So long, Instacart. Gig workers tired of the grind start their own delivery services

As the holiday season ramps up, one shopping service with Washington and California roots is positioning itself as a competitor to longer-established gig services.

Dumpling allows “shoppers” to create their own grocery delivery businesses using its tech platform. It has benefited from gig workers looking for a new start as they’ve grown disgruntled with entities such as DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart.

Dumpling’s co-founders and co-CEOs are Joel Shapiro of Seattle and Nate D’Anna of Berkeley, California. Their platform serves about 500 independent shoppers so far nationwide, each owning their own business.

Earlier this year, Dumpling announced $3 million in seed funding from investors, including lead investor Floodgate and FUEL Capital.

Shapiro and D’Anna, who met working at National Instruments in 2002, eventually started MyGig, which Shapiro describes as a Glassdoor-type website, but for workers, “not C-suite executives comparing their company’s stock options.”

“It gave us a really genuine understanding of the difficulties they faced as gig workers,” Shapiro told The News Tribune in a recent interview. “We realized there was this increasing divide between the workers and the companies they worked for.”

Dumpling was created, Shapiro said, with the input of the workers and designed “so they’re not just a cog in a machine.”

“We thought, what if we provided a platform and build relationships with customers and really work to get a great experience,” he recalled. “With this ownership model, they can build with clients and schedule in advance and work with the same people, get to know what items they prefer and provide much better end product and experience.”

Letting the shoppers build their own delivery service is where the Dumpling model stands apart from a competitor such as Instacart.

The shoppers say the benefits include being able to retain more of their pay, keep their tips and market themselves on their own websites and social media.

Dumpling takes $5 for each order completed, deducted from the shopper’s business earnings before distribution via direct deposit. There’s also a 5 percent platform fee the customers pay to cover credit card fees.

Dumpling says the $5 for each order is used “to give shoppers loans to shop orders, pay for back office support (e.g. taking payments, processing, customer support, etc.) and to develop the necessary technology for the apps and websites.”

Alviena Ross is a Dumpling shopper serving a 15-mile radius in the Olympia area. She told The News Tribune she’d previously worked as a shopper/delivery worker with DoorDash, Uber Eats and Instacart.

She’s not looking back.

“The pay is a lot better because I set my own fees,” Ross told The News Tribune. “And after delivery is completed, they can leave a tip.”

Tips go 100 percent to the shopper.

“I make about twice as much as compared with when I was with Instacart,” she added.

Ashley Johnson, a Dumpling shopper in the Puyallup area, said she appreciates the quick response by tech support and uses her website and Facebook page to share promotions with her customers.

“‘If I have an issue with the app, there are people I know by name; I have their cell phone and will say, ‘We need help on this,’ and then three weeks later they’ve updated,” Johnson said.

Above all, Ross and the other shoppers can be more selective of their work load and avoid surprises involving multiple flights of stairs to deliver cases of water or orders of 50-pound bags of dog food. Those and other scenarios were offered as examples during last year’s gig worker forum in Seattle, hosted by advocacy group Working Washington.

Starting from the ground up also means it takes time to build a business. Neither Ross nor Johnson said they could live off what they were making now.

“I still have a ways to go,” Ross said. “I still have to get a bigger customer base for my goal. I’m about halfway there, and Dumpling is great with marketing and I do my own marketing, too, but it takes time.”

Ross also has a website and Facebook page to promote her work.

She says she’s taken to posting recipes on her Facebook page to help inspire her clients, another Dumpling strategy to help customize her customers’ shopping lists.

Both Ross and Johnson say they’ve taken on Black Friday shopping for customers at a premium rate. Johnson also is promoting Small Business Saturday, giving discounts to shoppers ordering from various businesses during November.

Johnson also uses her own Target Circle account to gain discounts for her clients.

“I like being able to help people stick to their budgets,” she said.

Shapiro said it is those types of personal connections that will push Dumpling ahead of its competitors and eventually lead to expansion.

“There are a lot of businesses adjacent to grocery delivery — meal planning, meal prep, a lot of this is work our shoppers do already. Pet care, dog walking, even things like elder care ride sharing,” Shapiro said. “Anything that you can schedule in advance versus being a worker responding to on demand, I think that’s the future.”

Johnson echoes Shapiro’s belief that the growth is going nowhere but up for his company and her business.

“As we grow, there will be more shoppers. When you switch to small scale it’s a better service,” Johnson said. “Money is staying pretty local, and, with the freedom to do multiple shops, it’s great.”


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