Recently we had our first coverage in the news. Packmule was the second company featured in a series called Czech Startups on Hospodárske Noviny, a Czech newspaper with a focus on business and technology. As you can imagine the whole article was written in Czech, and because no one in my family and very few of my friends actually speak Czech, I have decided to translate the article to English in this blog post.
I took the liberty of adjusting a few sentences so the article would be more readable in the English language. I hope Petr Lukac, the author, will forgive me for some editing but I attempted to keep the article as true to the original as I could:
The Packmule project lets people make money while traveling.
The project was inspired by the frustration of foreigners living abroad, says Sam Stone, an Australian living in the Czech Republic, and one of the co-founders of the internet site called Packmule. Together with Brazilian, Alexander F. Lieders, they established the ambitious company in the small Czech town of Cesky Krumlov.
“If you live abroad, your family is constantly sending you stuff from home but it is extremely complicated,” explains Stone. “My relatives sent me a wedding present and we had to pay US $100 just on paperwork to get it here from Prague. We also had problems when my uncle sent three children’s books to my kids for Christmas,” he says.
Together with Jiri Blaha, a Czech developer, they started the complex project for travelers. If the user is going somewhere, he simply enters his traveling destination and dates into the system. On the other hand, the user can enter an item he wants from abroad with the price he is willing to pay for the delivery. The system then connects the two.
“The impact of our project has been broader than we had initially envisioned. Now, a person traveling, can make money while on the road without having to write for a travel guide, or be able to take incredible photographs and sell them,” says Stone.
The current version of the site is free but they are planning a paid version with more tools and security options.
According to Lieders, Packmule has another advantage. “One section of the site enables users to discover cool items from all over the world, which they never thought they could get,” he says. “For example, growing up in Brazil, I always loved palmitos (hearts of palm). But in the Czech Republic, they are impossible to find, no one really knows what they are. You can get wine from South Africa, cigarettes from Indonesia or electronics that would cost you way more over here or might not even be available for sale,” he concludes.
Stone, Lieders and Blaha started working on the project in the Spring of last year.
In June they had to hire another web developer, the student Martin Patera, from Prague. They have invested US $10,000 in the project so far.
“We have even outsourced some things,” smiles Stone. The Packmule logo was created by a Filipino designer who won a competition they had started on the site 99 Designs. The translation of Packmule is done by a tool from the site OneSky.
“Last week we launched the beta version of the site in English, Portuguese and Czech,” says Lieders. The next language they are targeting is Spanish. “Our business is not a local business, it needs to be global. We would love to have something similar to Airbnb.” He compares Packmule with the global company Airbnb, where people rent out their homes to strangers. Spanish is important for Packmule because of the potential market between Latin American countries and the United States.
The founders know that the biggest challenge for the system will be the trust and safety of its users. “This is a problem that many other sites, similar to Packmule had to deal with. From eBay to Couchsurfing, which allows you to invite complete strangers to spend the night in your home,” says Stone. According to him they make sure to warn and advise users about their safety and to offer tools that will help on the decision making process.
One of these is the ability of a buyer to rate and comment on a deal with a traveler and vice versa. They also require users to verify their phone number, email and offer the ability to link profiles to their Facebook account. “We are also working on a feature that would allow users to verify their credit cards, PayPal or bank accounts,” asserts Stone.
Ultimately the public will have the last word. “We know that problems will arrive in the future. We are trying to limit the risks. Common sense is something that is always necessary to have. If you bring a heavy Buddha statue from Thailand to someone you don’t know, and who has no information on their profile, you are not being very sensible,” he adds with a smile.
A second problem could be import tax. “We are obviously not trying to get our users in trouble. But as we said before, we want to be a global company. And the import tax in each country is different. The EU has recently dropped their limit to €22 EUR. In Australia it is around AU $1,000, and a Brazilian living abroad can bring up to US $3,000 worth of goods into Brazil without paying taxes,” concludes Lieders.