Designated drivers: What Saucey's founders learned from making 1,000 alcohol deliveries

by John Siegel
May 23, 2017

Life is never dull for an on-demand alcohol delivery courier. From A-list actors who just want to enjoy a couple of beers to customers more than comfortable answering the door sans clothing, no two days on the job are alike. 

Saucey CEO Chris Vaughn and co-founders Daniel Leeb and Andrew Zeck learned that quickly when they began operations in 2013. Like many e-commerce founders, they found themselves splitting time between working on the business and actually picking up liquor from stores and making the deliveries themselves. More than 1,000 deliveries later, the three had gained a totally new perspective on how to operate a startup.

“Doing deliveries firsthand was the best way to both understand the customer experience, and intricately know what needed to be built for the logistics platform,” Vaughn said. “Today, we continue to see value in doing deliveries. It was, and still is, the best way to understand the courier and customer experience.” 

That education has helped the trio of textPlus veterans expand Saucey services to San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento and Chicago. The company’s platform now boasts more than 2,000 couriers. 

The model is pretty simple: Users visit Saucey’s platform to purchase alcohol from local stores, and Saucey couriers deliver it to them in 20-40 minutes. Scaling this concept, however, wasn’t nearly so straightforward.

“In the early days, investors were pushing for 50-city rollout plans. We countered with the fact that 65 percent of alcohol is consumed in just 10 states, and our move is to control and lock down those markets one by one, but they just didn’t get it,” Vaughn said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on operations as a company, and as a result, we’re probably one of the only on-demand delivery businesses that makes money in every city that we operate.”

Over the years, Vaughn and his co-founders have encountered their fair share of comical situations. Aside from his numerous run-ins with celebrities using Saucey to avoid the paparazzi, one of Vaughn’s favorite stories involves a user so stunned by the app’s effectiveness that he was at a loss for words.

“This one guy I delivered to literally could not believe what just happened,” Vaughn said. “He just kept saying, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, I literally just pressed the order button, and now you’re here with my scotch. It's, unreal, like totally unreal!’ It's always awesome when you meet someone who's so excited about the experience.”

With summer right around the corner, and with Memorial Day just a few days away, Saucey is trying something new: on-demand bartenders. Users will now be able to purchase their alcohol and book a mixologist via the app, and for this Memorial Day Weekend only, all orders north of $300 come with a free bartender.

“We really want to challenge the way people think about purchasing alcohol,” Vaughn said. “We feel that giving users the ability to order their alcohol and easily book a mixologist from the app is a great way to do that.”

With a team of 27 full-time employees in the LA headquarters, Vaughn hinted at some big news that will be coming just in time for the summer. For now, however, the team is focused on transforming a century-old model.

“Los Angeles alone does over $4 billion a year in retail alcohol sales, but we’re seeing clear signs of the change we’re causing the industry,” Vaughn said. “Every major brick and mortar retailer is trying to figure out their delivery play, and some of the biggest alcohol retailers in our markets (who aren’t our partners) are starting to have soft sales cycles for the first time in years. We’re confident in what we’ve built, the relationships we have and  our expertise in the space.”

Images via Saucey.

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