Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Exploring my options: A good job is ... (fill in the blank)

Your's truly sporting the familiar red
SpoonRocket t-shirt.
A good job is more than just a paycheck, it's been said. Choose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life. Sometimes, however, unfortunate circumstances prevent us from being able to maintain a good "working" thing.

At 9:12 a.m. last Tuesday morning, the e-mail which would decide my immediate employment future arrived in my Hotmail inbox. I was unaware of it or its contents until nearly two hours after it was sent because I was busy mentoring a group of seventh-grade students at my volunteer "job" as a WriterCoach Connection tutor in Berkeley, and my iPhone was stored in my backpack so as to not distract me or my students.

After arriving at my parked car outside Longfellow Middle School, I paused for a moment and opened the e-mail from my employer, SpoonRocket, the Berkeley-based on-demand food delivery service that was started with much fanfare in 2013 by a couple of entrepreneurial University of California graduates, enterprising engineering major Anson Tsui and social engineering major Steven Hsiao.

The e-mail began:

"SpoonRocket will cease all our operations effective immediately. We set out to build the next generation of food delivery network and we are proud of what we were able to achieve in a short period of time. However, as competition for on-demand food delivery has grown, it became clear that  we could not continue to compete. Over the last few months, we've been exploring our next options and unfortunately came up short. ...

"Thank you for being amazing ambassadors for the SpoonRocket brand. Good luck with all your future endeavors."


The SpoonRocket Team

SpoonRocket debuted in 2013 with $13.5 million raised
in venture capital funding.
Just like that, I found myself newly unemployed. While it's easy enough to say I was surprised, the folding of the start-up tech company I had come to enjoy while being an "amazing ambassador" came as a bit of a shock. In the 19 months I worked for SpoonRocket, we delivered a pretty amazing brand of product – fresh and healthy meals created by our own group of talented chefs and cooked in our own kitchens.

Menu choices ranged from smoked gouda mac and cheese with pulled pork to Thai red curry chicken to grilled tri-tip steak salads, most priced under $10. Each day our customers could choose from 4-5 different hot meal options and from 7-9 cold items (salads, sandwiches, desserts, beverages) using the SpoonRocket app downloaded on their Android or iOS smartphone, or by ordering online through the company's website, and expect delivery to their home or office within 10-15 minutes – often faster if a driver was nearby, sometimes slower if a popular choice created greater demand than expected.

Customers prepaid for their orders – which meant no money exchanged hands – and they met their driver at the curb of their home or business address to receive their food and drink which was maintained by the driver in hot and cold bags, respectively. I never had to leave my car except to return to our University Avenue distribution center in Berkeley to reload my bags.

As a SpoonRocket driver, I earned a flat fee for each lunch delivery I successfully completed plus all tips from the customers whose meals I delivered. A typical three-hour, mid-day lunch shift for me might include delivery of hot and cold meals throughout various Berkeley neighborhoods, as well as in Emeryville, Oakland and West Oakland. Sometimes, I even ventured into Albany, El Cerrito, and Piedmont. I usually logged about 30-40 miles per shift. I loved delivering in Emeryville because I knew the city's street grid like the back of my hand – my wife works in Emeryville for a library software company – and the tech workers there tipped well, too. On a good day, I could make upwards of $30 per hour. On a slow day, it was still about $20 an hour. As a contractor, my schedule was flexible. I didn't have to work nights or weekends, but many of my co-workers chose to as well as to work multiple shifts each day. Whether by necessity or not, I never asked.

My 2013 Toyota Camry was my "office" on wheels.
My 2013 Toyota Camry with the easily-recognized red SpoonRocket flags attached to my car's back windows, was my office. My SpoonRocket driver's app directed me to whom and where to deliver orders, and my Waze GPS ensured that I never got lost driving from Point A to Point B. My customer base was friendly towards me and always appreciative when I pulled up to the curb with their deliveries, especially on rainy days. Honestly, I can't remember every delivering to an angry "SpoonRocketer." In fact, most complimented me on my friendly demeanor and professionalism, and many took the time to ask me how my day was going. Some even sought menu recommendations from me. Because most of my customers were repeat ones, it became easy to be on a first-name basis with many of them. I only wish I had the time to thank all of them personally.

Unfortunately, as innovative tech giants like Uber have continued to grow and expand and thrive (now with UberEats) – and Silicon Valley venture capital has thinned in recent months – even the San Francisco Bay Area isn't immune to tech fallout.  There's only so many ways to re-engineer the on-demand meal delivery wheel and be cash-flow positive without pricing yourself out of the range of your mainstream customers. It's unfortunate because on-demand early adopters such as SpoonRocket, which debuted with $13.5 million raised in venture capital funding, have suddenly found themselves edged out by more recent or newer start-ups like Sprig, Munchery, and Caviar, with deeper financial pockets.

Fortunately, the overall employment outlook out here appears good and I view my new-found unemployment with optimism. There's no time to dwell on the negative. I have already been contacted by some rival on-demand delivery companies to consider coming to work for them. For now, I have an opportunity to regroup and brush up on my skills Рupdate my resum̩ and hopefully network with professionals Рand, who knows, maybe even reinvent myself. I love to write, I love to learn, and I love to interact with others. Plus, I excel both independently and as a team player. While I'm not sure what the future holds for me, I look forward to the journey that lies ahead.

Photos: © Michael Dickens, 2015. SpoonRocket logo courtesy of SpoonRocket Facebook page. 

No comments:

Post a Comment