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An up and coming app to give drivers data and resources to improve their business. Interview with David Pickerell of Para

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What if there were an app that was designed specifically for delivery drivers?

What if that app were designed to make it easier to work with several different platforms? If it let you multi-app. If it gave you information on which restaurants were busy in your area?

Collage of charts, graphs and data
The app being developed by Para will help delivery contractors use data to improve profitability in their delivery businesses

And if that app automatically pulled all your earnings, and driving, it tracked your miles, it gave you an up to date total of what you've earned with each delivery company?

How useful would that be?

Such an app may be on the way. It's still early, but Para is working on creating applications that help delivery contractors. David Pickerell from Para joins us on the podcast to talk about what they are putting together.

Changing up this format a little.

In the past, when I've done an interview, the blog post that went with the interview was more of a pure transcript.

When it's just me, usually my post is more of a paraphrase of what I did with the podcast episode, to make it more readable.

Today, I'm doing a bit of a mix. I'm going to paraphrase any of the questions or comments I might have made, but try to give you more of a quote when David talks.

This lets it be more about what David has to say and not as much about my own comments. Maybe that makes it more readable if you're just reading this without seeing the podcast episode.

I'll put David's quotes in italics, just to make it more clear when he's talking. I'll slightly paraphrase some things from him, just to make it flow better for the written part.

Introducing David Pickerell from Para.

David Pickerell is on a mission to help independent contractors. He started his company originally to help answer questions related to the CARES act, and now he's shifting towards providing data that contractors can use in their deliveries.

I had the pleasure of visiting with David in the past and loved the chance to get him on the podcast to talk shop. David has worked with Uber, helping them open up the Las Vegas market back in the early days.

That means he's seen some of the perspective of these gig economy companies. He's also been doing a lot of deliveries himself in San Francisco, to get a feel for what contractors need.

It's a pleasure having David on with us this week.

Tell us about Para, how you got started and what you're doing?

“Thanks for having me. I'm super excited to be here, sort of been a fan of your work, especially around multi-apping. I think you were the person who really sort of introduced that concept to me and sort of you definitely have sort of the resources that others don't.

“So I'm glad to be here.

“Following up what you're saying, I had worked internally at Uber and just sort of had seen the power of a lot of the tools that we had internally.

And I think what's really driving us at with Para to take some of that tools, and put it in the hand of the driver, really. So that's really sort of our driving force.

Starting Para in response to Covid

“We, the company started March, so it was a Covid company for lack of a better term. And how we first started off was basically building tools around the Cares Act.

“I sort of spent a while reading the Cares Act and realized that after spending a couple hours, I had no idea what to do and just thought that this was way too hard.

“So we started off building a tool. You can answer sort of a couple of questions and we'd let you know what the different programs would pay you out and sort of talk you through. I'm sure you remember it was a sort of a mess back then, right? Different states told you to do different things.

“So that's really where we started.

Transitioning to meet contractors needs.

“But since then, we've come a long way and we're in the process of building out a suite of tools. The purpose is to put you in charge basically. To arm you with the data, to arm you with automation and to sort of just build a tech tool that can push back a little on the tech tools of the platforms.

I (Ron) find this pretty exciting. We're such a loose knit group of drivers and the resources are kind of scattered. We've got some content creators and forums out there, but not much beyond that to specifically help gig economy contractors.

I do think that's sort of the beauty in the system is, the more the people are on it, the smarter it gets, sort of like the collective contributing to the benefit of the collective.

What are some of the tools Para is putting together?

“On sort of a very basic side, we have just automatic earnings tracking. So you can we can automatically pull your earnings data from the majority of accounts you work on.

“I know sort of a couple apps claim to do this, but we've spent a lot of time really honing this is it's automatic earnings tracking, done simply, done right. 

Mileage Tracking

“Beyond that, one other feature we have that's a little interesting is we're able to retroactively calculate your miles driven. A lot of the time, if you haven't tracked your miles, you it's hard to file with the IRS. We can actually go back in time and generate an IRS applicable report for you.

“The way I put it is, a lot of people, especially if you're newer you just don't know that you have to track your files.  If you're a veteran driver, you know what you're doing.

“But a lot of people don't know that. I think, you know, that's the basis of what we're building. But what's coming next is actually the part that really excites me.

One Click Apply

“So we're building out two features.

“One is called one click apply. Basically you can take a central profile and we can apply to any of the other apps in your area that you're interested in, for you on your behalf.

“If you had to apply to five or ten apps, that takes a while. You're filling out mostly the same information again and again and again. We can do that on your behalf.

Personal Dispatch

“The second part that we're building is the ambitious part that will probably take a while. It's what we're calling personal dispatch. We can then go and actually monitor all those apps on your behalf and only surface stuff that fits your preferences or fits what you like.

This is one that I wish we could skip time ahead for. Because I work multiple apps, I'd love a tool that manages offers from all of them.

When you're working multiple apps at one time, it can be incredibly stressful.

Retroactive mileage logs: How does that work?

When you set up your Para account, you'll use that account to log into each of the gig apps you work with.

“What happens is when you provide the login information that's basically sent directly to the app, so we don't see it, we don't store it, but effectively it works sort of as a key.

“And what's happening is you're telling the apps, “hey, we're representing this driver and the driver would like to access their work history.”

“It's there, right? So they should be able to access it.

“So after that, we're actually able to pull your entire work history, just not just back to January, but sort of to the beginning of time.

“What we pull is it's sort of what we call trip level data. It's like Ron did this trip. He got paid this much. It started on this time and it lasted this long.

“What we can do with that is the reason that I got really excited about that. That's the sort of data I used to have internally when I worked at Uber. But now we can democratize access to that data.

“What we do is we just run a bunch of analysis. We can go and see how long did you drive on that trip?

“We also have this idea of sort of a session so we can calculate miles in between those trips also.”

Providing reports in a format that is acceptable to the IRS

“What we've then done is gone and looked at, what's the bar that the IRS sets for proof? And what we've then we can go and build a detailed trip reports that is IRS auditable, that will be able to say, even though basically we can retroactively create a mile long for you.

“I think just sort of take the hassle off of your hands. If God forbid the IRS comes, your duck's are in a row. If they come to you and if you provide a 10, 20, 50, 100-page report, you know, they're probably happy. Yeah.

I mentioned the article I posted about what you can do if you forgot to track your miles. There are a number of things you can do legally, including adding up miles from trip reports from different apps, or even pulling a Google maps timeline.

IRS publication 463 states that you can create a retroactive mileage log. It also states that you need to have evidence to back it up. What David's done with Para has provided exactlyl that eivdence.

“They have some requirements about the start point and start time and time of a trip. There's a bunch of hoops they want you to jump through. I think that's what we're trying to do is just help you jump through. We'll jump through hoops for you.

The value of data.

I'm a geek. That's no surprise to anyone who listens to me. The thought of what Para could do to help drivers using data is pretty exciting to me.

“I know where it gets interesting, I think, is as more people in a city start to provide this data, you could start to draw some pretty interesting insights. We'll be able to know.

“For example noticing Doordash paying significantly less than Uber Eats for multiple weeks in a row in Chicago. We start to see these really interesting differences between the different apps and when and where to work at.”

How could drivers use that data?

“We've started to take that information and we've also started to gather a lot of other information on our own.

“So Jeff, who's my co-founder, is sort of the technical whiz programmer who makes things happen. What we're doing right now is for a given city, we can also then go and scrape or pull automatically:

  • What are the top three hundred Doordash restaurants?
  • Which are the top three hundred Uber Eats restaurants?
  • What do apartment complexes and houses look like in the vicinity to those dense areas?

“And then you start to combine that with the real data, real trip data from drivers, and we can start to help people make some really smart decisions at the same time.

“What's interesting there is I realized that data is data, but the end of the day, the experience on the ground is really what matters the most. So from our end, we're using our specialty, which is scraping and presenting this data.

How can we as drivers help Para get this data?

“We're actually looking professional drivers who would be interested in taking a look at some of this.

“What I imagine is going to happen is we will put this map or put this data we've collected in front of somebody. And very quickly, we'll get some good feedback, like, “hey, there's something here you don't know about.” “Hey, you know, I just have this information, having worked this area for a while that you just don't know about.

“I think that's what we're really hoping for, is to take this data, but then to work with professional drivers to really make it useful for people.

“I think an ask for listeners here as if for some reason this interests anybody. I'd love to work with you.

“Right now, we haven't created a list of cities for which we're doing this. So if you're in a city and you're interested in this, we'll come do this for your city. Just shoot me an email I'm at David@withpara.com, and I would love to work with you.

How could having data make a difference for delivery contractors?

“I think what I've noticed is at least I've been delivering quite a lot over the past couple of months. And what I've noticed is just the difference between a good trip and a bad trip is huge.

“I notice like, hey, Doordarsh will give me an offer for seven bucks to go a mile and a half or they'll give me an offer for $8.50 to go seven miles.

“And I always think that's crazy and it makes no sense. Yeah. But what we're hoping is that. The only way to really change that is for people to start rejecting the bad trips.

“I think another concept I'd like to bring up is when you go into a restaurant, they have the checkout machine there. And that checkout machine pulls in requests from Doordash from Uber Eats from Postmates all into sort of one central form that the restaurant can then use to manage their operations.

“Given that most deliverers are working on multiple platforms. Why can't that be done for deliveries?

“The platforms provide that information in that format to the restaurants at the end of the day, you know, the drivers or their customer, too. Why can't it be done that way?

This data could level the playing field between the delivery apps and the contractors.

“I agree, it's just sort of a given that there's a three sided marketplace (restaurant, customers, drivers).

“The way to shift things for the better is through that market dynamics a little bit. If people realize that certain areas aren't great or certain tips aren't great, guess what? Their algorithm will have to price it better.

At this point I mention that I think having information like average wait time at a restaurant at a certain time, the average amount of time involved at a particular apartment complex etc., would all be incredibly valuable for drivers making decisions.

“Yeah, especially on that apartment side. I know that everyone who delivers knows this, but some apartments are great. It's very rare. Most aren't.

“And the part that always gets me is the app gives you the first name and an initial. But most of the call boxes give you the last name and an initial. And just having to play that lottery of like, “hey, did you order Doordash?”

Solving the apartment problem

“The apartment thing is actually something that is a little bit of a personal crusade for me. It annoys me because when I was at Uber we built tools that sold for this.

“Imagine you're delivering food to a casino in Las Vegas, right? You're not able to go up to the hotel room. We had a process that the person at the hotel room would know where to come down and walk through to the casino to meet you at the perfect time to pick up the food.

“I know that this apartment problem can be solved. It just feels that it's an active decision not to solve it.

“I think from my end, it's a little bit of a personal crusade and that I would love to work with the platforms to try and find some sort of a solution to this, because they must know.

“If you think about it, Doordash will see that delivery's not able to be made and then they make you wait for five minutes so they know what's going on.

“The other side of that is, maybe call me crazy, but if that doesn't work, perhaps the other approach is we're creating what is sort of like a blacklist. The example I'll give is there's a spot in San Francisco where there's an address on Market Street, which nobody can ever find it.

“What it turns out is it's the Four Seasons, but the Four Seasons will not put you in touch with any of their guests. So basically, if you are to deliver there, it's going to be undeliverable every time.

What I'm hoping is by giving a little bit of public pressure, maybe some of these apartments and hotels will just make a better experience.

How do we deal with these delivery companies and inefficiency?

One thing I notice is that efficiency isn't a priority for delivery companies. There's no financial incentive, because they pay by the task, not on time. I do think that will change in California now with Prop 22. There's a financial incentive for apps to be more reasonable with how they dispatch.

“There's an issue of enough people in an area, so it's a little bit about density.

“A lot of the time I feel like there are some active decisions by the platforms on this end. When I see these trips with these crazy different prices for completely different types of trips, you know, the conspiracy theorist in me definitely goes, all right.

“But for me, having worked internally at Uber previously, generally how I feel is that it is more towards incompetence than it does towards like maliciousness, basically.

“I think there are some active decisions that do require change, but I think to some extent, a lot of it is a little bit of incompetence, to be honest.

How can these billion dollar delivery companies be so incompetent?

“My experience is they (Doordash) were probably going through what we went through when I was an Uber, which was just it was growing like crazy. And because of that, everything is just breaking all the time.

“What we had to do was, you were planning on the tech side, what would do for the next two years? But then growth went way above your plan.

“So that's why I know people probably experience this, the Doordash app sometimes feels slow, right? Or it crashes sometimes. And it's just the duct tape is falling apart a little bit.

What about the Doordash IPO? Can they be profitable?

“Yeah, it's sort of fascinating. I live in San Francisco right now, and all these tech IPOs in the last couple of weeks have just jumped.

“And it's maybe trading on the market. They've gone up a bit, but like selling into the IPO, the prices have almost doubled on the first day of trading for a lot of these companies.

“I think what's going to be really interesting is, here's a little bit of knowledge here: Employees at these companies aren't allowed to sell their shares until six months after the IPO.

“So I think that's actually going to be the big day of reckoning is going to be interesting, is six months from the day of IPO when all the employees want to cash out a bit. Does the stock price still hold?

“Yeah, and that's probably not to say that Doordash won't be around for a while. I think it will be right there. They're Doordash. They're big.

“But the question is, does the price to make sense? But then again, also, I'm not the right person to pontificate on that.

The war for customers leaves drivers out in the cold.

“I think what's driving a lot of these companies really is they're in a fight for the person who's ordering on the app. That's really where the big war is going on between the different companies is getting the people who are ordering.

“And I think to some extent not out of ill will. But it's just the drivers have been left a little bit on the side.

“And that's a key part of the equation. I think that's sort of where we're really coming in from is, let's advocate for the driver.”

Could there be repercussions with gig companies for drivers multi-apping with the personal dispatch feature?

“I could see that. I'm assuming some apps might not be happy, but it depends on how you're doing it.

“At the end of the day, you're an independent contractor. I am building a suite of tools that support you and your business and make your life easier.

“I think where a lot of these tools, and there's been a wave of these tools, that have ended up falling afoul with the tech companies is sort of the way that they accomplish the app switching, the way that they accomplish what they're doing.

“A lot of it is done through, to go a little deeper, sort of hacking accessibility settings on Android. And then just the way in which they interact with the apps is what actually makes the apps upset.

“I think to some extent we're hoping to do it in a more aboveground manner. And to be honest, what I think at first is that maybe the bigger companies are less likely to give us the data in the way in which we can make your life easier at first.

Opportunities with the smaller up and coming companies

“Up and coming companies have an incentive to do that.

“So the way I imagine this is, there's an up and coming gig company I'm representing you, Ron. They want to get Ron to work on Friday evening between this time.

“So the market rate for work during that time is twenty seven bucks an hour. Let's say you're a new company. You should pay above market rate because that way people will be willing to try out your platform.

“The problem, too, if you have one right now, is that you have to apply and learn this new platform and that can be quite frustrating. But with one click apply, that friction is now gone.

“Where we really want to get to is: yes, but actually Ron has ten thousand trips on Doordash at a 4.95 star rating. I'm making this up, but, Ron's, good at this and you're new, you need to provide your customer a great service because you're new.

“So the market rate is $27 and you should probably pay $32 but really you should be paying around $36 an hour.

“So I think that's where we really want to go to is, can we get your work history taken into account and can we get you paid for the good work that you have done? How I basically view it I am building a personal algorithm for you.

“You can also tell me, “hey, I'm just not interested in grocery delivery. I'm just not interested in certain types of new types of work.” At the end of the day, you're in charge. I just want to build an algorithm that accomplishes what you want to do.

How much are companies crackign down on multi-apping, and how much of it is just bad service that they're reacting to?

“If you can juggle (multi-apping) well, I don't think they'll have a problem with it. But it's also they don't make it easy.

“I've been going out there delivering on three apps at the same time, you're forced to make snap decisions. It's like, let's look at the map. Let's look at that direction. Let's look at the dollar amount. Let us look at the restaurant. Let's combine that with the other one.

“You need to do this within 30 seconds. Yeah, right. That takes practice. Like, I failed really hard the first week, like I was struggling.

I commented on some of my experiences multi-apping. But the issue may not be multi-apping as much as the bad service that comes from how some do it.

“I think actually you told a quote that really stuck with me is sort of like, you know, people are frustrated because they still care. I agree with that, that the platforms have their issues, but I still believe that we can make it better.

“Despite all the complaints and things that aren't working, I do really believe that we can make it better.

Having worked with Uber, what's your take on the relationship between contractors and the apps?

“I think it's obviously a very complex issue. I think what's interesting is it's actually a debate on, I'm going to get a little philosophical here, a debate on labor law and health insurance as a whole in the United States.

“This is sort of like a microcosm of that to some extent. And the problem is that's going to be a much longer, much more protracted battle before we really get to the end of that.

“That's really why I think what's motivated us to do this company is just a belief that things are going to take awhile for this to shake out. But there are things we can do to make people's lives better in the immediate term, regardless of where you stand on that debate.

Do you feel any hesitance that the Gig Economy thing could go away if something like ProAct were to pass?

“Yeah, I think that's that's a possibility.

“But say that were to happen. The way I view it regardless, is similar to how we built this tool at the beginning for the Cares Act at the beginning of the Covid. Regardless of what happens, people will need help and we will be there to provide that help.

“Let's say the ProAct passes and people have to have a decision, you know, hey, should I stick with one of these companies or should I consider doing other things? We'd love to be there to help you make that decision as well.

“I think at the end of the day, where we're really coming from is. The ground is shifting, you know, stuff is happening and the gig economy, things have sort of come to a head, right?

“So regardless of where that shakes out, people will need help to make informed decisions. And we just want to be there to provide that.

“You know, what happens politically is anybody's guess. So I just can't really weigh in on that. All I know is whatever does happen, we'll try to be there to help.

Let's go back to these up and coming companies? Can any of them really shake things up with the big 3 or 4?

“Yeah, I think just digging into these other companies, there's a lot that is sort of being built right now where a lot of companies that are up and coming in, it runs the gamut from sort of small to quite large.

“I think the gig economy has been around for a while now when people see the consolidation happening, especially in food delivery and as happens in a free market, I think people are coming with different ideas and different takes and different plans on it.

“So I'm fascinated to see what happens. I mean, from our perspective, we know we've looked quite closely at a company like GoPuff, for example, which is growing like crazy right now.

“But there's other ones, such as Peach and Rodie, I'm interviewing for a company called Jupiter actually tomorrow. They're sort of an up and coming up food delivery company here in the Bay Area.

“I think really what we're trying to do is I'm personally just testing out all of these. I'm just going to come back with the results and only highlight things that make sense for people basically.

“But I do think that there is a whole wave of sort of these companies that are being built right now.

What do you think it will take for one of these up and comers to disrupt the market?

“I think a couple different things.

“I think a better relationship with the drivers over time, right? Like right now the larger companies are doing well, but at the end of the day, you need to keep all your customers happy. So I think a better relationship with drivers over time.

“I think somewhat of a more efficient model somehow or some just type of different offering that captures that sort of orderer's imagination in some sort of different way.

“If I knew the answer to that, that would be sort of the next big thing. So I don't quite know. But I'm excited to see people try.

“And there seems to be a bunch of these companies trying. And I just have to believe that somebody will crack something interesting.

What do you think of Lyft coming into the market where they'll just do deliveries as requested by restaurants?

“Yes, it's fascinating there.

“What's interesting is it's sort of comparable to Doordash does have that sort of an offering, but they actually offer it to other types of services.

“So, for example, I've been getting a lot of Dordash pings for this company called Shef. And what that is, it's a company here that home cooks cooked food basically.

“So they have like a nice kitchen in their home that passes an inspection and they cook sort of home cooking style and the food's delivered to you. That's fulfilled through Doordash.

“So after getting a bunch of these pings, it's like, what is this? And sort of signed up for Shef, put an order in and then notice that it was being delivered through the DoorDash systems. It's sort of a very similar approach there.

“What sort of annoyed me is I noticed that Shef will only give you a maximum tip of one dollar. So going back to what we're saying earlier, they're going on sort of the list of like maybe you shouldn't consider this order a little bit.

“But it's interesting that I think that's the angle that Lyft is trying to come in with. Also sounds like it's sort of like delivery as a sub service a little bit.

What do you have in the near futre plans for Para?

“We're in the process of building an app. We're slated to launch that the second or third week of January.

“So, yeah, my engineers are probably kill me for saying that. But that's OK. We've got a plant, got to plant the flag on the ground, right?

“So, you know, that sort of has that basic features we've talked about, which is just automatic earnings done right, mileage tracking. And we're going to have some of the basic sort of earnings insights that I was talking about.

How contractors can get involved

“We're going to launch that on sort of a city by city basis, which is why the ask earlier, which is, “hey, if you're interested in helping create this for your city, I would love to chat with you.” So if people reach out, your city gets prioritized.

“Other than that, there's basically sign your city up. So it's sort of a leader board and we're going to work our way down the votes on cities basically.

“OK, so that's sort of the core app. But we are testing out right now this one click apply and personal dispatch technology. So if there are people who are interested in testing that out too I would also love to chat with you.

“I think the caveat being this is not even a beta. This is like a working concept right now.

“I think that in the personal dispatch side, if anybody is just interested in being a first adopter, we would love to work with you to try some of this out.

“And what we can do is we know that your time is valuable. So we're going to guarantee that you make at least slightly more than what you would already doing your work right now, because we know that we're asking you to somewhat be a little bit of a guinea pig in this case, you're an active guinea pig.

“Probably not the best term, right?

“Your input is the most important part of it. But that is another thing we are looking for is if anybody is interested in testing that, we would love to chat with you.

The key to doing this well:

“I think what's really important is that community aspect of it. It's just, that's it: Everyone coming together, especially in the current times, to help each other.

“I think that's sort of one thing I missed is actually it's probably not going to be in the version of the app launch, but we're immediately going to follow was also this sort of community sourced information.

“How I put it is, you know, where are toilets available and are they driver friendly? Where is a popular meal or coffee spot near where you have to wait for a restaurant? And are they driver friendly? You know, where our parking spots you can sit to wait and are they driver friendly.

My thoughts to summarize this

If David and his team can get this off the ground, get the data the way they want to, and get the participation, this could be an incredible opportunity for drivers.

Information is so important. I preach the 40 cent rule – don't take offers if they won't pay 40 cents a minute. Data like what they can put together would be so valuable.

The biggest thing is, getting enough people on board. If you're interested in getting involved, try to get people involved with this from your market. That's the key to making this happen. Shoot them a link to this post or to the podcast episode.

And, by the way: Give David a shout. Again, his email is David@WithPara.com.

This could be a fantastic tool that gives you more control. Controlling your future and your business is what this podcast is all about.

Be the boss.

Could this help someone else? Please share it.

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