Delivering the Goods

Chipotle was confused: People in Postmates T-shirts kept entering its shops across the country, buying food, and then whisking it off to… where, exactly? So the chain sent a cease-and-desist letter, which delighted Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann. “When people don’t understand what you’re doing, they try to stop it,” he says. “But that’s a great indicator that you’re changing things — and good things come from change.” His company is a one-hour messenger service that delivers anything, from anywhere, to anyone. Want a steak burrito and an iPad? On the way. Services like this have emerged and failed before, but Lehmann’s has grown steadily into a US$500 million business that has run more than three million deliveries, expanded to 30 markets, and partnered with Apple, Starbucks, and 7-Eleven. A few months ago, even Chipotle dropped its objections and joined in. Here’s Lehmann on why he never accepts “no.”

“I grew up in a small German town. I looked around, saw a lot of rules being made by guys who aren’t as smart as you or I, and found that the most exciting people were the ones that didn’t fit in.

“By 15, I decided I wanted to move to the U.S. I love my home country, but they’re not used to taking risks there. There’s this German saying that translates as: If you’re a shoemaker, stick with making shoes. But young entrepreneurs need to know that failure — not just success! — is also good. That’s how you learn.

“People said it’s impossible to do one-hour deliveries in a city. Kozmo tried, and failed, in 2001. So I went back and asked: Why? Was it labour costs? Not enough demand? Kozmo used a radio dispatch to direct couriers, and that is a great source for error. We could have a completely different approach.

“Years ago, I was at an event and one of our investors introduced me to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. He didn’t shake my hand; he just said, “See you in the trenches.” I thought that was great. See you in the trenches? Let’s get there. Now we share six investors with Uber.
For years, we didn’t partner with merchants. The idea was to focus on building our technology while users pay a premium — up to $20 — for convenience. But now we’re building relationships: Merchants give us kickbacks, which we use to lower the delivery cost. The goal is to reach $1 per delivery so everyone uses us.

“There’s stubborn, and then there’s being an idiot. I hope that I’m stubborn — but not in a pedantic way. I’m just literally curious: Why this? Why that? It’s pretty amazing how far you can get if you just keep asking questions.

Photographed by Shaughn and John

For the full article grab the March 2016 issue of MAXIM Australia.

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The Last Patrol