Shuttle Delivery was among the first companies to start delivering foreign food and gourmet dishes in Itaewon in 2016, targeting expatriates, foreign tourists and Koreans.
It has since grown into the biggest food delivery platform for the expat community in Seoul with 49,500 registered customers. Recently, it has begun to expand outside of Itaewon to areas such as Pyeongtaek in Gyeonggi Pronvice. It is now eyeing plans to enter Busan City.
Shuttle Delivery CEO Jason Boutte said it all started with a burrito and three motorbikes.
“I didn’t know anything about the delivery business at first. I mean I barely knew how to drive a scooter,” said Boutte in an interview with The Korea Herald at Shuttle Delivery’s office in Seoul, “But I started the business because I felt very passionate about solving my own problem.”
Before Shuttle, Boutte co-founded a club called Cakeshop, a venue that swiftly gained popularity among clubbers. Feeling hungry after work one afternoon in 2014, he called restaurants to get a burrito delivered to his house, but not a single restaurant offered such services.
captionsShuttle Delivery CEO Jason Boutte (third from right) and COO Zachary Marble (second from right) pose with their team members. (Shuttle Delivery)
He was dumbfounded because Seoul is considered a haven for delivery food. Fed up with options that were usually limited to Chinese food or pizza, Boutte decided to open his own delivery service.
The first thing he did was to go to a motorbike shop to buy three bikes. Next, he established a company called Y-Not Takeout. He built his own webpage, but it didn’t look quite the way he wanted. Finding skilled drivers was also difficult because few wanted to work with the fledgling firm. He waited outside schools to recruit students, nearly begging them to work part time.
While all this was going on, in a small studio apartment not far away, Zachary Marble and Ben Hough were preparing to launch their own food delivery service called Bird Riders Food Delivery. The two now work with Boutte at Shuttle.
In the early days, Y-Not and Bird Riders competed fiercely for the upper hand in the Yongsan area. Eventually, seeing that it made more sense to work together, they struck a truce. In March 2016, Shuttle Delivery was born.
After that, the numbers began to grow exponentially. Orders rose by 35 percent on-year in 2017 and 47 percent in 2018. The company also launched new service zones, including Songtan and Anjungri, both in Pyeongtaek, in line with the ongoing relocation of the US Forces Korea’s military base.
Despite the success, running a delivery business in Korea is not easy, said the CEO.
“We have been very fortunate since we’ve had a lot of support in our community,” said CEO Boutte, “I am super thankful that people really have appreciated what we were doing and went out of their way to talk to others about their experience with Shuttle.”
Not just another food delivery firm
From Uber Eats to Baedal Minjok, the food delivery market here has quickly become saturated, with apparently little chance for startups to compete against giants.
To beat the odds, Shuttle has focused on three areas -- offering premium value, becoming a trend setter and listening to customers.
“We can’t compete on price with food delivery giants Yogiyo or Baedal Minjok, and we are not trying to be the cheapest, but the best,” said Marble, who now serves as chief operating officer.
“When delivery guys from e-commerce firm Coupang drop off packages, everybody is really happy, and the same with Market Kurly. We are kind of trying to be like them for the delivery world.”
Shuttle Delivery CEO Jason Boutte(right) rides a bike to deliver food. (Shuttle Delivery)
As part of its upscale strategy, Shuttle drivers are not allowed to honk the horn to signal that the delivery has arrived -- a common practice by conventional food deliverymen. Smoking near delivery destinations is also not acceptable. In addition, every bike is fitted with heat bags to keep food warm, and small change is always on hand.
Shuttle also handpicks restaurants that offer authentic gourmet food, differentiating itself from other platforms that often overflow with thousands of mundane options.
“We don’t want every pizza place in Itaewon on our platform, but we want the best pizza places. That is why we curate our roster really carefully,” Boutte said.
Shuttle also makes an effort to listen to customers and tries to apply new ideas to its business model faster than other players. For instance, adopting a payment solution for cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin and bitcoin cash, and letting customers opt out of plastic cutlery.
Through the #ShuttleSaves campaign, it has saved on some 35,000 disposable chopsticks, spoons, and knives from September 2018 to January 2019.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org