DIEGO ó Even in an era where no errand is too small to
outsource to a smartphone application, startup Purple,
which dispatches a stranger to fill up customersí gas
tanks, might smack as on-demand capitalism gone too far.
right. Itís now possible to push a button and get gas
ó no trip to the station required.
Los Angeles-based Purple, which expanded into San Diego
in October, folks in both cities can use the companyís
iPhone or Android app when theyíre short on fuel. A
Purple "courier," clad in a purple T-shirt,
will come to the customerís location in one to three
hours, depending on preference, locate the car, and
either add 10 or 15 gallons of gas (using portable gas
cans) to its tank.
customerís credit card is billed the going rate for
gas, as advertised in the application, with rates
comparable to what might be found at neighborhood
stations. A service charge is being waived for the time
being. The customerís only task is to make sure his
gas tank is accessible to Purpleís people.
so convenient. Iím always waiting to the last minute
to fill the gas tank," said Stephanie Aviv, 41, a
Los Angeles resident and Purple customer who has
abandoned the gas station altogether. "In my head,
itís such a waste of time to go to the gas
is the type of repeat customer Purple had in mind when
the company launched its on-demand gas app in Los
Angeles in May. Backed by an undisclosed millions of
dollars in seed financing (with some coming from Uber
co-founder Oscar Salazar), Purple has the lofty ambition
of upending the old-fashioned fuel business the same way
Uber disrupted the taxi market, using smartphone
technology to save consumers time and effort.
Americans filling up on more than 9 million barrels of
gasoline per day, according to the U.S. Energy
Information Administration, perhaps thereís a real
market for a new kind of full-service fill-up. Purple
isnít the only startup to think so. At least two other
apps, Filld and FuelMe, are delivering fuel on-demand in
says it has signed up "thousands" of users in
its first two markets, Los Angeles and San Diego, with a
bulk of its audience in the larger metro where it has
been operating the longest.
the number may sound humble, Purple sees 50 percent of
daily orders come from recurring clients, said
co-founder Bruno Uzzan. A sign, he said, that the
service is proving useful to its earliest adopters.
of us donít like to go to the gas station," Uzzan
said. "Our customers are saying they are losing
time. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to fuel a car, and they
wish they could spend the time on something else."
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gas is sticky subject for many consumers, some of whom
have no qualms rerouting their commutes to stop at the
most affordable stations in town. Plus, while Purple may
not be an upscale-only offering, the first-world problem
the app solves certainly invites at least a modicum of
mobile apps can really make our lives our easier, I
question how lazy weíre getting when we need to call
someone to fill up our gas tank," said Steven
Osinski, a professor of marketing and the chairman of
the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center at San Diego State
is a niche market for Purple, Osinski admitted, but the
appís long-term potential seems questionable. So, too,
is the fate of many highly specialized on-demand apps.
While Uber flourishes, and Google and Amazon battle to
speed up shipping to near-instantaneous speeds,
push-button consumerism hasnít always worked for every
for instance, which brought the car wash to customersí
car, had a moment in the sun in San Diego but shut down
in December 2012. And Homejoy, an app for ordering
house-cleaning services, closed its doors in July.
the proliferation of smartphones, the on-demand boom isnít
anticipated to bust, but some of the companies certainly
will. As Osinski put it, some specializations are so
niche they canít be sustained.
Purple can hang in for the long haul. Drivers can live
without a car wash or a housecleaning, but their cars
will always need gas. And itís never pleasant to take
a gas station detour when already behind schedule.
probably going to (use Purple) again because I was on E
when I got to work," said Lania Bettin, a
40-something senior companion who lives in Los Angeles.
"I live across the street from a gas station, but I
donít always have time to make the stop."