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Upstart Postmates surfs $16m valley funding on backs of 'slave' couriers

Miffed app-powered delivery contractors complain of 'garbage' pay

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San Francisco delivery company Postmates bagged $16m in funding from eager investors today – though an inspection of worker feedback shows that the startup is not as well-loved by some of its couriers.

The series-B funding round will help the small biz improve its app, which people can use to bring "everything from a burrito to a tub of Beluga Caviar," to their doorstep, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The company was founded in 2011 and, like contemporaries Uber and Taskrabbit and Lyft, is built around a technically sophisticated mobile application and a large pool of casual contractors who drive the cars and ride the bicycles to shift users' stuff around on demand.

Its particular take on the, as it is termed in the valley, "sharing economy", is that it can offer one-hour delivery of items within San Francisco. Postmates describes itself as a "revolutionary same-day urban logistics & delivery platform". A nice description that jars ever-so-slightly with anonymous comments about the company on Glassdoor – a website that publishes employees' reviews of workplaces.

One account describes Postmates, which apparently delivers 10,000 packages a day, as a "marketplace" of "underpaid serfs". Whatever could that mean?

Like Uber and Lyft, Postmates is a company of two halves. On the one side, is the company's own sales, operations, and marketing staff who are paid well to maintain the "revolutionary platform", and on the other side is the much larger pool of contractors who actually do the heavy lifting that gets stuff from point A to point B.

A glossy recruiting page by Postmates says that couriers can "earn up to $30 per hour" and work "flexible hours". It also notes that the company prefers it if they own an Apple iPhone along with their bike or car. "Postmates receive the majority of the delivery fee, plus 100 per cent of the tip," the upstart explained.

What the couriers say

A glance at the company's numerous reviews by current and former hands on Glassdoor, however, tells a different story. To give you a heads up, the biz manages to score an average of 2.1 out of 5 from the dozen or so workers who posted comments.

"No benefits for people and way below minimum wages are received," claimed one anonymous review, which highlighted the fact that couriers are paid on commission: if there are no orders, there are no bucks to be earned. And if there are too many drivers and riders, customers are spread too thinly, which means less money in each contractor's pocket.

"DON'T RIDE FOR THEM UNLESS YOU LIKE IT WHEN BEEN EXPLOITED [sic]. You will most certainly make much less than advertised and you my friend, you will be their own slave," alleged another by a poster called "Courier".

"One is extremely lucky if minimum wage is obtained. Many customers don't tip," read another. "OK for earning a little extra cash, garbage as a means of employment," said one poster.

"Don't let their employment ads fool you. You will not average $16-$20 an hour unless everyone you deliver to adds a $10 tip which guaranteed won't happen. Realistically $11 an hour is average," opined another.

Well, surely there must be some kind of benefit we're missing, such as the company's culture? "The office people have snobby, unreasonable superiority complex over the couriers," claimed one reviewer.

"You get treated like scum (correction, scum gets treated better)," alleged another.

But we're changing the world, says one manager

It's not all completely doom and gloom: a bike courier in Seattle had "no complaints" and described the part-time job as "very satisfying work". An operations manager, also in Seattle, praised the biz as "an amazing group of people on a mission to change the world ... at least a little bit!”

A spokesman for Postmates told The Register:

Our platform is home to thousands of happy service providers in the delivery space, offering great customer service every day. While we can't comment on anonymous reviews, we're happy to share that the service providers receive 75 per cent of the delivery fee and 100 per cent of tips earned.

Service providers are required to keep a minimum customer satisfaction rating on the Postmates platform at all times.

In terms of negative anonymous comments, the company shouldn't feel alone – contemporary "ridesharing" startup Lyft has similar reviews from its workforce, with one describing it as "indentured servitude", and another writing "there is not enough work to go around most days. Way too many drivers - which is how they can get rid of so many drivers." (Uber, it has to be said, has a respectable rating on Glassdoor from eight reviews.)

"We are currently employing a fleet of around 900 people to delivery products from local business in San Francisco," Postmates co-founder Bastian Lehmann told the New York Times. "Every time you press the button in our app, your local economy makes money." ®

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