As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura A. Borland President & Co-Founder of Vyllage.
Laura was born and raised in Jamaica, West Indies and is a naturalized US citizen. Her tenure as President began with the company’s founding in May 2015. She holds an MBA from Florida International University. Laura has technical certiﬁcations in Agile Project Management Methodology as a Certiﬁed Scrum Product Owner and Certiﬁed Advance Scrum Master. She also has experience in Operations Management as it relates to logistics and capacity planning and is wholly committed to process improvement due to her training as a Quality Engineer
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Three years ago, Sean (vice president and co-founder) and I are getting ready for work. We were watching yet another news story where there was video footage of someone’s package being stolen from their patio. I said to Sean that it would be great if we had a neighbor who would be willing to accept our packages for us so we would not have to worry about it. Sean responded that we would abuse the neighborly relationship due to the sheer number of packages we receive. I agreed but then raised this question, “What if we could monetize it?” And from that conversation, Vyllage came to be.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When we initially thought of the idea of Vyllage, we wanted to utilize and get the app up and running within weeks for fear that a larger entity would beat us to market. We contacted app developers overseas because they were available for 80% less than onshore developers. We were promised an end-to-end completion of the app within eight weeks.
Well, after eight weeks: no apps. After a year, still no app. Every completion date was wrought with excuses on why it couldn’t be delivered. When the app was finally completed 18 months later, we had a bug-filled platform, and we felt like we had been duped. We eventually had to bring it onshore and build from scratch.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
Vyllage is a nationwide network of package receivers, affectionately called Vyllagers, who make money ($3-$5 per package) by allowing their neighbors to use their home address as the shipping or delivery address for purchases made online or by phone.
Vyllage is not a job. It is a turnkey business: a micro-franchise where Vyllagers get to name the location, set the hours of operation, and determine how much space to dedicate in their home to their business. Vyllagers also simultaneously act as the neighborhood watch for all deliveries in their communities.
How do you think this will change the world?
Vyllage allows people anywhere in the world to leverage their homes as package receiving locations. It will stop package theft and missed deliveries and provide a low barrier of entry ($15 background check) to operate a micro-franchise business. This will inevitably help lift many Vyllagers out of poverty and play a vital role in carbon footprint reduction of delivery companies. This gig is going to increase the livelihood of many families across the globe.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?
One potential drawback is rogue Vyllagers who fail to live up to their end of the business, which is to be home during the day to sign for and receive packages. This will put the customer in a precarious position, and defeat the purpose of using a Vyllage location.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
Yes, indeed, there was a tipping point, and it happened to Sean, our Vice President, and Co-Founder.
Sean needed his car repaired and required a $4 part for it to be fixed. However, it was coming from Japan, and the intended delivery date was during the work week. He took the day off and stepped out for about half an hour to run an errand. The first delivery attempt occured when he was out, and a note was left on the door requiring signatures.
Sean called the logistics company, who told him that he could go to the depot after 6pm. He did, but the driver had not returned, and was unable to give him his package. So, Sean ended up taking another day off work just to get this $4 car part.
He eventually got it, but how much time, money, and productivity did he lose waiting for this delivery? He would have been better served by having someone who is already home to receive it on his behalf.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
We need more exposure to have widespread adoption of this service. The idea is to have a Vyllager in each of the 43,000 ZIP Codes in the United States.
Vyllagers are a critical component to helping us gain exposure. Vyllagers can utilize the marketing tools provided in the app to spread awareness via social and email contact, and canvas neighborhoods through face to face connections. Our customers can share experiences through Vyllager ratings and social media commentary. Finally, retailers can add Vyllage as an alternative shipping option to increase familiarity with our service.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
I wish someone had told me before I got started:
- Very few apps are built and delivered by the promised date: As I alluded to earlier, we initially used an offshore company to develop the app, with an original 2-month turnaround which turned into 18 months with an unusable product. When we brought it onshore, we had the same promise, but it was delivered 12 months later instead. The submissions to Google Play and the App Store added to the time to market, as the apps were rejected many times for minor issues and added to the delays.
- It takes a long time to secure intellectual property: My top challenge was securing the intellectual property without an attorney. Vyllage and Vyllager are both trademarked, and the process took almost two years to be granted due to my ignorance of the law and the specific nomenclature required to make a successful first submission. My applications were rejected multiple times for what seemed like minor issues (such as a photographic sample proof of use deemed inadequate) How did I overcome this obstacle? I trudged through by making changes every time and not procrastinating with it. Each day waiting for the trademarks to be granted represented one more day where the applications could be challenged. I was a bawling fool when I finally received those trademarks in the mail.
- The difficulty in raising capital for software development: We attended so many SBA seminars on how to procure and gain access to capital, only to be rejected every time because lenders and investors don’t want to invest in software ideas, but will invest in running, viable apps with a track record of revenue. Here is the conundrum: we needed investors to bring the app to market, and after we bootstrapped to create a functioning app, do we still need the capital then?
- You have to keep your idea close to your chest when bootstrapping: we participated in many trade shows and pitch competitions. However, it was unnerving to see someone we met at one of the events show up on a famous pitch show with a poor knockoff of our idea months later. They are now out of business.
- Starting a business is expensive and time-consuming: When we look back on the three years we spent building the app, securing our intellectual property, advertising, and promoting all while working full-time and without investors, we realized how much money and lack of sleep we have invested in our Vyllage dream. It was worth every night and weekend sacrificed.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
There are two things I believe one can do to future-proof their career:
- Pay attention to the evolving marketplace and recognize its trajectory: we have seen the attrition and closure of brick-and-mortar retail giants (Toys R Us, Sears) because they missed the opportunity to rebrand into e-commerce platforms. They failed to transition from the anchor storefront model to distribution centers to preserve their brand loyalty during the rise of Amazon.
- Adapt accordingly and frequently: the way we work has changed significantly during the last five years, and it will change drastically within the next five years as well. Think about it. The gig contractor model is now a standard way to earn (Uber, Airbnb). Self-checkout at retailers are now reducing the number of cashier jobs, and virtual employment is on the rise, which changes the office environment to your home. One has to pivot and be prepared to make these changes.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
I work on two main governing principles in the way I aspire to live:
- Operate with integrity: when making a decision, I ask myself “Is this the right thing to do? Is this something that runs counter to my core beliefs? Am I acting from a place of love, candor, and honesty?”
- Uplift collectively: How wide can my arms spread to ensure that as many as possible benefit? I believe in macro opportunities instead of a very niche, individual pursuits. It comes from my days as a teacher. Hence, the name Vyllage.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
Forty-five million packages are delivered every day in the United States with about 70% of them delivered when no one is home to receive them, leaving important purchases susceptible to weather damage and worse, theft. We have created an app that is a solution to this pervasive problem as e-commerce increases globally.
Vyllage is a nationwide network of package receivers, affectionately called Vyllagers, who make money ($3-$5 per package) by allowing their neighbors to use their home address as the shipping or delivery address for their purchases made online or by phone. Vyllage is not a job. It is a turnkey business: a micro-franchise where Vyllagers get to name their location set their hours of operation, and determine how much space do you want to dedicate in their home to their business.
The only requirements are:
1. Vyllagers must own their home
2. Vyllagers must be home during the day when 70% of packages are delivered
3. Vyllagers must pass a background check
The beauty of Vyllage is twofold. First, people who are home during the day (retirees, wounded veterans, persons with disabilities, stay at home parents or caregivers) have a way to increase their households’ earnings. Second, by using Vyllagers to receive purchases and deliveries, it takes away the angst and nervousness of wondering if the thing that you ordered will be there when you get home: So, join Vyllage as we provide the missing piece for seamless logistics.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
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About the Author:
Christina D. Warner is a healthcare marketer at Walgreens Boots Alliance. She is a Duke Business School alumnus, and has innovated commercially for Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, Veniti (now Boston Scientific) and Goldman Sachs. Christina is a regular columnist for Authority Magazine and Thrive Global and and has been quoted in many national publications. You can download her free ‘How To Get Into the C-Suite and More: top secrets from CEO’s, political figures, and best-selling authors. Connect with Christina at LinkedIn or Twitter