Of Course You Can Summon A Snow Plow With A Smartphone App

Image courtesy of (Chris WIlson)

People and journalists often compare new products and services to an existing company that does something similar. “It’s a StitchFix for umbrellas,” you might say about a new venture. “It’s like GrubHub, but for freshly-prepared cat meals. It’s Netflix for woodworking tutorials.” A few startups have launched a new business model that could actually work: they’re like Uber, but for snow plows and lawn care.

You may have heard about a big storm headed toward the Northeastern United States, which is why these ventures are suddenly receiving some attention. One of the plow-summoning startups, Plowz, did something brilliant. The area around Plowz headquarters in Syracuse, NY, is expected to get a normal amount of snow this week by local standards. However, a few hours to the east, New England has some frosty blizzard action, and more snow than they know what to deal with. The startup’s solution: recruit some local plow drivers to spend the week in Boston, clearing driveways and parking lots.

It makes sense that someone would want to simplify and streamline the process of hiring a plow service. Simply using the same one your neighbors do doesn’t work when you only need one-time service while you’re out of town or temporarily injured, and that’s where Plowz comes in. (It also has a sibling app, Mowz, for lawn-care services.)

Plowz aims to make money from people who only need one-time service and order plowing when they need it. The app constructs efficient routes for independent plow companies or solo drivers, and those contractors snap a photo of their work for the homeowner or renter to view. For this, Plowz gets a 30% cut.

Competitor PlowMe looks at the business differently: they know that plow and lawn services depend on weekly customers, not on one-time bailouts when there’s a big storm. They construct efficient routes and make collecting payments easier, but the idea is to turn yard and driveway care into an automated process, not to summon a plow like an Uber vehicle.

There may be room for both models in the snowy driveways of America, and there’s definitely an appeal to being able to check an app and find out when the plow is coming to dig you out.

Uber for Snowplows: Startups Dig Out of the Blizzard [Bloomberg Businessweek]