version, you know, of delivery, where everyone basically knows what delivery is. And it's like, Well, what does it do? And I think that it's social ecommerce. And it's something like what we're doing. And we're not the only ones also doing this, like there's companies like Zul out in New York that are working on something similar, but again, like everyone's kind of doing it a little different way. And so everyone's trying to just figure out how to like launch and spin it up.
Tim Bornholdt 48:35
Yeah, man, there's so much, again, to unpack in that. I think, just with looking outside of the US, and looking at how other, I think it's important you got to look at your competition, obviously, right. And there's so much competition in the delivery space just here in the US. And it is interesting to see how much of like Doordash and Grubhub and Uber Eats are just subsidized by VC money. And there was an article in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago about how like, people were calling it, like, subsidized, like it was like nursing home for millennials, essentially, of just like subsidizing our lives to the point that we could live like kings. It was like how you could get like an Uber ride in the middle of downtown Manhattan for like 10 bucks to get all the way across town, where if you were to take a taxi at any point, that would be like a $70, $80 trip, you know. But it was all subsidized by all this VC money. And it's kind of a little bit of like we're all now trying to pay our dues and and those are coming home where now you look at Doordash and it's like, anytime I go and order Doordash now the costs are way higher, even with Dashpass because it's becoming more realistic. You can't expect to get like if you're Chipotle burrito was, you know, seven or eight bucks that you drove to the store and picked it up and everything. You know that $8 doesn't mean that it's going to be $8 through a delivery, like someone is going to have to take their time to go in and package it up and bring it to you. And people aren't willing to, as we've seen with how much shortage there is around with hiring these days, it's kind of crazy, like no one wants to work for your your $3 dash tip. You know, it's like, people actually want some realistic wages.
Sam Lerdahl 50:33
Oh, yeah. And I don't want to spin it too dark. But when I think about it, because again, like in the earlier days, we were doing deliveries ourselves, you know, and it was a new model. We were subsidizing as well, because we had to compete, you know, in a world where everyone's doing it. Like, Oh, well, why is it so much cheaper? Oh, that's because, they have money to give you. I don't have money to give you. But what was reall interesting though, and kind of what I've been thinking about recently is like, you remember going postal. Like that was kind of a thing in like the 90s. Honestly, I'm talking out of my era. But yeah, postal, deliver more, do more cheaper, cheaper, cheaper, faster, faster, faster, like, it kinda the same game, you know, but it's like moving an avocado. And it's like daily and it's happening more and more. And that's where I don't see this working. Like same day shipping, Amazon, like, good job. Like you did it. You did a really, really great work like, yeah, like it's ruining local economies, and you know, all kinds of stuff. But we'll figure that out later, because it's all so dirt cheap. That's me being sardonic.
But on the flip side, though, it's like, that model just doesn't translate. And so we're seeing, like, we saw pop up, it's being subsidized. We know how it works. We know a lot more about the problems that are faced within this kind of logistics system. And now we're seeing like these new guys like Pikup, like Zuul, like Toppers. These are just like all small people that that we know. But yeah, small as the wrong word, but people that we know. But it's definitely interesting to see because someone's gonna change it. It is gonna get better. And we think that it's in bundling. We're seeing more and more like competitors pop up where they're indexing these grocery stores and, you know, no markups and there's no fees, and there's no this and there's no that and it's 15 minutes. And I just don't know where the money is coming from. And again, like there's markups on product. We're seeing more and more like product markups, and that kind of stuff and, you know, hidden fees through markup. But it's hard when you're not bundling, which is what we're trying to tackle, which is really hard. Like, Is there a better route? Is there a better route to get the bundling? Like, should you start burning money that way, and then try taking away on demand and say, Hey, it's every Friday? I'm not sure. But I also know that when we tried, you know, when we launched Runerra on campus, we did like $5 Chipotle and $5 canes and we'd have these deals going.
Tim Bornholdt 53:19
So, we were talking about just the way that delivery apps are subsidized by VCs and if you actually understand how these apps are propped up and supported, you had mentioned, you know, these companies are basically giving you money, and you don't have money to give, which I thought was like a really astute observation. And one thing I was thinking about is, you know, people are becoming more aware of these, you could call them tricks, tactics, whatever, especially like, we can start in the privacy realm of how technology works, and how, like, all of these services were subsidized by selling your own private personal information. Now, it's like these delivery apps like the way to grow is to just burn up endless amounts of money until somehow, question mark, and then you are a billion dollar company? Like it's all these weird, crazy tactics. Do you think people are actually becoming more aware of that? Or is it more that the people that have tried these grand experiments of, like, let's offer $10 taxi rides that are normally $80, do you think people are becoming aware of that? Or do you think that the VCs that are backing this are becoming aware of how that's just not a tenable process for growing a responsible company?
Sam Lerdahl 54:46
Handful of things to unpack there. But no, I think on that last note, like the era of we'll make money later is done.
Tim Bornholdt 54:54
Sam Lerdahl 54:55
We experienced that recently, not recently, but yeah, I mean, we've felt that pressure definitely, like, hey, Where's your traction? Because the idea was great, you know, but it's like, Where's the traction? Like, what's the model look like when you make money? But you're still seeing people burn tons of cash, and you know, everyone that has Instagram accounts is like, Oh, now's the best time to raise money. Here's the link, click my link. So yeah, everyone's trying to make a buck still. But, yeah, it's definitely the era of make money later is over for sure.
And so the not having money to give I think, again, Oh, well, what I was going to say was, like, there is no shortcut. Everyone's trying to do, trying to growth hack and there are ways to growth hack. Like Nextdoor partnering with REMAX and things like that. There are ways to get a lot of users fast. But the issue is, when your growth hack is to give away money, that's kind of stupid. Because what I've noticed is, no one's loyal. You're not loyal to the value at that point. You know what I mean? Like, like growth hacking with a partner with Remax, that's really, really cool. Yeah. And your house comes with a Nextdoor account, like, Oh, it's awesome. Like, oh, yeah, here's your link. But saying, like, Oh, yeah, we get tons of users by having them spend $25, because we gave it to them up front, and then we get them hooked on our app service. The reality is, I have four apps on my phone that do the same thing. And I'm waiting for my next deal, and then that's more so customer retention costs, which doesn't really make any sense, as a metric. I don't know who's measuring that, or why you want to measure that.
Tim Bornholdt 56:46
It's very refreshing to hear you say both of those things about like that the era of we'll make money later is gone. And that this whole notion of growth hacking, while it is effective to a certain degree is also just kind of BS, I've been in this industry, since it started with with building apps, and I've watched, all these companies just kind of come out of nowhere and dominate. Under the circumstances that I'm just like, I don't understand how they get away with it, and how like, they actually do end up succeeding. And again, it always ends up being the way they succeed is by selling stuff that they shouldn't be selling, like people's private data, or somebody is getting hosed over seriously by the way these companies grow. And I don't know if maybe it's like poetic justice or just sweet. Not like trying to sit on a high horse here and say that I've never made a mistake in my life or anything. But it's just like the goal of so many of these companies out there that like operate in these ways where they think that they're above any sort of like moral consequence for how they run things. And it's kind of like all these rich people just throwing money into the abyss where it's like, you know, that the billions that you invested in all of these companies, like you could have taken that and actually done something good instead of just trying to manipulate people so that you can make even more money so that you can throw it into a pile of fire and let it ignite so that you've got 20,000 monthly active users or whatever. I don't know, maybe I'm just being cynical, and I've been around too long, but it's so baffling to me that that actually worked for a period and to hear you say that that era is coming to an end, if not already at an end, just it warms my heart.
Sam Lerdahl 58:42
No, I know. I'm with you there. I feel it. I'm honestly punching up because like, I'm also not Silicon Valley right now, either. But yeah, no, I have heard it's harder to get money. And I'm also seeing these companies, you know, exist like the no minimums. No this, no that. And again, I'm like, what's your endgame? What are you doing in the background? Like you working with brands, you doing this, doing that? So like who knows? Like, maybe they're doing what we're doing. And they're just, you know, they're doing a different way. They're bringing the cash upfront, they're getting all the users and then they're going to try and pivot. And that's kinda what I was saying earlier is like, what like we did, I mean, we, we said, Oh, well, it's $5 canes, $5 Chipotle, you know, free coffees. And we get tons of density in these buildings. And today, now your building's unlocked peer to peer delivery, and you can you can save money yourself. And it didn't switch like it didn't switch. You flipped switching that Oh, yeah, now they're gonna do this. And they're like, No, we like the free coffee and the cheap food. And again, that's where it's like, you can have that strategy, but from what I've experienced, you know, getting burned over and over again, it's like, you got to like move slow and steady. And like just kind of keep cracking each nut and you really can't skip ahead. I mean, you can, but generally like the amount of fires and issues and tech debt you're gonna bump into for skipping ahead, it's just not worth it. And also, it's not stable, like you need stability and stability comes with a month of doing something over and over again, or, you know, stability comes with like a code release. And then two weeks of like debugging, you know, stability isn't like a growth hack that gets you a ton of users.
Tim Bornholdt 1:00:28
I couldn't agree more. Yeah. And I think this is a beautiful place to pause it, even though I could rant about this for hours, but I have a whole back catalogue of episodes you can hear that, I guess. Sam, how can people get in touch with you and learn more about Pikup and all the awesome stuff you're doing over there?
Sam Lerdahl 1:00:45
For sure. For sure. Yeah, no, I'm generally pretty available on social media. So like, you know, you can follow me on Twitter. Let me make sure my handle's right. I think it's @SamLDahl. I think that's what it also is on Instagram. Otherwise, yeah, you can drop me an email at Sam@pikup.io. We dropped the C to make it sound cooler. And it also has created a lot of problems. So it's cool and causes problems.
Tim Bornholdt 1:01:23
It sounds to me, Sam like it's a double edged sword.
Sam Lerdahl 1:01:28
Oh, man. That is right. That is right.
Tim Bornholdt 1:01:34
Thank you so much for joining me today, Sam. This was awesome.
Sam Lerdahl 1:01:37
Thanks, Tim. I appreciate it, man. Always fun.
Tim Bornholdt 1:01:40
Thanks to Sam for joining me on the podcast today. You can learn more about Pikup at trypikup.com. That's Pikup without the C.
Show notes for this episode can be found at constantvariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing Hello@constant variables.co. I'm @TimBornholdt on Twitter and the show is @CV_podcast. Today's episode was produced by Jenny Karkowski and edited by the ferocious Jordan Daoust.
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