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Pass it On

 How to deliver mangoes, blue tea or buckwheat using travellers  03/19/2014, 02:01
Pass it On
Photography by Sergei Kovalyov, Sergei Mordvinov and kupibilet.ru

In early January, website gransjoy.com appeared in Novosibirsk. It can be used to order and deliver anything from another city or even country without relying on the Post Office or a delivery service. Travellers volunteer to bring the goods home. Sib.fm gave the service a test-drive and met up with the project’s creator Inna Fomichova, who told us where and why people transport buckwheat or a Star Wars helmet, and what they ask for in return.


Read this interview
in Russian

We agreed to meet with the project’s founder and started our test drive at the same time. The parcel was supposed to be in Novosibirsk before publication, i.e. within seven days. We had to decide exactly what to order from the travellers. The first thing to spring to mind was Thai mango, which most of the Sib.fm staff were pining for. On 26 February, we started searching the website for travellers who would soon be flying from Thailand to Novosibirsk. The service provided us with the details of just one person — Roman, who was returning from Phuket on 1 March. We sent him a message on social network VKontakte.

We decided to play it safe and order Georgian sweet churchkhela from Sochi — there just happened to be a route with suitable dates on the site. One girl, Elizaveta, was going to fly from there to Novosibirsk a few days ago. We added her on VKontakte, wrote a message and went to our meeting with Inna.

How did you get the idea of ​​creating such a service?

I needed some classical Indian wide trousers. In Novosibirsk, they cost a thousand roubles ($27), in India — only 80 ($2.20). An impressive price difference. I thought that it would be good to find someone that was travelling from India and pay them, say, 300-400 roubles ($8-11) for delivery.

Later, on our way home in the evening, we thought about these trousers and started to develop the idea further — what if we offer a service like that for everyone?

In September 2011, the Georgian authorities issued a patent for churchkhela and several other national dishes

Where you can easily find suitable travellers and have them pass on what you need. A few days later, there was the Russian Start Up Tour at Academpark. We decided to participate, but didn’t have time to submit a presentation. We got there and started to talk to representatives of different funds in person. The first was Sergei Blintsov, director of the Zvorykin Project. After five minutes of our speech, he said, «300,000 ($8200) will be enough for you, right?» At that time, we didn’t believe him.

When did you launch the project?

We launched the site in early January, but have been working since August. We started with a group on VKontakte, which now has more than two and a half thousand members.

How many orders have been fulfilled over this time?

About one hundred. Now, we have about 200 available routes. You can submit a request on the site if it doesn’t have the one you need. It might appear in a day or two, and the user will get a notification.

What’s the thing people order most often through your site?

Those who live in Thailand or Bali often ask for buckwheat and brown bread. Sometimes, medicine. It’s all legal, of course; we check. Sometimes people leave something in another city and ask for it to be passed on. There’s a girl that constantly sends things to her parents from Novosibirsk to Omsk and vice versa.

One girl ordered her boyfriend, a football fan, a Werder Bremen shirt for his birthday.

It’s surprising, because people don’t travel to Bremen that often, but someone turned up by sheer luck, and the football shirt was delivered.

Once, some guys in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, really wanted some Starbucks coffee. Travellers flying from St. Petersburg bought the coffee there, brought it to Novosibirsk and sent it on with other people to Bishkek.

How many people are there in your team?

Three: me, Evgeny Pinigin and Polina Zaitseva. I do promotion and development, Evgeny — technical things and Polina — PR and content.

How do you make money on this project?

We don’t, at the moment. We’re developing on a non-profit model.

But how are you going to monetise it in the future?

On the site, there are requests to deliver a two-month-old husky puppy and a snake

Our business model is still in development at the moment. We see several monetisation methods: advertising and additional paid features, such as secure transactions, insurance, premium options. At this stage, it’s all hypothetical.

***

Elizaveta replied immediately. It turned out that she was flying to Novosibirsk on the same day, so she might not have time to get to the market in Sochi. She asked us how many churchkhelas she should buy and went offline.

On 28 February, Roman contacted us: «There’s a queue for mangos, will try to get one for you too».

Since it was necessary to carry out the experiment anyway, we agreed to a replacement — a pack of blue tea. We found it in the «ideas for orders» section on the site and had never tried it.

The same day, Roman asked us to send a photo of the tea and specify where to buy it. Some friends came to our assistance. They said that blue tea is usually sold at markets and costs about 70 baht ($2).

***

Are there sites similar to yours in the world?

There are. Several projects in Russia are in the initial stages. There’s a similar site in India, but they operate under a different business model — they enter into partnerships with online shops and do deliveries for them. We were also told that there’s a similar idea in Silicon Valley. But their website only has routes created by the founders, which suggests something.

2 weeks — the amount of time it took the Star Wars helmet to be delivered

What have been the most unusual orders so far?

The most unusual was a Star Wars helmet. A girl took it in three suitcases. The helmet was very bulky but, fortunately, light. The most «social» order came from America too — for girls who work as clowns in children’s hospitals in Novosibirsk. Clowns’ noses in Russia are very low quality, made from foam rubber, and wear out quickly. In America, there are professional noses, big thermometers and other props. They just ordered it all and now bring joy to children in hospitals.

I saw that someone in the group wanted to deliver a puppy. Did it work out?

We don’t work with animals at the moment. They need a separate ticket, certificates, a special cage. It’s a lot of work for the traveller.

Are people not afraid to order something from travellers?

Some people don’t trust the service because it’s new, of course. On the other hand, if you’re handing over your jacket, then who else needs it? Or Starbucks coffee. You’re hardly going to order something expensive from a stranger, but little things such as mango, exotic foods and medicines are no problem.

***

On 1 March, Roman got on the plane, sadly, without a mango, but with a pack of tea, for which we had to pay 125 baht ($3.75).

We just had to thank the traveller somehow. But Roman asked for nothing in return, and gave us our order on 2 March.

On the same day, Elizaveta replied that she didn’t manage to buy churchkhela.

***

Do you not plan to replace courier services or Russian Post in the future?

On the one hand, they’re our competitors, but not directly — they also transport goods from one city to another, but if you need to deliver important documents, you’ll most likely use courier services, because they bear ultimate responsibility. Russian Post isn’t going anywhere either. There are also older people, who aren’t online, but are willing to sit in queues.

On the other hand, if by you order an iPad through Russian Post, there’s a risk it will crack, because they have a large flow of parcels. Here, the traveller takes it in hand luggage.

Anyway, our service for young people, who are open to new things, use Couchsurfing, know what Booking.com is, love to travel and like to meet new people.

I’ve been both the traveller and the customer myself: I took toothpaste and buckwheat to Thailand.

5550 kilometres — the distance travelled by coffee from St. Petersburg to Bishkek

In return, they picked my friend and me up from the airport and told us where to go, where to buy cheap things. We ordered ourselves Kindle readers from America, because the price difference is obvious. We delivered a gift to the mum of one of the co-founders for New Year. Whenever you need to, you can go straight to the site and look for a traveller.

What do they usually ask for in return?

Different things: some ask for money, others for a lift from the airport or train station. Chocolate is enough for some. My mum, for example, took some medication to Thailand for a girl who fell off her moped. In exchange, her boyfriend took my mum on an interesting sightseeing tour. That was cool.

***

That’s how we got our blue tea. Its price was slightly higher than expected, but that doesn’t bother us. We only later found out that blue tea is herbal infusion made from the leaves of Thai orchids. In South-East Asia, it is also used as a natural dye. Which isn’t surprising — the drink is actually bright blue and smells of raw potatoes. No one dared to try it during the few days it was in the office.

Finns are the biggest coffee drinkers in the world

In our view, the test drive was a success — we got some tea. Despite the fact that we initially wanted mango.

***

Of course, it’s cool to get some blue tea in Siberia, but after seeing the reviews and routes on the site, I really feel like travelling myself. Did you expect that?

We’re very fond of travelling ourselves, it’s addictive. If you don’t get away from Novosibirsk every three months, you feel sad and lonely. You need a change of scenery, even if only the neighbouring Altai Mountains. That’s what usually happens — once a person has placed an order, they come back and post their routes.

What nicer — giving or getting gifts?

Getting is probably more enjoyable, because it means you couldn’t get hold of something — and now it’s here.

For travellers, it adds a bit of extreme to their trips and some extra meaning: you do a good deed and get to meet new people.

What do you get from your work?

Nothing but pleasure. It’s really nice when those who make it work leave rave reviews like: «Guys, what you’re doing is so cool!» And it really works in the majority of cases.

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