Episode 322: Harrison Proffitt, Bungii

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By Joel Goldberg. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Harrison Proffitt and his co-founder Ben Jackson created Bungii, a mobile application that puts a driver and pickup truck at a users fingertips to help people move or haul items across town like Uber or Lyft does with passengers.

Harrison and Ben created the idea and company in college at Kansas State.

After an initial fundraising round of $3.5M, Harrison moved around the country to start Bungii in Atlanta, Washington DC, to Baltimore to Miami to Ft. Lauderdale to Chicago to Nashville to Boston and Columbus.

Website is bungii.com or search bungii on the App Store.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Joel G: Harrison, thanks for joining me. You have a really cool, interesting, unique company. Just what I love to talk about, in terms of entrepreneurship, and really something different. Tell me about Bungii. It's so practical, yet sometimes we don't think of these things.

Harrison P: Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me on your podcast.

Joel G: You're welcome.

Harrison P: It's great to be here. We work in downtown Kansas City. But yeah, so Bungii, I'm willing to bet that you or your audience has been there before and they've needed a pickup truck, but they haven't had one. Now whether you're buying a couch on Craigslist or a mattress from the store or just trying to get those boxes into a storage unit, unfortunately not everything fits into the back of that Toyota Corolla or that Tesla, so that's where we come in.

Harrison P: Bungii is a mobile application. It's an app that puts a pickup truck and a driver right at your fingertips to help you move, haul, and deliver large items across town. We've been compared to other popular ride sharing apps like Uber, like Lyft, but instead of transporting people, we transport people's stuff, if that makes sense.

Joel G: It totally makes sense. It's so practical. I don't even need to help you sell this, but how many people... I have a pickup truck. I may not look like a pickup truck type of guy, I'm not.

Harrison P: Of course you do.

Joel G: No, I don't at all, but I don't know, maybe in the same way that somebody wants a Tesla or somebody wants that cool car, when I first drove a truck, I was like, "Wow, I really like the feeling of this." I have no real reason for it. But those three or four times a year that I need to pick up a piece of furniture at Nebraska Furniture Mart or whatever it is, I'm like, "Nope, I'm not taking the delivery. I'm going to go and I'm going to do this myself." And then how many times friends say, "Hey, would it be possible to borrow your truck?" Well, not everybody has a friend that has that truck or that wants to give them your truck. Everybody has to have a need for this. So my question for you is how did you come up with this idea?

Harrison P: That's a great question. It was actually back in college. My co-founder Ben and I were both Kansas State college grads, and we both owned pickup trucks back in school. If you are a pickup truck owner, you know the problem, you know the feeling of constantly being asked-

Joel G: Just what I said.

Harrison P: ... from friends and family, "Hey, can I borrow you and your truck?" It's pretty much in the job description of owning a pickup truck. You're going to be helping friends and family, whether you like it or not. It really all came to a boiling one day when, again, my co founder Ben Jackson, he was asked by four different people in one day, "Can I borrow you and your truck?" Ben's a nice guy, but he obviously got pretty frustrated after that fourth ask, so he thought to himself, "There's got to be a better way to do this." So the next day in our class, we were in an advanced sales class at Kansas state. He kind of touched me on the shoulder. I happened to sit right in front of him, which is interesting because we really didn't know each other that well at the time, which is kind of a story in itself.

Joel G: So he's from where?

Harrison P: He is from Atlanta, but he actually grew up in Budapest, Hungary.

Joel G: Wow.

Harrison P: And I'm from Denver, Colorado. So it's very interesting that we both met at Kansas State.

Joel G: Yeah.

Harrison P: Both of our parents, all of our parents are K Staters. So we're going to have that purple blood. But anyway, so yeah, he taps me the shoulder in class and I kind of lean back and I'm listening to what he's saying and this idea... And I honestly don't know what came over me. I kind of blacked out in the moment, but I said,"Man that's amazing, let's start a business." So right there and then we kind of walked out of class that day with one thing in mind, and that's tap a button, get a truck.

Joel G: I guess two part question here. One, what were you thinking about in terms of your future before that blackout conversation and two, was there a background that enabled you or Ben to have that confidence to say, "Well we could do this?"

Harrison: Yeah, I don't think either of us had imagined this or plans to be entrepreneurs or start a company. I mean myself, I had an interesting backstory. I was a biology, premed student in college and I was going to go to the medical route, go to med school, take the MCAT, all that good stuff. Cardiovascular surgeon was my goal, so setting the bar high there. I ended up not wanting to do that, go down that path. Ended up getting my biology degree, getting a business degree and thinking medical device sales is my routes. And then, you know, literally this just kind of fell into my lap and Ben came to me, just a, I want to say God moment. It kind of happened and all of that. And yeah, I mean that's where we started. There was really no forethought in starting a business or really finding a need and fixing it. It just, it came upon us. But we, we went full, we bought fully into it.

Joel G: There's so much here in terms of the spirit of entrepreneurship and you know, I think entrepreneurship is, it's different for everyone. There's no specific path. You know, I was telling you that I consider myself an entrepreneur now with my speaking business and I don't have a business background at all, and you know, been a broadcaster for 25 years. So I came onto it at about 44 years old when I found something I was passionate about. And I think that is one of the keys, certainly of entrepreneurship or maybe even everything in life, is when you have a passion for something. But the paths are all different. But tell me about the early moments, those early times, how you set it all up and what you went through.

Harrison P: Yeah, so the moments following that conversation in the classroom, it was very, there were very grandiose thoughts. You know, let's go raise money, let's go build an app, let's go be millionaires tomorrow. And man, we were ignorant at the time. And if we went that route, I think we would've been hitting our head against the wall for months, if not years. We probably wouldn't have made it to where we are now. But very thankfully, we had advisors and mentors in place at Kansas State in the entrepreneurial department. Shout out Chuck Jackson and Dave Drawling out there in K State, but they said, "Hey guys, hit the brakes here. You know, you guys need to go prove this idea, validate it, make sure it's a valid idea before you go do all this other things, raise money and build this capital." So instead of going and doing that, we went and put our trucks on Facebook and Craigslist in Manhattan - town of 50,000 people. And over the three months, summer of 2015, we said, "Hey, we're a couple of guys in the community, we're willing to move whatever, whenever just text this number to Harrison, email us, let us know, and we're on the way. And here's the basic pricing model." And so in that three-month time we did over 350 deliveries ourselves. So a very sweaty summer, to put it lightly. But the great thing about it is we documented all the data, so we had everything from demographics, what time these deliveries were happening, what we were moving, even to the demographics of people that were moving for. And so from there we're able to translate that to Kansas City and say, "All right, we did these many deliveries in three-month time period and this population and if we translate over to Kansas City for the whole year, that's profitable." And that's when we're starting to do pitches to investors on a weekly basis, and that we were able to lock down some initial funding.

Joel G: So how long did it take until you had that initial funding?

Harrison P:: After the summer of 2015 I believe that was eight months later.

Joel G: Wow. How tough was it to sell investors and then, you know, customers to this day on that because this is something that everyone understands?

Harrison P: So the tough thing about when we first launched in Kansas City, we launched to crickets. We thought... We'd put this app out, we thought this thing's just going to take off. And so we really had to put our heads down and figure out how to get in front of the customer because we knew there was a need. We proved in Manhattan, but now we had to get the word out. And so instead of just, you know, waving the white flag and, you know, walking away at that time when we opened the app and nothing happened, we, we got work and we roll up our sleeves and we were down at the West Bottoms Kansas City, talking to people buying antiques. We were setting up at furniture events in Kansas City, just letting people know the service. And sure enough, the next week we had two deliveries.

Joel G: So you're knocking on doors essentially.

Harrison P: You got it. You got to first, you got to get the word out.

Joel G It's amazing what happens. This is the very simple message when you put yourself ahead of the pack.

Harrison P: Yeah.

Joel G: How do you put yourself ahead of the pack? You take that extra step, you meet face to face, you do the things that everybody should be doing, but either doesn't know how to do, too lazy to do. I don't think it's rocket science. Now maybe the website and the app and all of that a little bit different, too. But what were you finding with that face-to-face in the West Bottoms by the antique stores?

Harrison P: So on top of doing the moves ourselves back in Manhattan, being able to talk to consumers and customers face-to-face, that gives you the root need that you're solving and that the core issue that you're solving. And so I truly believe that if you don't talk to these customers face to face, if you're not solving the solution, or solving the problem yourself, then you're going to be building something that's not really fixing that initial problem. So that was able to teach us everything from making sure we're charging customers on a permanent basis because the drivers are going to get taken advantage of, to making sure we... the app is extremely simple, it's got to be something that is relatable to the consumer. That's why if you look at our app, it's going to be a very similar Uber or Lyft feel because that's what we're known, that's what everyone is conditioned to use these days.

Harrison P: So definitely listen to your customers right off the bat is, it's vital to becoming successful down the road. Joel G: Well, you said something interesting to me, too, backing up a little bit, but you talked about in that first summer of 2015 collecting data. It's one thing just to go out there and offer this and see if people like it, but you guys weren't sleeping on it either. I mean, you could've said, "Hey, yeah, people were interested, let's give it a try," but yet you took all of that, you mine that data and you were able to help craft what you were doing. Tell me about how you did that, and you know, I don't know if that came straight from what you learned in school or, or what it was, but you guys really were able to leverage that summer.

Harrison P: Right. I'm... When you're going to... We knew that when you're going, we're going to go to investors you had to have objective data to prove that this is going to be valid. So we couldn't come to a, get into a room full of these independently wealthy individuals and say, "It worked and, you know, we're excited for the future. You have to be able to show them from a numbers standpoint. So especially new investor, or new entrepreneurs, you got to know that upfront, be objective about everything you do. Cause if you can't prove it, or you can't test it and measure it, then it's not worth doing.

Joel G: So you get there, you get some of that initial funding, you get rolling in Kansas City, but now you're well beyond Kansas City. What was the tipping point when you said, "Ah-ha, we've got this or we've got something really special here," one. And two, where have you experimented?

Harrison P: The tipping point, I would say for me, is when I started to see my friends and family use it that I hadn't spoken to about, or it was, you know, through the grapevine, and through the grapevine starting to see friends of friends use it and then come back, those friends come back and telling me that was exciting to me where it was, it was personal. Okay, this is starting to get out there. Also, I had a great experience with my mother. She went to her hairdresser and she was talking to the hairdresser and the hairdresser knows about Bungii cause they talk, and the hairdresser was with a different client the day before and she said, they were talking about moving, and she had some things to move to a storage unit, and the hairdresser asked her, you know, "What, what are you going to do?" And the lady said, "I'm just going to Bungii it."

Harrison P: Going to Bungii it, she used a verb!

Joel G: You became a verb.

Harrison P: That was it! That was my... That was... I loved it. I was my tipping point and that got me really excited. But from there, so after we really prove it in Kansas City, we started seeing that growth. It was time to raise more money and prove that we could launch this in other cities across the country. So we went and set out and we raised our first round of funding of over three and a half million to get this out to other markets. And that's what I set off on the road to prove that we could launch it and other markets across the country. So I moved to back in late 2017 and spent eight months in Atlanta living in a basement, learning how to launch the business, and then it just accelerated from there. Once we got Atlanta figured out, then it was, it was Washington, D.C. And then from D.C., Baltimore, Baltimore, Miami, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Nashville, Boston, now Columbus. So we're we're growing, and growing pretty quick.

Joel G: And how many of those cities were you living in, or was it just Atlanta?

Harrison P: Over the past two-and-a-half years I've lived in all nine cities.

Joel G: Oh my gosh.

Harrison P: It's been fun. I think it's 26 Airbnbs I've been in, total.

Joel G: So some short term living, but you're at the age, you're single or you're not married. No kids, not married. 27 years old is the right time to do it. If you're ever going to do it, you delve into all of these cities... Were they all different, or were you able to follow a formula?

Harrison P: They're all absolutely different in their own way, all very unique. For instance, with Kansas city, I don't know if it's just because of where we're kind of hometown guys here or there was buzz about it when we started, but we had drivers lining up. I think we have, we had a list of over 200 drivers ready to start driving with us when we initially released the app, so we assumed that that would never be a problem. And then we moved to Atlanta and we, we opened the app, we had, we knew how to get demand, we focused so much on that customer acquisition, and making that as optimized and efficient as possible, then we opened it up the app in Atlanta, we figured out we had no drivers. So that was also a new issue that we had to figure out, that I'd figure out in Atlanta, was the driver acquisition part of it, the whole other side of the equation. Because they're, end of the day, drivers are our customers too.

Harrison P: We tried multiple different avenues on that, and what we found out was that first responders are a huge part of our driver base. So what I, what I do, the launch team now is we, when we first go into markets, outside of preparing these businesses and getting demand ready, it's talking to firefighters and police officers and paramedics because of their perk schedules, whether they usually work in 24 hours and 48 hours off, a lot of these guys have trucks and they're just, you know, very helpful people in the community. Bungii is a great fit for them because it's an easy job to do that doesn't require too much mental work. It's just you sign onto an app, you get deliveries, you make great cash on the side. So-

Joel G: And are they doing the lifting too, or no?

Harrison P: Correct, they do. So Bungii drivers do help customers load, but if it's a Bungii solo, so it's one guy, one truck, and the item is too big we do ask our customers to help or provide help, and that hasn't been an issue because of the great price point the customers are getting, they're more than willing to help themselves or have their husband or son or neighbor, whoever it is help. But we do have a Bungii duo option, so if, if the customer is not able to help whatsoever, they can get two guys and two drivers.

Joel G: All right, let's talk about how it works, and bungii.com. B-U-N-G-I-I, so two I's there, B-U-N-G-I-I dot com, and I would imagine they could find the app pretty simply by searching Bungii.

Harrison P: Yep, free app on the app store, Google Play. If you go to our website there's a "download the app" button right on the main page.

Joel G: Okay, so that part's easy. And you can go on the website, too, and look at all the frequently asked questions and everything that you would want. But let's explain to everybody listening right now. I know it's fairly simple how this works.

Harrison P: Yeah. So I mean it always comes back to, think of what your, you've used before, Uber or Lyft, you're going to open up our app, you're going to put in your pickup and drop-off location for the item. You're going to take a picture of the item that you're moving, and then you request it, whether it's on demand or later in the day, you can schedule it. Bungii... Typically on average, a Bungii driver can arrive within 15 minutes of your location. So our goal when we initially built the app was someone's shopping at Costco or Ikea, they find that item that they weren't expecting to buy, that large TV, or that couch, or patio set, and say, "I want to get this home today." And if they use Bungii, by the time they're checking out, there's a Bungii driver waiting outside, ready to go.

Joel G: And, and that works out really well, too, cause they're not hopping in the truck. So you go to Costco and you buy that big piece of furniture. Bungii driver shows up, he takes it to your house, follows you over to your house, or you're following him, whatever. And unloads and that's it.

Harrison P: What we're seeing is customers love the ability to schedule. So I'm at Costco, I know I've got to run over to Target, and I've got some other errands, I've got to see a friend, won't get home until six o'clock, I'm going to schedule my Bungii til, for at six o'clock so by the time I'm home from all my errands, there's my Bungii driver arriving with my patio set. And so we're working with these businesses now, like Costco, to prepare those items, help our drivers load it. And so the customer is really hands-off and it's extremely convenient for that customer.

Joel G: Okay. Let's get to my baseball-themed questions. First question regarding Bungii, and you guys are still relatively new, and young, you and Ben and the company. Biggest home run you've hit so far.

Harrison P: So many things I'm grateful for, and I think home runs we've hit, but one of the biggest ones I would say for us, from my standpoint, we've recently partnered with Mattress Firm on a regional scale. We're growing with them, so being able to offer customers who've just purchased that mattress, same-day delivery at a cheaper price than ever. That's been pretty exciting for me and that's been more of a recent win. Also, I think overall it's all about the customer and so, are you familiar with NPS score?

Joel G: Yeah.

Harrison P: A net promoter score, those out there who don't know, a net promoter score measures the willingness of your customers to refer your service or product to their friends and family, and it brings us from negative 100 to 100, a hundred being the best, obviously. And with the moving industry, whether it's full-house moving or small moving, the average is about 13 and so we're extremely proud to have a net promoter score of an 87 after close to hitting over almost a hundred thousand deliveries at this point. Having an 87 just speaks to our folks on the consumer, our driver recruitment tactics, and how we set up preventative measures are making sure everyone's having a great experience with our drivers, and then our customer service. So having an 87 is something that we're extremely proud of to this day, and I think that's probably our biggest win overall.

Joel G: What's the biggest swing and miss you've taken, and what have you learned from it?

Harrison P: So I'm really focused on launches these days and expanding a Bungii engine to different markets across the, across the country. And one of the most recent launches we had was Chicago and we really hadn't figured out completely that driver acquisition part of it, or being a little bit more strategic about launching. So with Chicago we walked in and we did what we had been conditioned to do before. Get in there, start finding drivers, start finding demand. Once we launched the app in Chicago, and at that point we realized that there are no pickup trucks in Chicago whatsoever. So we started having this demand coming out, but we had no one picking up those deliveries so that the deliveries were failing. And that's a problem. And so these consumers, these business, were saying, "Hey, we're not trusting the service, we're not going to use it."

Harrison P: So we're over there scrambling to get drivers, and finally we get drivers off the ground, but now these businesses have lost their trust. So now we have all these drivers, but no trips are coming in, and saying, "Hey, what's going on here? There's no deliveries. Why did I sign up for this?" Now they're falling off and they're, they're not converting. So it's all about balance with launches, and the launches are very essential to growing correctly and efficiently. So now after Chicago we took a step back and figured out this has to be more strategic, we have to figure out how to set these drivers and this demand up beforehand so by the time we do launch it's just a turn-key solution. And the demand and [inaudible 00:19:21] start getting connected immediately and then at that time, once we get to a certain threshold of trips and drivers, it begins to grow organically. And that's the, that's probably the biggest learning from the Chicago launch was we have to do things prior to the launch and get things set up beforehand.

Joel G: All right, last baseball-themed questions, small ball. What are the little things that add up to the big things for Bungii?

Harrison P: Small ball? You know, I'll probably say one of the biggest, I guess cuts I've taken, small cuts and taken recently is probably not pivoting, but putting more of a focus on the retailers and the businesses out there. So we were a very strong consumer-based demand company, but now we've started partnering with these companies like Mattress Firm, and Costco, and World Market, and Big Lots, and we're realizing that these businesses are trying to combat the Googles and Amazons of the world of this, for the same-day or next day delivery and we're kind of becoming that answer for them. And so with the folks on businesses, I think that's going to allow us to scale and scale faster as we walk into a new market with partnerships with six, ten different national retailers, that's going to have newly kicked demand off. We've got drivers, that job recruitment side figured out, so it should kind of make everything a little bit more efficient.

Joel G: Four final questions. You don't know what these are as we round the bases. First one, it's only natural, you've heard this one I'm sure many times throughout your life that with the last name of Proffitt, you add an extra F in there that's fine-

Harrison P: Two F's, two T's.

Joel G: Two F's, two T's, right, right, right. How often have you heard that? And now here you are trying to do exactly that.

Harrison P: Every business person I've met has made a comment on that, so-

Joel G: I knew I wasn't original.

Harrison P: So whether it's been, I mean I've had people tell me you'd be perfect for it as a doctor, you'd be perfect as a dentist and be perfect as entrepreneur. I had someone tell me to be perfect as a porn star with that kind of name. I was like, oh gosh, like I'm all over the place.

Joel G: Well I guess in the end it's a reminder whatever the industry clean or dirty that people want to make money. Right?

Harrison P: Exactly.

Joel G: All right, so you got that going for you. That's the first question, that was the softball and kind of the unique one. Second one. I'm looking at the frequently asked questions and one of them is there, is there anything Bungii will not pick up? And I like the response here, "Our drivers are strong but they're not super men. We focus on items that you and your driver can lift together and put in the back of a truck. In addition, we do not allow the transportation or anything hazardous, illegal or breathing." So as a, "Believe it or not, some people don't understand that. See the most absurd move requests here." That was going to be my question. Instead of clicking on it, what is the most absurd move requests you've had?

Harrison P: Well, first of all, it'd be better asked to our customer service team because they're dealing with that every day. But once I've, I've heard of that have happened, we moved buckets of animal waste from the Miami Zoo down in Miami to fertilize plants. So I remember seeing that happen and looking at our backend system and seeing these buckets of crap and it was connected to a driver, the driver was heading that way and we reached out to the driver, said, "Hey Jim, do you know, you know what you're going to pick up? And he said, 'Buckets of crap! I'm so excited!' He was pumped about it! And so he did that.

Joel G: He loves his job.

Harrison P: Yeah. I mean, I know we had a customer who-

Joel G: Is that, is that allowed, to move buckets of crap? It's not really hazardous.

Harrison P: Yeah! It's not hazardous-

Joel G: Not alive-

Harrison P: It's not breathing, just fertilizer.

Joel G: Okay, sure.

Harrison P: We did have someone also move a box that we later learned had a snake in it. So that's, that's something we try to avoid.

Joel G: Third question for you and I love asking this one. Oh, let me just preface it by saying, I mean you and, you and Ben start this thing. Where are you at now in terms of employees?

Harrison P: We have 25 employees now and that includes, we have people in each of our markets now that we're running these businesses and continue to grow our markets. We have a launch team, a development team, marketing team, customer service team, driver recruitment team, and driver management team. So yeah, from two guys in a dorm room to get to the point we are today, it's, it's pretty exciting to see.

Joel G: In a pretty quick amount of time too. So my question, the third question is, as we round the bases to that is where can this go?

Harrison P: So we just finished our recent series A of 9.4 million to get this really across the country. So with that money, that's going to inject fuel into a national expansion and launch. So the goal by 2021 is to be in every major city in America. And so that's really my focus is launching faster and more efficiently every time. So next year we're looking at 12 to 15 cities. Now the year after that should be another 15 to 25 cities. So the goal, national expansion. My personal goal is to make Bungii a household name down the road, so when you think pickup truck, you're thinking Bungii. But on top of that, we just want to not only be a consumer service, but we're going to start plugging into the supply chain, reverse logistics, store transfers, and basically the internal logistics of businesses as our goal.

Joel G: Final question. It's a little bit similar to that one, but my walk off question, I've always thought that entrepreneurs are always thinking about what's the next thing. Now, I'm not trying to force you out of Bungii, but it sounds like you've got plenty going on, but is there anything in the back of your head where you're thinking whether it's one day, an exit plan or just something else because you guys have solved the problem.

Harrison P: Yeah.

Joel G: And you had that ah-ha moment in class, that blackout moment that you described. Do you envision moving into other things at some point?

Harrison P: From a Bungii standpoint, selfishly, I think we want to grow this as big as we can get it ourselves. Realistically, I think there will be some sort of acquisition or a roll up down the road where we get acquired by, whether it's an Uber or Lyft or maybe some sort of strategic partner like a U-Haul or Home Depot. But I think that's the reality of it is we will be acquired at one point so we're really preparing ourselves for that. After Bungii, I honestly have not even put any thought into it. It's been 100% gas on Bungii and haven't looked back at all. So no, it'll be an interesting step back once I move on from Bungii, whenever that is, if that ever comes. But I'm very optimistic. I've learned so much from Bungii, already at 27 I'm very positive. I have a very positive outlook on the future.

Joel G: It's really exciting. You guys have done incredible things in a very short amount of time, and I think done at the right way from everything you're talking about and I know a lot more to come. So Harrison, thanks so much for spending time. Again, people can can find you guys at bungii.com, or they can search Bungii, B-U-N-G-I-I. Congratulations. Thanks for doing it, Harrison.

Harrison P: Thanks so much for your time, Joel, appreciate it.

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