Wednesday, November 6, 2013

BufferBox - A Classic Innovation Story

So, you have this great job, a really interesting and challenging but very demanding job with a to-do list that tries to suck you into work early and late and your partner also has a great job with lots of travel and your life is really hectic and you have to drive Susie to basketball tonight and Johnny to hockey tomorrow morning and life is wonderful but oh where is the time to shop for mundane things for the house or the upcoming kid's birthday party or heaven forfend Christmas shopping when the parking lots at the shopping centres will be full and that kind of shopping just means you'll be exhausted by the time you sit down to share the joy of the tree and big Christmas dinner but of my goodness now you can shop online in your own time after the kids are in bed in your pjs with a glass of cooled chardonnay and doesn't that just make life more liveable.

Except . . .  you're . . . never . . . home . . . when . . . they . . . deliver . . . the package.

Wow, this is a problem that screams for solution.  Clayton Christensen calls this the Job to be Done - customers hire a product to get a job done for them - and points to job identification as the starting point for innovation. Design thinking similarly starts with the definition of the problem as the first step in good design.

In 2011, Mike McCauley, Jay Shah and Aditya Bali were students at the University of Waterloo.  They recognized this problem and designed a solution as a project in their fourth year design course. They called it BufferBox.

Soon BufferBox was incubated at the university's VeloCity campus designed to nurture entrepreneurially inclined students, and then scored support from YCombinator, an incubator in Silicon Valley.   After a pilot in Waterloo, the service was expanded to Toronto. Establishing presence in GO commuter train stations was a major coup.  How wonderful for commuters to simply pick up their parcels on their way home!

So, all is going well. These young entrepreneurs are following a classic path for innovation: find a problem, design a solution, get financial support, pilot to test usability, develop partnerships.

Then along comes Amazon Locker, with the same idea as BufferBox idea, for Amazon customers only. A validation of the BufferBox concept, but a terrifying competitor.

And so the bright young Canadian start-up is acquired by Google. This is again part of a classic innovation story.  It may be impossible for a small start-up to scale their innovation as fast as the market requires, and so their best strategy is a juicy buyout.  Google paid $25M for BufferBox. Nice payoff for a piece of homework.

BufferBox has been rolled out to two cities, Toronto and San Francisco. Luckily I live in Toronto and I've just used BufferBox.  Planning to be away during the expected arrival of an online purchase from Costco, I elected to use a nearby BufferBox for delivery (5 blocks away).  So I entered the address of the BufferBox sorting warehouse in Burlington plus a code for that particular BufferBox near me. BufferBox starts delivery of the packages same day or at night on the day the parcel gets to Burlington so typically the delivery gets to you one day later than it would get to your house.  Note the cleverness of doing most of these deliveries overnight - no hassling Toronto's horrendous traffic during the day.  And voila, the parcel arrived as promised. Then my gracious granddaughter picked up the parcel with my code.  Worked like a charm. I've often avoided online purchases because of delivery issues. I'll be using BufferBox again.

* that image of a woman at the top is from Living Green magazine

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