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Is Delivery Coffee Worth it? Checking in with Fetch (and its Founder)

Eater writer Tim Ebner anonymously tried out the coffee delivery system to see if it's worth skipping the walk to Starbucks, and then caught up with Fetch's founder.

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Photo by Tim Ebner
Photo by Tim Ebner
Tim Ebner

Need a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich delivered ASAP? No problem. Or, how about a 24/7 cupcake ATM machine? Just wait, there's one coming soon.

Sure, on-demand food service is convenient, but for some it borders on the absurd. Case in point: you can have your booze delivered and detox juice too.

So when a new coffee delivery service launched in early January, Eater had some skepticism. Who would pay $3 for delivery Starbucks? The answer as it turns out is Eater. I personally put Fetch Coffee to the test to see if it's really worth skipping the morning line at Starbucks.

In the first couple of weeks, the start-up experienced some peak demand. It turned out to be not so fetch — the service was focusing on scheduled delivery service, so a spontaneous 9 a.m. coffee delivery wasn't an option.

But it seems the coffee delivery system has worked out some of those early kinks. When I tested both the on-demand and scheduled delivery service in February, Fetch passed both times. For an additional $3, I got coffee that was delivered hot, neat and on-time.

For test #1, I ordered a grande Americano with room for cream. The drink cost $3.03 and $3.18 for delivery, which was waived using a first-time delivery code. The drink scheduled to arrive by 9 a.m., arrived hot and made-to-order at 8:48 a.m. on a Thursday.

For test #2, I ordered a tall drip coffee with cream and sugar for on-demand delivery on Friday morning at 10:05 a.m. The drink cost $1.98 and $3.18 for delivery. Again, our Starbucks coffee arrived on time (within the hour timeframe that Fetch promises) and it was hot on the first sip. It certainly beat the four block walk to our local Starbucks in single digit wind chill.

Even the skeptic in me had to admit the app was performing. It's easy-to-use and convenient, especially if there's not a coffee shop right around the corner.

What surprised me most was that the coffee was delivered by Fetch's founder, Tony Chen, who at 24 years old is trying to reinvent coffee delivery in D.C. After anonymously testing the system twice, I checked-in with Chen to see how the business was going after one month.

So how has it been going so far? Are you running this company all by yourself?

It's me and a few friends who help out here and there, but it's mostly just me. The typical day is still very noisy. Our customer base is not that large yet, so depending on the day we can get more or less traffic. But, it's usually me driving around in my car delivering the orders.

And tell me about your delivery service area. It's everything west of Rock Creek park. Why did you start there?

We started out there because it has a more suburban feel with families and parents who have kids. There's also fewer Starbucks, and they're more scattered about. People usually have to drive to get to them, rather than just walking. In terms of the future, we hope to expand our footprint. It's not going to be one small area of Northwest. We definitely want to expand quickly.

Are people surprised by the service?

So far our customers have been happy with it. People leave us positive feedback on Twitter, and we have repeat customers. I basically deliver orders as they come, and we see new orders every week.

So do the Starbucks baristas know you by name?

Yeah, a lot of them do. One of my base Starbucks is the one near New Mexico Avenue. There's a lot of parking there, and it's in the middle of my delivery zone. When I deliver the coffees, I keep them sealed inside a thermos and we find that it keeps the coffee hot for up to 45 minutes.

What have you learned so far?

One thing we learned was that drip coffees are hotter than espresso drinks. There's a lot condensation, and it can mess up the cup. So we've been delivering those differently than the espresso drinks. We also learned a lot about our customers. Surprisingly, it's mostly parents, who have kids, and they don't have time to go to Starbucks. That's one of our biggest segments. And then, there's older, retired people who might not want to drive out and get coffee.

What about service to office employees?

We've been focusing on home delivery because it's easier to do. Parking is easier, and we can meet the customer at their door. Office buildings are typically in places where parking is difficult, and you have to wait for security and the people to meet you in the lobby.

What's the plan for the year ahead?

I think in a year from now, we want to hit more of the suburban market. I want to cover the entire suburban market in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Looking at San Francisco as a model, that's where a lot of these delivery services do really well.

One thing we're trying to gauge interest on right now is a more subscription-based service. So coffee delivered to you once a day, but for a cheaper delivery fee. We can also get a better estimate on demand and reward routine customers.

Is the goal to stick to Starbucks coffee only?

We do Starbucks right now because it's a uniform cup size and uniform order service. But, in the future, we hope to expand with specialty coffee shops. We're interested in companies like Filter Coffee and Peregrine. But, for now it's easy to keep the delivery process simple and we're focused on Starbucks.

What has been your busiest day so far?

Fridays are the busiest. We see people who place orders the most then, but it's still very noisy and we don't have any big trends yet. Last Friday, I finished delivering coffee to a repeat customer, and then afterwards, several other new orders came in.

I'm really happy with the service so far. The coffees arrive hot and do not spill. That took a long time to figure out, but we finally figured out a way to transport them securely. The next question will be - is this business scalable? Can we expand and begin hiring more people. I'm 24 years old right now, and I left my job late last year to do coffee delivery because this is a really unique service that currently does not exist here. People have taken to it, and I think we've figured out a system that can grow fast.

Have you spilled any coffee yet?

There were a few test runs where we had spills. But, we've been pretty fortunate. Luckily, we haven't had any big mess-ups. I'm sure with the law of large numbers, in time there will be orders that are messed up, but hey, we haven't messed up yet.

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