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Special delivery: the simple idea that led to a smart startup

After turning down Mark Cuban, USC Marshall entrepreneurs took their business to Silicon Valley

EnvoyNow
EnvoyNow is a campus delivery service that employs college students to access their campus after hours. (Illustration/istock)

Anthony Zhang jumped onstage with his team during billionaire investor Mark Cuban’s talk to USC Marshall School of Business students last year. He looked Cuban squarely in the eye and made the pitch for his company, EnvoyNow, a delivery service for colleges.

It was a bold move. But then he knew he had a killer idea, one that solved a problem unique to students living on campuses everywhere. Zhang’s team was offered $100,000 in seed money by Mark Burnett, Cuban’s Shark Tank producer.

In the end, the students left that offer on the table. Silicon Valley incubator 500 Startups invited them to head north and by the end of the summer, they had raised $500,000.

The company is currently in execution mode, growing its pilot program at USC and overseeing a staggered launch at another 10 universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Indiana University-Bloomington, Cornell, the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland-College Park.

And here’s the pitch …

EnvoyNow is a campus delivery service that employs college students who possess the IDs and credentials to access their campus after hours.

For example, USC closes its gates at 9 p.m. Students who want their pizzas or garlic knots delivered after that time must meet the delivery person at the gate.

“That defeats the whole point of delivery service,” said Zhang, who realized that as a student, he had access to points on campus no outside delivery person could ever get to, and he began to sense the business opportunity right in front of his face.

Students download the EnvoyNow app and for a $2.99 delivery fee (plus the cost of the food), can have their midnight meal delivered anywhere on campus, and by a fellow student.

Growth has been robust, Zhang said. “We’re growing 40 percent week after week.”

While the company’s bread and butter, so to speak, remains food delivery, it has branched out into consumer goods as well, partnering with local Target stores.

We aim to handle the last leg on your delivery journey.

Anthony Zhang

“Students can order anything they need from any Target online, and we will pick it up from a store around campus and make the delivery,” Zhang said. “We aim to handle the last leg on your delivery journey.”

It’s the old win-win

The simple idea, Zhang said, is a win for everyone.

“We hire students who get to work on their own campus and make a decent wage,” he said. “And the food companies we work with get in front of thousands of hungry students.”

EnvoyNow was listed in Inc. magazine’s list of coolest student startups in 2015.

Zhang credits the entrepreneurship classes he took with Mike Lee, senior lecturer in digital entrepreneurship, whose class in enterprise information systems draws a large number of USC Marshall School of Business students.

“He really connected the dots between our idea and the execution,” he said.

What’s it like being a successful startup while still in college?

Zhang and fellow team members Nick Wang, Gabe Quintela and Parker Seagren are working full time on the business while taking classes.

“For our parents’ sake,” he said with a laugh, “we are taking some classes.”

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