Coco’s Zach Rash on Delivery Density, Profitability and Regulation
CEO shares thoughts on expansion, fundraising and the industry's future
As OttOmate continues to sit down with the leaders of the delivery robotics revolution, this week we’re delighted to chat with Coco’s CEO and Co-Founder Zach Rash. With an engineering background from UCLA, Zach and his team have spent a lot of time thinking about the ideal hardware and operating environments for PDDs. Industry watchers may want to note how the company’s lessons learned in parts of Texas (too sprawling to support the service) may apply to other Southeastern markets.
Jonah Bliss: Why don’t we start with some background; tell us a bit about the founding team, and what led you to create Coco?
Zach Rash: Six years ago at UCLA, Brad Squicciarini and I founded an autonomous vehicles research lab. After graduating, Brad and I used that experience to create Coco, with the mission to make last-mile food and grocery delivery more sustainable, reliable and cost effective for local businesses and their customers. We had watched the early robot delivery companies spending years and billions of dollars on autonomy R&D without any major deployments and wondered why we weren’t seeing robot delivery at scale. We decided to focus on building the infrastructure for piloted robot delivery so we could deliver immediate value to merchants, while using our growing fleet to train and improve our autopilot system. This would allow us to profitably scale up our fleet and accelerate our product development through real-world learnings.
JB: What do you think of the current moment, in terms of macro factors affecting delivery overall, and fundraising for hardware startups in particular?
ZR: Consumers and merchants are becoming more cost-conscious, which only bolsters our competitive position in the delivery space. If you’re a hardware company, with years of R&D ahead before you have a meaningful launch, this is going to be a hard time, but because Coco can make money now, we control our own destiny, and can finance growth from customers.
“…because Coco can make money now, we control our own destiny, and can finance growth from customers.”
JB: Can you share a bit about your deployments, how many markets you’re in, if there’s a particular operating environment you’re focusing on?
ZR: We launched first in Santa Monica in 2020 and then in the City of Los Angeles in early 2021. We then expanded out to Houston and Austin at the start of 2022. Currently, our main focus is growing our LA-area market. We now have over 70 merchant partners in the West LA / Santa Monica area alone.
We also recently got a program approved for Chicago and are in discussions in some international markets. We should have some exciting updates soon!
JB: Are there markets, or partners, that have been particularly fruitful? Or any that have led to learning some key lessons?
ZR: The great thing with this technology is it works anywhere with a sufficient density of merchants and residents within around a 2-mile delivery range. In these dense areas, 60+% of a merchant's delivery volume often falls within our delivery radius, so there is lots of opportunity for us to be the best delivery option. In some parts of the Texas markets we did see areas that were too spread out or lacking adequate sidewalk infrastructure, but this forced us to improve our routing software and vehicle speeds which ultimately made the product better. Today, we’re focused on urban and semi-urban markets but in the future we expect to serve a broad range of neighborhoods with faster vehicle types.
“…60+% of a merchant's delivery volume often falls within our delivery radius…”
JB: With regards to creating your robots, how does Coco approach creating its hardware? Do you think this differentiates the company from some of its peers?
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