I love to browse around on Gilt, Etsy and countless other e-commerce sites, but I often hold back on actually making a purchase because, like many New Yorkers who don’t live in a doorman building, I’m rarely home when my packages arrive and worry that they’re not safe sitting on my doorstep.
But an app idea developed this weekend at Dwolla and Etsy’s first eCommerce Hack Day in New York offers a compelling solution. Miss Nev (as in “never miss a package,” not “Miss Nevada”), the winning hack of the weekend, wants to recruit local business to receive packages for neighboring residents and in return get more store traffic, agreements to make minimum purchases, or payments.
For now, the Miss Nev app, which was created in 24 hours, only includes two businesses and a barebones website. (The team tried for NeverMiss.com but the URL was taken.) But the developers — students who have been learning to program at venture collaboration group The Hatchery for just seven weeks — say they plan to build it out and raise money to turn it into a real service.
“The idea came about because there’s this store where I live that takes packages for people in the neighborhood for goodwill,” said Regina Chen, one of the five team members. “It’s a wine store, so whenever people pick up a bottle of wine they would pick up packages. So I thought, huh, that’s a pretty good business model.”
The app is definitely in its most nascent stages and needs to be fleshed out quite a bit, but I still think it addresses a growing need and would love to see it (or something like it) become a real service. We have more ways than ever before to order products straight to our doors. But making sure we can actually sign for the packages is a headache for many of us.
Over the past several months, Amazon has been slowly rolling out a locker system that turns local 7-Elevens and grocery stores into pick-up stations for customers who can’t be home to receive their shipments. The program first drew headlines last fall and, according to Amazon’s website, has expanded to Seattle, New York, the Washington, DC area and London. Last week, TechCrunch reported that it has added Silicon Valley as well.
The Miss Nev concept is similar but would work for shipments from any e-commerce company and could give local merchants new opportunities for developing relationships with nearby residents. The group acknowledged that liability could be an issue, but said a ratings system (similar to eBay’s or Airbnb’s) could help give users a way of gauging reliability. Another concern could be ensuring that merchants don’t receive more packages than they can actually fit in their space, but the Miss Nev team said testing a solution is in their plans.
Of the team members, only Mike De’Shazer, the class’s teacher, builds apps for a living (with product development and consulting firm 140 Ventures). Chen works in product development, David Ho has a background in finance, Karla Colon is a former lawyer, Costas Kollias is a designer and Jared Mermey works in business development. Other members of the Hatchery Dev Shop class, including an actor and a geneticist, contributed to the hack over the course of the weekend, and De’Shazer attributes their success to the diversity of the team.
“Everyone here has a completely different background that they brought into this app, unlike most apps which are built by engineers or business development teams,” he said. “We were able to think more like the customer and that led to us coming up with a more viable product and better user experience.”
The eCommerce Hack Day, which took place at the co-working space The Alley, included about 225 participants who made 37 hacks. The judges, who included Union Square Ventures managing Albert Wenger, Softbank Capital principal Nikhil Kalghatgi and others, gave the team behind MissNev the $6,000 top prize, but also recognized ShopPapaya (a price trends analytics tool) and Dollarly (an app developed by Voyurl founder Adam Leibsohn), which won second and third place prizes, respectively.