Startup wants to ease payment, delivery for online marketplaces

Craig's List, OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace are among the online forums that are great for finding and listing items for sale.

But the payment and delivery aspects aren't always so great, Indianapolis-based entrepreneur Nikolas Turner said. Buyers face the risk of losing money to fraudsters, and large items can be a burden to deliver, ship or pick up.

Nikolas_turner_mugNikolas Turner

Turner, 26, believes his startup can help. It’s called Shipper Technologies LLC, or ShipperTech, and he launched it in April. It's a platform that allows buyers to make secure transactions on marketplace sites and utilize freelance delivery drivers to pick up items.

The company has not yet rolled out its web and smartphone application, but has still facilitated more than 400 transactions in a fairly old-school way: email order forms.

"People love it," he said. "They understand that we're a startup right now, and we let them know up front."

Turner, a Southport High School product, graduated from Indiana University in 2014. He worked at Royal United Mortgage in Indianapolis for a few months before quitting to become an entrepreneur. In 2015, he started a company called Shobe Cases LLC that sells cigar-friendly cell phone cases, but today he spends most of his time on ShipperTech. He's based at The Speak Easy Downtown.

Turner is the only ShipperTech employee, but he has 37 freelance drivers and contracts with third-party software developers who are building his apps. 

For now, the company works like this: A buyer familiar with ShipperTech submits information about the item, including its location and dimensions. 

That person would then reply to a ShipperTech invoice that includes fees and the cost of the item. Those funds are stored in an escrow account and are released to the seller once the item is delivered.

ShipperTech takes a 3.5 percent cut of the transaction and 95 cents per mile, as well as a variable delivery fee. Small items that can be carried on a bike, for instance, carry a $4 delivery fee, while heavy appliances come with a $60 delivery fee.

Turner said the average transaction amount is about $150. His drivers have delivered furniture, electronics, apparel and more.

"We make it easier so people don't have to rent a truck," he said about larger deliveries, "or ask friends and family members to borrow their truck to get a couch or a desk"

That process will be streamlined on the its apps once they're developed, Turner said, and he's aiming to have that to happen by this fall.

There are a few existing gig-economy platforms designed for delivery, including Postmates, which uses couriers to deliver local food and items such as office supplies. Then there's Roadie, which allows users to ship items locally or over long distances via drivers already headed in that direction.

Turner said his company is focused on delivering items bought on online marketplaces.

He's looking to undergo a seven-figure seed financing round to really help the business take off, but he thinks it may come through two six-figure rounds. He's also eyeing a Rise of the Rest pitch competition later this year, in which the winner gets a $100,000 investment.

Turner said he comes from humble beginnings, experiencing homelessness as a child and effectively being raised by his mother and five siblings. 

He said it can be tough being a black entrepreneur in tech, with people often underestimating his ideas and skills. But he's not deterred.

"It's difficult," he said. "People ask me all the time who's the CEO and I tell them I'm the founder and CEO. Then they have the nerve to ask if I came up with it on my own or if it was presented to me. So I have a fire burning inside of me to really work hard and prove this can be done."

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