Like so many startups, Sasan Aghdasi's adventure in brokering truck rentals started with a personal frustration. "I bought a desk on Craigslist and I didn't really think through how I was going to get it back to my apartment." So the cheerful serial entrepreneur worked the phones, calling six or seven guys with trucks (somehow, it always seems to be guys with trucks), and found the whole process labour-intensive: There were wildly varying rates, endless back-and-forths, and a lot of wrangling over dates and times.
"At about the fifth or sixth call, I was like, this is annoying," he says. "I can streamline this."
Mr. Aghdasi was already running a novelty consumer-goods startup ("We make these flash drives that look like cassette tapes"), and was looking for a project that was slightly more applied. Thus was born TruckPlease, the latest startup that looks to arbitrate between suppliers of a niche product and consumers who'd like to do an end-run around the sprawling marketplaces of Craigslist and Kijiji.
The site is simple enough: Customers sign up and fill out a simple form, including what they want moved, where to and when. As soon as they post the ad, participating truck owners in the user's area receive an e-mail inviting them to bid on the move. Whenever they bid, users in turn get an e-mail ping, until a deal is struck. There's no rating and feedback system yet, though one is on the way.
Rather than leave customers to haggle with six truck owners, says Mr. Aghdasi, "they do the haggling amongst themselves to offer the best price."
To enlist truckers, the startup has been cold calling moving companies, entreating them to join – with some success, Mr. Aghdasi says. The trucks in question range from pickups to moving companies' cube vans; there are no 18-wheelers yet. "We posted in Portland and got some interesting messages from people who had bikes," says Aghdasi. "'I have a good bike trailer!' That's a good Portland response."
Mr. Aghdasi and his co-founder started in Victoria and moved to Vancouver, and have mostly been doing business along the west coast so far. Since they launched in October, they've seen the service used to arrange pickups for everything from a barbeque from Costco to full-on apartment move.
Along the way, they've used some rough-and-ready tactics. To drum up business, they posted their service to the Reddit forum dedicated to frugality, which reacted enthusiastically until the moderators booted them for breaking rules which forbade using the forum to drum up businesses. (They fared better on other sites, like Hacker News.)
And to get a sense of what the truck-rental business was like from the truckers' side, they posed as truckers themselves, posting a picture of Mr. Aghdasi's old pickup to Craigslist to see what kind of correspondence they got. (The declined all the offers in the end.)
"We just wanted to see what it was like to be a driver," says Mr. Aghdasi.
And what's it like to be a driver?
"You're going to get a bunch of dudes e-mailing you."