Sun, Aug 13, 2017 - Page 15 News List

Start-ups deliver gasoline to busy US consumers

By Hailey Waller and Claire Ballentine  /  Bloomberg

For Dana Dwyer, an Oracle Corp employee and mom, a full tank of gasoline at the end of her workday is something she describes with just two words: “It’s happiness.”

Dwyer spends an hour each morning fighting through 32km of Bay Area traffic to get her child to school and herself to work.

At night, “making one more stop to the gas station is the last thing I want to do,” she said in a telephone interview.

That is music to the ears of Frank Mycroft, the chief executive officer of Booster Fuels Inc, and competitor Michael Buhr, the chief executive officer of Filld Inc, start-ups created to deliver gasoline to customers’ cars at work or home.

They face obstacles in the form of gas station mini-marts, community safety concerns and the rise of electric cars.

However, with time-constrained US consumers paying US$255 billion per year for car fuel, the two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs say they have room to grow and they are getting the financial backing to prove it.

“This is not just Uber for gas, this is reinventing the entire supply chain,” said Mycroft, whose Booster service is used by Dwyer through a contract with Oracle. “We cut out the middleman and deliver gas directly to consumers,” trimming costs by buying directly from oil companies.

Booster, which focuses on partnering with large companies, also fills up cars at Facebook Inc and PepsiCo Inc facilities.

Filld is more focused on reaching individual consumers, though it has companies such as Volvo Car Corp and Bentley Motors Ltd on board as corporate clients.

Both start-ups are based in Silicon Valley.

On Aug. 1, Booster announced it had secured US$20 million in financing, bringing its total to US$32 million.

Investors include Conversion Capital LLC, Stanford University’s StartX Fund, BADR Investments, US Venture Inc, Maveron, Madrona Venture Group, Version One Inc, Perot Jain LP and RRE Ventures, according to a statement.

While Filld has reported less than half that figure, spokeswoman Shateera Israel said the company will soon be announcing additional funding.

Its investors include PivotNorth Capital, Javelin Venture Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Lucas Venture Group.

The start-ups are vying for empty gas tanks at a time when Tesla Inc chief executive officer Elon Musk’s electric-powered Model 3s are just starting to hit the streets in high volumes, threatening to eliminate the use of gas altogether.

Musk predicts more than half of US auto production would be electric in 10 years, though others see the transition coming at a slower pace.

Executives at five of the 25 biggest suppliers to automakers in North America have all downplayed expectations for electric vehicle sales.

However, that is not the only issue facing the nascent industry, said Patrick DeHaan, a senior analyst at GasBuddy, a firm that monitors gasoline pricing.

“Profit margins are tight from gasoline,” he said by telephone. “That’s why convenient [sic] stores are taking aim at becoming more than just sellers of gas and becoming a grocery store replacement.”

Mycroft and Buhr, though, argue that gasoline station convenience stores are not always safe, and they are betting it will take years for the plug-ins to make a substantial dent, with 99 percent of all US cars running on gasoline last year.

In the meantime, both executives separately said they are preparing their companies in case gasoline does stop being the fuel of choice.

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