Word was getting out last year about Berkeley Haas startup Dispatch Goods.
The startup had landed its first two corporate clients and had 15 deals in the pipeline. They’d signed a partnership with Yelp! and debuted a mobile app and subscription service with membership tiers. By November, the Wall Street Journal had featured Dispatch’s business model— providing reusable stainless steel containers that companies use for restaurant takeout or pickup— in a news article.
But then coronavirus hit. Nearly overnight, business evaporated as restaurant owners shut down and corporate workers started working from home. For CEO Lindsey Hoell and her team it was “a gut punch for the anti-single use movement.”
“COVID was a huge disruption,” said Hoell, EWMBA 21. “We thought to ourselves: What do we have to offer now and how can we help?”
A quick pivot
Hoell had heard that hand sanitizer was quickly hard to come by after COVID-19 hit. One of the Dispatch team members knew that Tim Obert, CEO of Seven Stills distillery in San Francisco, had a plan to use some of the company’s alcohol to make hand sanitizer. The company connects donors to those in need on its website.
Hoell chatted with Obert and decided to launch a zero waste co-op to provide some of the hand sanitizer in recycled containers. Now, the team is collecting plastic bottles from donors, cleaning the bottles in their commercial dishwasher at their warehouse space in Daly City, and delivering them in the company’s van to Bay Area organizations, including retirement communities and homeless shelters.
Hoell, who is relying on donations to run the co-op, said they’re trying to keep costs down by batching pickups in neighborhoods in San Francisco, South San Francisco, Daly City, Berkeley, and Oakland. (Bottle donors can sign up on their website) She’s not sure if the model is financially sustainable, as the transportation costs are high, but the startup is willing to try to make it work.
“All of us got into this company because of the impact we want to have,” Hoell said. “We didn’t know how we could make money but we knew we could make an impact.”
All of us got into this company because of the impact we want to have.
Sticking to the mission
Meanwhile, Dispatch Goods’ founding mission hasn’t been lost.
Adam Boostrom, an evening and weekend MBA student, is working to adapt the business model while Dispatch participates in Berkeley’s SkyDeck accelerator program. During Skydeck’s online sessions, he worked alongside the Dispatch team to develop a pilot which would continue zero waste delivery for businesses. The first plan is to work with Square Pie Guys to deliver pizza on Tuesdays and Thursdays to employees’ homes in a reusable, covered metal alloy pan.
If the pilot works, the startup will approach other companies that want to provide takeout food to their employees who are working at home.
The startup’s goal has always been to change the food delivery model and eliminate the waste—and this is a new approach.
“The mission is still the same: we pick up containers, clean them, and return them to food providers,” said Boostrom. “What’s different is the primary customer.”