(Photo via @RayanRahman92 on Twitter)
Growing up as a ’90s kid, I am delighted to witness a time where the last 30 years has made far greater leaps than the last 3,000. The rapid advance in technology, healthcare and rise of cellular phones has contributed to an ever-increasing globalization and connected world. When I was in school, cell phone was considered a luxury, Facebook was still in its infancy, YouTube played 240-pixel videos, Uber had not started, and Twitter was just taking off! Hard to imagine, but 15 years earlier the world was so different. What is a part of our everyday lives today barely existed then.
The inspiration and start of Airposted
Far more than any technology platform, I was intrigued by the impact of Facebook. I watched one of the first showings of the movie based on the social networking site — “The Social Network.” The movie was the closest I ever got to the famed Silicon Valley and the lives of these tech founders. And it had a deep influence on me and made me rethink my life goals.
For the next few years, I kept thinking of how I could have an impact on society and with the rise of Uber, Airbnb, and the shared economy gig, I had an idea. Why don’t I build a platform which would use the concept of peer-to-peer shipping and the shared economy to connect people who wanted something from a specific location (a consumer shopping for a product) to someone who is already traveling their way (a traveler who would be the courier)? For the shopper, this meant they can now save on shipping costs while travelers made extra money traveling to a place they would travel to anyway. It was a win-win! In April 2016, I registered the company, called it Airposted and bought the domain, airposted.com.
I sketched and designed the first UI and business logic for the website and then shared the idea with my cousin and friend, who were hooked. I was a junior at George Mason University and by this time was spending countless classes on the back benches designing the site, writing the terms and conditions and anything to do with Airposted. It was a process. And I enjoyed it! We beta-launched the site in Q4 2016 within the university and it garnered good interest. Students were signing up, had questions, and appreciated the initiative. They were intrigued by the fact that they could now travel internationally and make money carrying products, using my platform. This is how Airposted, the peer-to-peer shipping startup, started.
The D.C. connection
Airposted was registered in Virginia and both me and my cousin lived in Northern Virginia at the time. D.C. was just a Blue Line train away from the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station and we wanted to make the best use of the city.
The events hosted by 1776 was the start. There we networked and pitched the idea to countless investors and while none invested, their feedback was crucial to our early development. We also walked into embassies, to meet attachés and cultural heads of several countries. We asked them how our idea sounded. Most embassies being lined up in the same block helped, and we would just grab coffee and walk in. It was interesting!
And perhaps the greatest influence D.C. had on Airposted was that as we roamed around the streets of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capitol, we surveyed hundreds and hundreds of tourists sharing our concept and asking for their feedback. We took these surveys into consideration as we launched, and the feedback proved to be a driving force to our later success. D.C. — thank you! Any new entrepreneurs around the area can use these techniques as they launch an idea to a viable product. The bustling city with its diversified population can only benefit you.
Impact of COVID and the future of peer-to-peer economy
My cousin and friend left the company in 2018 as I raised investments and grew. We had a new partner join the team, Iqbal Anwar. He would eventually become one of the cofounders. In Q4 of 2019 we raised our latest round and the team could not be happier.
But little did we know of what was to come. The year started with heightened uncertainty as COVID-19 and nationwide protests swept through at an unprecedented pace.
We had to go back to the drawing board and rethink our business model in the COVID era, as international travel came to a standstill. Our backbone is built on the idea of connecting a shopper to a traveler and now there were no travelers. As industry giants in the peer-to-peer space suffered and many of their stocks took a dive, Airposted could not be in a worse position, being a small startup. But we were optimistic and decided not to give up!
We used the time to rethink our business and how we could diversify. Thousands of small business and startups has been decimated. While I do not yet have a timeline to when we will restart our business as case numbers keep swinging, I am optimistic.
With the news of a probable vaccine, added guidelines and safety measures and pent up demand for travel and shopping, I am optimistic. Regardless, the future of peer-to-peer economy post-COVID should be an interesting one:
- The shared economy model will be put to the test as companies evolve and implement what they have learned in the past few months. Shared gig is a tricky pace; it needs humans helping humans to be successful. Pandemics do not help the cause.
- Companies have or will introduce added safety guidelines and precautions to help reduce and stop the spread. I was in an Uber cab from D.C. to Union Station last week, and the car was completely covered in translucent polythene. The seats were wrapped in plastic. I had to wear a mask and use hand sanitizers given by the driver before entering his car.
- And many companies will try diversifying and get into new verticals, like Airposted.
As of this writing, the world is loosening restrictions and trying to open back up to normalcy. The ray of light could not be any brighter. Humanity has always risen from bad times and this time will be no different. The saying “what does not kill us only makes us stronger” could not be more fitting. Once the pandemic is gone and we all look back, we all will agree on one thing — the world has changed! The question is if we all can agree, did it change for the better?
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