MIAMI -- Four years after launching in Miami, on-demand fueling company Neighborhood Fuel still sees its original inspiration as the path to success.
Founder Jorge Camaraza was inspired by the fueling service that filled up his boat—for the same price or less than the gas station at his local marina. “That was kind of the seed and thought for Neighborhood Fuel,” he told CSP Fuels. “How many boats are there in South Florida? One hundred thousand boats. How many cars? 6.5 million cars. ... Why hasn’t this been applied this way?”
The answer, he believes, was the intersecting evolutionary paths of consumer behavior and mobile technology. Similar to the way other on-demand fueling services work, customers order and pay for fuel and indicate the location of their vehicle through the Neighborhood Fuel app.
“The technology piece of this is what enables this to work, and also the behavior of the consumer, the timing of shift,” Camaraza said. “We want service. We want time in our pocket. We don’t want to do chores.”
Neighborhood Fuel services fleets and consumers with a model that aims to take advantage of scale to reduce its own costs. For fleets such as rental-car companies, the sell is control: Neighborhood Fuel provides reporting of fuel usage, and it avoids the potential abuses that can come from handing out fleet cards to employees.
It also serves consumers in what Camaraza called a “b2b2c play": partnering with companies to bring its fueling services onto their office lots, which they in turn offer as a perk to their employees. The corporate customer provides access to its property and marketing support. The employees order and pay for their own fuel—87 octane regular and 93 octane premium—through Neighborhood Fuel’s mobile app. Customers in South Florida include cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival, and hospitals such as University of Miami Health and Mount Sinai.
Unlike some fueling services, Neighborhood Fuel does not charge a delivery fee. Camaraza says it can do so thanks to the density it has built up in its markets. “We’re partnering with properties that have anywhere from 250 cars to 5,000 cars. By going to locations to service that have a mass density of cars, we’re able to do away with the delivery fees and let customers get service and the value.” And back to that original inspiration, the service also fuels up boats at the marina with ethanol-free REC-90 gasoline.
Meanwhile, Neighborhood Fuel claims to price around the market average, thanks to its supply setup direct from the terminal.
The world of on-demand fueling startups is a tough one; several have launched over the past few years, only to fall quiet after months of trying to make the model work.
“There’s a few different types of profiles of people in this space, or trying to be in this space,” said Camaraza. “There are the ‘Here to stay forever and ever, committed, mind body and soul’—that’s my category. The other is: ‘I’m a startup, I want someone to buy my company for $1 trillion, and I’m going to start this company because I think it’s a cute little Silicon Valley play.’
“This is a business you have to go into knowing it’s complicated, it’s highly regulated,” he continued. “Anyone can have one truck and deliver fuel. But when talking about building a business at scale, doing it in this space, you better be prepared to see it through.”
Neighborhood Fuel is expanding its service area in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and it plans to grow throughout Florida, fueled by a $2 million Series A round of financing. And it has national ambitions; Camaraza believes the model could work in any city in the United States. Even alternative fuels and electric-vehicle charging could be in its future.
“I see this company as an efficient supply chain for energy, not a gasoline company,” Camaraza said. “As we evolve, as different technologies prevail, we hope to be the link between the need and the supply.”