Passenger Pigeon — a new School of Management startup that offers an affordable alternative to traditional shipping methods — will fly down Whitney Avenue to central campus this week.
The startup is a peer-to-peer shipping website that, similar to the app-operated taxi service Uber, makes use of drivers who are already traveling to the shipping destination and have some extra space in their cars. Having achieved promising results with their recent pilot launch at the SOM and FES two weeks ago, the founders plan to make Passenger Pigeon accessible to Yale undergraduates by Friday.
“Traditional shipping companies have to operate on highly standardized logistical frameworks,” said Eitan Hochster SOM ’16 FES ’16, one of the startup’s co-founders. “Passenger Pigeon makes it affordable to ship packages that don’t work well with that standardization, such as bulky items or urgent deliveries.”
With traditional shipping companies like FedEx and UPS, sending a package to a nearby city within a day can cost the shipper hundreds of dollars, Hochster said, whereas paying a peer driver for the same service would cost less than $20.
The idea behind Passenger Pigeon was first proposed by Jennifer Milikowsky SOM ’16, another co-founder, who visited her boyfriend in Boston last year and accidentally brought his laptop charger back to New Haven. Because Milikowsky knew her boyfriend would need to use his laptop the next day and that existing same-day shipping services were prohibitively expensive, she had no choice but to make the three-hour commute herself.
According to Hochster, other Yale students have also expressed interest in the services offered by Passenger Pigeon. One of his friends needed to mail a hockey stick home, and another hoped to retrieve a lost jacket from a different city.
After Milikowsky pitched the idea, she worked with Hochster and two other students to build Passenger Pigeon in their “Startup Founders Practicum” class, a program which allows students to gain academic credit for entrepreneurial ventures.
Director of Entrepreneurial Programs Kyle Jensen said Passenger Pigeon is one of the more mature startups in the practicum program.
The program, Jensen said, allows students with their own ventures to meet with alumni and investors, as well as a whole community of other students that are invested in their work and support each other. This creates a balance between the entrepreneurial experience and the educational experience, he said.
Jennifer McFadden, associate director of entrepreneurial programs at the SOM, said students in the program discuss their progress and goals with mentors and advisors every week.
“Personally, I think there’s no purer form of management education than starting a company,” McFadden said. “The academic coursework that we have is a relevant complement to those ventures.”
David Johnson SOM ’15, one of the other co-founders, said that for now, Passenger Pigeon will only be available to college students if they use their Yale emails.
“We’re going to start out with a campus focus because we want to work with a smaller demographic and build up the product at the right pace,” said Johnson. “It also works really well as a demographic, because students tend to be more mobile, more price sensitive and more susceptible to accidentally leaving things at home.”
Johnson added that he is planning to develop the platform into a phone application, so that shippers are able to track their packages in real-time through drivers’ phones. Johnson and Hochster both said they hope to eventually open their platform to other campuses across the nation.
Five undergraduates interviewed said they would choose Passenger Pigeon over traditional companies for same-day shipping.
Kate Flanders ’18 said her only concern with the company is ensuring safe delivery, but she would use it if she knew all the drivers would be held liable for damages.
Katherine Lin ’18, meanwhile, said she thinks the premise of a peer-to-peer startup is an exciting concept.
“If it’s a more affordable option, of course I would prefer it,” said Lin. “And I also love that this platform introduces random people to each other — it’s like it helps build a community.”