The on-demand delivery model is getting a different spin in Boston and Cambridge starting tomorrow, as Postmates launches a service that promises to let users get deliveries from any local store or restaurant.
Through the Postmates mobile app, users can summon a driver or bike messenger to pick up items at a restaurant or retail store, and deliver the items in less than an hour.
Boston/Cambridge is the 10th market to launch with Postmates, a San Francisco company that was founded in early 2012 (originally as an on-demand courier service).
Boston neighborhoods that will be served by Postmates at first are the Downtown, Back Bay, North End, South End, and South Boston. The delivery fee starts at $5 but can be higher depending on the travel distance; payment occurs automatically through the app.
Several hundred people are expected to be work as independent contractors (who are also referred to as “Postmates”) for the service in Boston and Cambridge to start. A la Uber, the Postmates app lets users track the progress of their delivery on a map in real time.
By far the most popular use of the service in other cities is to order take-out from restaurants that don’t offer delivery, said company co-founder and chief executive Bastian Lehmann. The app will include the menus of several thousand restaurants to start.
However, Postmates will allow users to order items from any store that exists in the database of Foursquare, which Postmates has partnered with, Lehmann said. (It’s up to users to be able to describe the item they’re looking for, since there isn’t an inventory for retail stores in the app.)
While it’s no doubt possible to accomplish something like this using TaskRabbit, for instance, Postmates aims to serve as an easier way of getting a delivery from anywhere — since the entire app is built for that purpose, Lehmann said. “Any friction you can imagine is removed in the process,” he said.
In Boston, Postmates will also serve as a potential competitor to grocery delivery service Instacart and to Drizly, which lets users order alcohol for delivery from local stores. (The Postmates check for ID upon delivery.)
As for Uber, the company could become a major competitor to Postmates down the line, assuming the firm follows its plan to grow from ride-summoning into all other types of deliveries. “I think they definitely have ambitions in that space,” Lehmann said.
However, the two companies share a number of investors, and “Uber has another battle to fight” first, he noted — to keep its slot as No. 1 in ride-summoning from Lyft.
Postmates has raised $23 million in funding from investors including Spark Capital and Matrix Partners. The company plans to eventually hire two operations managers in Boston, Lehmann said. The goal is to expand to other neighborhoods in the Boston area soon after launch, Postmates said.
Update: To try out the service, Postmates is offering free lobster roll deliveries in Boston (from Yankee Lobster) starting Wednesday at 11 a.m.
Kyle Alspach has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since 2005 and was one of the original staff writers at BetaBoston.
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