"Hotwire for Shipping" Startup Aims to Disrupt Transportation Industry

Despite all the apps and web services that have been able to eliminate consumer pain points, shipping packages is still an expensive and painful process. There are only a few local shipping options per country, and it’s often expensive and time-consuming to arrange and pay for something to be shipped. Startups like Postmates are filling the void for small local packages, but if you’re not sending something within your city and if it wouldn’t fit in a bike basket you’re out of luck.

Startup Scurri is the answer to anyone who wants to ship something, either a small object or something so large a crane would have to lift it, without paying the pricetag associated with traditional shipping companies. The Ireland-based company is like Hotwire for shipping – it searches transportation partners to find unsold space on moving vehicles, giving consumers better rates than they would typically get on their own while allowing transport companies to make money off space that would have been empty otherwise.

Founder Rory O’Connor started the company after trying to ship tires across the country and eventually finding a local transport provider that picked them up for a relatively inexpensive price. On Scurri consumers and small businesses can get instant shipping quotes on the homepage for parcels up to 30kg, and pallets up to 47 inches wide, 39 inches deep and 67 inches tall. If an object doesn’t fit those criteria users can request a quote by filling out a custom form identifying the object’s weight (e.g. one person could carry it, only a forklift could lift it) and size (e.g. about the size of a microwave up to the size of a trailer).

Once a user finds a quote they like they can book and pay through the site by credit card or PayPal. While users don’t have to accept any of the quotes, once they pay there’s no refund. Because the rates are usually discounted by 20-30% and can be discounted up to 75%, Scurri doesn’t reveal which travel partner they’re booking with, something O’Connor says is inconsequential for users thus far. “Our learnings from our users is that they tend to see transport services as a commodity, so they don’t really care about the brand. They are more interested in ratings and the types of features of the service, for instance track and trace or proof of delivery or timed delivery slots. So not showing the customers the brand until after they choose the service is not that big of an issue, particularly if they are getting a 25% saving on normal prices,” he said in an interview. “Our transporters like the business model because they can get revenue for excess capacity that would not be normally be utilized and as their brand is not immediately visible it minimizes the impact on their existing pricing arrangements.”

Though customers can’t find out the name of the company that will ship their item, Scurri has implemented a rating system so customers can see reviews for any given transportation company before they book. Right now the site is only active in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and it has offices in both locations. The company has funding from Enterprise Ireland and participated in the iGap accelerator program. Now that they’ve launched and seen some traction, O’Connor is looking to expand the company internationally. “We have been using Ireland as a test base for the last year, but now we are currently preparing for launch into the UK market,” he said. “We have our eyes on Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. soon after.” Scurri hopes to ship one million items by 2016, and though they won’t disclose how many items have been shipped through the service already O’Connor says based on their initial results there’s vast opportunity for international expansion.

Scurri isn’t the only site trying to save consumers money on shipping. U.S.-based startup 71lbs is billed as the Mint.com and Billguard for shipping. It allows small businesses to view their consolidated shipping accounts in one place (from USPS, UPS or FedEx), and analyzes spending patterns to see where companies can save money. The company is currently in private beta, but users can sign up to join the beta at 71lbs.com. While not the same concept, Scurri and 71lbs both have the same goal: to save consumers and businesses money on shipping, and provide an online-friendly way to do it.

Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin has covered startups and technology for over three years in publications including Sprouter Weekly, The Globe and Mail, Business Insider, Mashable, and VentureBeat. She also writes a regular startup column for the Financial Post, and is a technology expert on CTV News Channel. Before BetaKit Erin worked as Director of Content & Communications at Sprouter from its launch in 2009 until its acquisition by Postmedia Network Inc. She was recently named one of Marketing Magazine's 30 Under 30 in 2012.