The New Side Hustle — Postmates
It’s 11 p.m. on a Wednesday. You’re home alone and hangry. You, for some reason, only like the finer things in life but also can’t be bothered to find a good restaurant within a five-mile radius of you, so what do you do?
“Hey Postmates, I need a strip steak and a cup of soup from the frattiest bar in the area.”
Keep in mind, you didn’t say what kind of soup because not even Phil Ivey gambles like you. Minestrone, tomato bisque, menudo, it doesn’t matter! Just make sure it gets to your mouth within the hour. Oh, but also, you’re going to give the delivery person the wrong address for the bar, the wrong phone number to contact you and not have your name on the call box at your apartment building.
Even Jigsaw would call “Uncle” on playing this game, but this is the life of a Postmates’ driver, a.k.a. mine for the past month. Thanks to the proliferation of Postmates, Lyft and so many other shared-economy services, being a delivery service is as prominent as ever and I wanted to see if this is sustainable. Could people really make a full-time job out of delivering random items across town to strangers? Could someone get away with double-parking for months on end?
Most people at this point would ask, “Why pick Postmates? Why not drive for Lyft?” This crossed my mind, and the only person who uses ride-sharing more creatively than me is Ray Donovan, but I had a number of factors in play:
1. Eileen is too old. My 1998 Lexus ES300 that my grandma (who it’s named after) gave me after my college graduation doesn’t qualify based on its age. Postmates has no restriction, probably knowing that I recently went to a mechanic, handed him my credit card and told them to “winterize” my car.
2. People are gross. Chicago is a city of rain, snow, sleet, hail and any falling substance in between, and I don’t need that dragged into my car. Nor do I need vomit, dumb conversation and the myriad other calamities that happen in late-night Lyfts. With Postmates, the only thing in my car is someone’s dinner or pregame materials, so it stays super clean.
3. Just like relationships, Postmates is about power. I don’t mind being cold because I sweat a ton, and the constant complaints about my apartment rivaling the Fortress of Solitude in temperature don’t bother me. No one needs to tell me to turn the heat up or stop blasting, singing and honking to the beat of Rick Ross, and Postmates lets me stay in control.
A little bit more about me before we get into the economics: I’m a 26-year-old guy who just moved to Chicago for an amazing job. I’m not strapped for cash and I’m not going into Postmates full-time, but I wanted to learn if someone could bring home some bacon doing this as a job. I love driving and, more importantly, I desperately wanted to stop having this conversation:
Literally any new friend I made: “Hey want to go to [insert any bar]?”
Me: “Sure, sounds great! Where’s it at”
LANFIM: “It’s in [any neighborhood].”
Me: “Ummmm, what street”
LANFIM: “It’s on [any street] and [a cross street]”
Me: *blank stare* “Yeah definitely going to just Uber.”
And so, Postmates became my new side hustle. To start, I had to make a basic profile and complete an easy background check, which revealed nothing about me other than the fact that Grand Island, Nebraska is the world’s biggest speed trap. In under a week of applying, I received an insulated bag for deliveries, a prepaid debit card to pay and some basic training to do my first delivery.
Being the nerd I am, I tracked my deliveries obsessively, creating a spreadsheet that I HIGHLY recommend you take a look at if you are interested in the economics. Here’s some background on the numbers:
17 mpg — The absolute worst estimate I could get for Eileen came from FuelEconomy.Gov, which seems legitimate until Trump erases that site too.
$2.50/gallon — The average price during February at the gas station I always go to by work.
$.54/mile — Each year the IRS arbitrarily determines what the cost for wear and tear on a car should be for business purposes.
122.97 miles in 39 hours — Postmates sends a recap every week to its “Fleet” that includes the miles driven while active. I measured time from when I started my first delivery to the time I returned home, rounding up to the nearest half hour. I added five miles for the last day not included in a recap.
Now that the background is out of the way, let’s go to the main question: “Can I make some real money doing this?” The answer? YES!!!
All of these stats came from times when I had nothing else to do, and I never cancelled on a friend or ignored another activity to drive for Postmates, so that should give a better idea of the potential for someone who focuses on this. Check out the highlights if you didn’t bother reviewing the spreadsheet:
$18.23 — The amount I raked in per hour after costs, which is more than double Illinois’ minimum wage and triple Chicago’s wage for tipped employees. Considering there are folks doing this same job for specific establishments getting $8.25/hour, this baffled me.
60.71% — The number of folks who tipped. Do people not have manners? No sane person goes to a restaurant and doesn’t tip if they are eating in, but now that a delivery person has driven miles to bring that experience, half of them drop off? Having just watched Reservoir Dogs does not excuse this barbaric behavior.
$.26 — The difference between a tip for a normal delivery and a blitz delivery. I’m not going to do the math on whether this is statistically significant, but I think it’s interesting that when people pay more for a delivery, they tip less.
$711.06 — My total profit for the month before taxes. Yes, Negative Nancy, I won’t take all of this home, however, that happens for any independent contractor. My profit covered nearly my entire credit card bill for February, including the costs of my utilities, groceries, eating out and gas, so that’s a win in my book.
$5.78 — The money made per mile of driving. Thanks to my B-School Bro (which will be the name of his autobiography) Stuart Klein who helped me calculate this, because this became one of my favorite metrics. A Lincoln and a Washington for every odometer tick is not too shabby.
I realize the “Guap” is what’s most important to many people, but the benefits really range outside of that, in case you need a better reason. Like I set out to do, I learned my neighborhood like the back of my hand. By the end of the month, if the delivery kept me in the Lincoln Park area, I stopped turning on my GPS and nailed it almost every time (let’s not talk about the alley incident). Chicago is huge and will certainly take more time to conquer, but within a month, I was the LANFIM and it felt great.
Unintended benefits abounded too. I love weird stories, and seeing what people order made me die laughing at some of their life choices. The “Steak n’ Soup” story happened my second day and kept me dying the whole drive, but how about the girl who ordered a handle of Tito’s and a pack of Marlboro Lights at 11:30 p.m. and had no company over? Or the guy who was so drunk at 7 p.m. on a Monday that he ordered a plain chicken sandwich from a location that was maybe 100 feet from him?
Or my personal favorite, the girl who ordered four pints of artisan ice cream and, when I asked her if she was having a party, said:
“Haha I wish but these are all for me today.”
Today?!?! Do you have an artisan ice cream budget, and if so, are you Taylor Swift? Seriously, hit me up with your demo, Lindsay! You’re a legend.
Not everything was rainbows and sunshine, though:
- It’s stressful using the hazard lights and parking awkwardly all the time.
- Some people forget they’ve ordered something (yes, seriously).
- You can’t nibble on the french fries intoxicating you via scent while you drive.
- A rotund pizza chain manager might get repeatedly mad because Postmates’ insulated bag wasn’t large enough, and he thinks the food would get cold and customers would complain. I told him:
“I didn’t invent bags.” I won the debate.
The main concern though — this can’t be done all day long. Peak hours are during meal times and late night on weekends, and during the off hours, the jobs can be slim. The longest I waited for a new delivery was 20 minutes, but that was before I learned about the off hours. That may vary by city, but it really behooves the Fleet to drive during Blitz pricing, a.k.a. surge pricing. My income may be inflated a little during peak times, but as the grid shows, very few of my deliveries actually hit the Blitz timing. Further, Blitz pricing changes between 1.25x and 2x the payout, but it fluctuates from ride to ride and disappears quickly, so it’s hard to guarantee that rate.
I’m no expert on delivery services or side hustling, but as anyone can tell you, Howie Mandel can’t find deals like I do. This is what I’ll say: Driving for Postmates is a steal. In fact, if you listened to books on tape or Rosetta Stone, you could multi-task and make this even more of a bargain. This is not a sponsored advertisement for Postmates; I just wanted to understand what was once a nebulous system to me, and hopefully this helps others looking for something good to do in their free time.
But if not, I’ll just start my career as Lindsay’s manager. That’s a real moneymaker.