BufferBox is the future of how we’ll receive packages. Co-founded less than 2 years ago by University of Waterloo grads Aditya Bali, Mike McCauley and Jay Shah, BufferBox lets people ship parcels to a BufferBox for quick, convenient and secure pick-up any time. Their easy-to-spot green lockers provide a secure shipping destination for shoppers purchasing items online instead of missing deliveries at their home, especially convenient during the holiday shopping season.
Users sign up for free on the website and can begin shipping to any locker in the GTA and receive a one-time code via email to unlock their package at their convenience. The lockers are accessible 24/7, which means no more waiting for delivery times or trekking to the nearest pickup depot during business hours. With kiosks located in central hubs like Toronto’s Union Station, items can even be whisked home as part of a daily commute.
Their pitch at Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator accelerator program’s Demo Day earned them a spot on the TechCrunch blog’s Ten Best Startups list, along with glowing coverage in The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Post and The Globe and Mail. They’ve partnered with 7-Eleven, Sobeys and Metrolinx for locker locations and are testing their tech with Walmart Canada’s e-commerce unit. Google snapped up the young company in November, 2012.
BufferBox’s Waterloo-based team of 10 will remain intact in Ontario. Their big acquisition brings considerable resources and support from global powerhouse, Google as they grow and create jobs. We’ve been excited to support BufferBox in Ontario through our Communitech regional innovation hub, Velocity Garage—which houses and mentors University of Waterloo students’ companies, and the Ontario Centres of Excellence’s ‘New Entrepreneurs’ program. We asked co-founder Aditya Bali to share the lessons he’s learned along the way as they’ve moved quickly through the start-up ranks.
Eighteen months ago, I was in my final year of Engineering at the University of Waterloo and today, I’m employed by Google, working in Waterloo. Seems like a fairly typical career path for a UW graduate. However, instead of getting full time jobs, my co-founders and I made the rational decision to build a company out of a school project, BufferBox, which was acquired by Google a few weeks ago.
It was an ambitious project to begin with and it’s been a crazy ride. We’ve met amazing people, experienced extraordinary things and learned invaluable lessons. It would be only right to share these lessons, especially about the early days:
1. Know what you don’t know
Be resourceful and find outBeing engineering undergrads and entering a world of e-commerce and logistics, we knew we had lots to learn. Often saying “I’m a student, help me!” via free LinkedIn InMails, got us talking to people in high-up places. Turns out, if you’re genuinely looking for advice and not selling them something, people will help.
2. Build a support system
Building great relationships with mentors, advisors and colleagues is vitally important. For us, this meant being fully immersed in the Accelerator Center, Communitech, Y Combinator and the Velocity Garage at different stages of our growth. These incubated environments allowed us to interact with like-minded people with diverse experiences from whom we learned a ton. We relied heavily on this support system–a major factor in helping us get to where we are today.
3. Build a product that solves a problem you have
Don’t go building a company thinking you can make a quick buck. If it was so easy, everyone would be a millionaire. Build something that fixes an issue in your life. For us, it was parcel delivery. We ordered a lot online and after one too many missed delivery notices on our doors, we decided to fix the broken process. Why couldn’t our parcels be delivered to a box where we could pick-up our stuff whenever we wanted? Literally a box to “buffer” our boxes.
4. Talk to Users
This was one of the mantras of Y Combinator. If you don’t know what your users want, why are you building it? When we launched BufferBox at the University of Waterloo (ironically, without a box to deliver to) we used to hand deliver parcels to our customers. This was one of the best things we did because we interacted with our users face-to-face and got to understand what their needs were so we could quickly iterate. Recently, someone reached out to us over Twitter with a feature request, and within 24 hours the feature was built and launched on our website. Being small and nimble is one of the biggest advantages of being a start-up–take advantage of it while you can!
5. Build a rock-solid team
Having the right team will make or break you. We were extremely fortunate in having a founding team that was aligned in vision and had very complementary skills. Having originally launched at the University, we had built a strong brand on campus which allowed us to attract top talent and was one of the major reasons for returning to Waterloo after our time at Y Combinator in Silicon Valley. Our team was passionate about the product and worked the “start-up nine-to-five” (AM to AM) to help us get to where we are today.
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