MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- On the list of potential disruptive forces to the gasoline retail business, on-demand fueling ranks right alongside connected vehicles and car-sharing. Now one service provider is hoping to boost its growth trajectory by hitching on to these convergent trends.
With around 1 million gallons of regular- and premium-grade gasoline delivered since 2015, Filld was one of the first of a wave of on-demand fueling startups. The common model for these direct-to-consumer services: A customer orders a fill-up of regular or premium-grade gasoline through the Filld app, to be delivered whenever and wherever they want it. Over that time, Mountain View, Calif.-based Filld has amassed nearly 5,000 active users across the San Francisco peninsula, from the city to San Jose, Calif.
As Chris Aubuchon, Filld’s co-founder and chief technology officer, told CSP Fuels, 2017 will be transformational for the company as it grows its customer base, expands beyond its original market and plugs in to disruptive forces that are reshaping how consumers get around. Here are six ways that Filld is redefining its offer—and the fueling experience ...
1. Build efficiencies
Filld offers fueling to three core markets: direct to consumer at home, direct to consumer at work and direct to business. While some on-demand services such as Booster Fuels focus only on the direct-to-business market for its inherent efficiencies, Filld was committed to serving all.
“Our mission as a company is to liberate drivers from refueling. With that, we weren’t going to pick and choose,” said Aubuchon.
Initially, the Filld team expected its service would be most popular with Silicon Valley execs and soccer moms. And in fact, the first customers overwhelmingly drove SUVs and minivans. But today, the most common car models that Filld fills up include the Toyota Corolla and Camry and the Honda Civic and Accord. “As the distribution in our customer base has gotten larger, it has become a mirror of general consumers,” said Aubuchon.
Regardless of the type of car they drive, Filld recognized a need to build a certain density of these customers to help it achieve efficiencies—for example, being able fuel up a fleet near an individual consumer’s house. The process has taken time, but it is gaining traction.
“As our user base went up, we started to get these efficiencies effectively every day in some ZIP codes and every third day in others,” said Aubuchon.
2. Grow density
Delivery fees also play a role in building those efficiencies and density. Depending on the time of day and day of the week, Filld may charge anywhere from $8 to deliver a fill-up to nothing at all.
It levies the highest delivery charge on orders in a two-hour delivery window from 8-10 p.m. The most popular option is a seven-hour window between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m., with a delivery charge of $3. And depending on the ZIP code, it offers at least one night with no delivery charge.
“On certain nights of the week we find different locations have really low density,” said Aubuchon. To build density, Filld drops the delivery charge to $0. These are not necessarily new customers; instead, many are simply shifting from busier nights.
“Now we’ve evened out utilization across the night, so we don’t have spiky demand,” said Aubuchon. Over time, as its volumes grow and density increases, Filld hopes to shrink that variation in demand to no more than 5%.
“For us, we’re now recognizing flattening out utilization is really important,” he said. “We started with [serving] everyone—consumer and fleets. Creating efficiency for our drivers every night has been our goal.”
3. Price right
Even though it charges a delivery fee for most orders, Filld is still able to offer a fill-up for below the average price at gas stations in its markets, said Aubuchon.
While he declined to share details on how Filld secures supply, Aubuchon confirmed that it has at least four different sources to tap.
“What we do on any given day is based on pricing, supply availability, volume of need—we pick which one is most economic,” he said. This can include everything from going straight to the terminal to buying from a local, branded retailer, although Filld can offer the best prices the more it can “collapse the supply chain.”
4. Get connected
For a fueling company with tech roots, the next natural step in growing the customer base is interfacing with the connected car.
In 2016, Filld partnered with Bentley Motors and Volvo to help their drivers order fill-ups from their smartphone. Volvo drivers in the San Francisco area can place an order for a fill-up through the automaker’s Volvo Concierge app, which communicates directly with the Filld platform to determine the best time and route for the Filld driver to locate the car.
Bentley owners in the San Francisco and Silicon Valley areas, meanwhile, can order a fill-up on their smartphone through a Filld for Bentley app.
Both partnerships have the potential to bring new customers in the hundreds, not the thousands, said Aubuchon. But Filld sees these pilots as just the beginning of a wider rollout.
5. Diversify the mix
Filld is also plugging in to the car-sharing trend through its new partnership with car2go in the Northwest. The company is refueling car2go’s fleets of vehicles in Seattle; Vancouver, Canada; and Portland, Ore., so that the car-sharing service’s customers always have adequate fuel to take them where they need to go.
Car2go’s service is unique in that members find a vehicle—exclusively Mercedes-Benz models or Smart cars—through a smartphone app, and can drop it off anywhere within the coverage area. There is no set pickup or drop-off point.
“They are scattered, like seeds on the field,” said Aubuchon. “We efficiently fill up the vehicles so their businesses, consumers could walk up to a car that’s full and ready to go.”
6. Cross borders
This year should mark several new growth milestones for Filld.
It plans to announce two to four new partnerships with large, connected car manufacturers, expanding beyond the luxury market to include mass-market original equipment manufacturers.
Filld also is working on new partnerships to provide fueling for other car-sharing services.
And finally, the company plans to introduce its on-demand fueling services to two to four new markets, including some beyond its California home base, and outside of the United States. With its success in Vancouver, said Aubuchon, “we have an appetite for going international.”