We’ve all seen the news stories – There are Grinches across the country stealing delivered packages from people’s porches. If Laura Borland, president and co-founder of Vyllage, has her way, the Grinches will no longer be able to steal Christmas (or even the box of printer paper you order from Amazon in March).
Vyllage is an app that connects users with vetted homeowners in their area who are willing to receive packages on their behalf and are compensated for doing so. Essentially, Vyllage acts as a micro-franchise opportunity for people who want to earn $3-5 for every package that comes in while protecting against porch piracy and missed deliveries within their communities. At just $14.95 to start a Vyllage franchise in your home, it’s a great gig for stay-at-home moms, injured veterans, retired people, or people who work from home.
Why did you start the business?
I am a former teacher. I have also worked as a quality engineer in the technology space. I was what is known as a “product owner” in a financial services company. Vyllage just came out of Sean (the vice president and co-founder) and I getting ready for work one morning and seeing a news story about a package being stolen. I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was someone in our neighborhood who was home in the afternoon and could receive our packages for us?” Sean’s response was, “You order so much online, it would become a burden to that person.” We wondered how we could make it worth their while.
From there, it’s been three years of ideation, app building, and getting trademark and intellectual property protections. We have a very unique package delivery software intake tool that requires a dual photograph proof of receipt. It took us a long time to design, because we were doing these things ourselves out-of-pocket.
How did you fund the business at the start?
It’s been our personal savings. We work full-time and allocate whatever excess resources we have to the business.
Managing the Business
How do you manage cash flow?
The app is newly launched. We are receiving sign-ups from Vyllagers at this point. We receive funds for the formal background check through PayPal. Then, we’re able to pay our background check company. We’re able to see how many people are signing up and what our income looks like. PayPal is beautiful about taking out taxes and such. At this point, managing cash flow via PayPal is the simplest thing we can think of. We know that as we grow, we’re going to have to look at another option.
What is the most challenging thing about running the business?
The marketing and acquiring Vyllagers. People understand Uber and Airbnb. Vyllage is very new in this space. We are the first movers with the idea of people utilizing their homes in the logistics space to receive packages. To introduce an idea like this involves a lot of press – Especially when you’re trying to make a national footprint. You have to have a lot of credibility.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the business?
For $14.95 I can give people the opportunity to start their own little business with a micro-franchise. People are not employees, they’re business owners. We love that we’re empowering, not enabling. It’s amazing!
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting out?
We tried to do this overseas because the app developers there had a price point that couldn’t be beat. We ended up paying for it dearly, because we got a buggy product. What they told us they could do in four months ended up taking more than a year. It was painful to then have to bring it to someone locally here in Florida. It took us an additional two years to get a platform that worked. It cost us more in the long run by trying to cut corners.
I also wish we had invested in an attorney. We went through getting “Vyllage” and “Vyllager” trademarked by ourselves. I can’t tell you how many rejections we got. It took over two years to get them both trademarked. We were filling out these forms by ourselves. We thought we just had to follow the instructions. I’m sure an attorney could have done it much faster.
And, I wish we had kept the secret closer at the start. We did South by Southwest when we were trying to test out proof of concept. We had a couple people try to copy what we were doing. They did a poor job of it and are no longer in business. But, that was an interesting time!
What’s the smartest thing you did at the start?
Having used my experience as a quality engineer, I was able to map things out and have a clear list of business requirements and what I needed the end product to look like from a customer experience perspective. The product is simple to use, though there’s a lot of logic going on in the backend.
Also, to be the first in the space and create a market is just so cool! It still gives us chills to know that we thought of something that could be a differentiator in the world of logistics.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Follow your heart. Follow your dream. But, be prepared for the setbacks. They will come, but you can control your approach and your attitude towards them. Be thorough, but don’t procrastinate.
What’s next for Vyllage?
My next goal is that I want 1,000 Vyllagers on the map by mid-year. My ultimate goal is to have a Vyllager in every zip code in the country. I want “Vyllaged” to be a verb. Like, “I Ubered” here,” I want people to say, “I Vyllaged the package.”