The gas station is an institution that has remained largely unchanged and unchallenged for the past 50 years, but if Bruno Uzzan gets his way, it will eventually become a thing of the past.
Purple, Uzzan’s new mobile app which is available on iOS and Android, lets you order gas straight to your location — if you are in its pilot city of Los Angeles. Right now, the app functions on demand, with options to deliver to you in one hour or three hours. This functionality has gained Purple 15,000 users since its launch in May, and the support of early investors like Oscar Salazar, veteran of Uber and Ride.
But in a few weeks, Purple will roll out what feels like its most attractive and natural option: overnight filling. Simply tell Purple where your car is parked, go to bed, and wake up the next day with your tank filled.
“Convenience is the first motivation,” Uzzan says, though he realises that for some the annoyance of going to the gas station might not outweigh the added cost of delivery.
But the pricing is competitive. In Los Angeles, Purple charges $US3.79 per gallon for octane 87 and $US3.99 per gallon for octane 91. For reference, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the Los Angeles area is $US3.56, according to The Los Angeles Times.
To allow Purple to fill you car, you pick from two options: either 10 gallons or 15 gallons. Uzzan says that due to regulations on measuring gas, for now Purple’s couriers are only allowed to fill your tanks in round numbers. Uzzan does promise that Purple will eventually offer a five-gallon option. Once you’ve chosen, you leave your gas tank door unlocked (or open), and Purple comes over to fill it.
Uzzan says the early adopters of his service have mostly been those with luxury cars — around 80% — in the wealthy neighbourhoods of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood.
Now he wants to expand outside of that market, and up the coast to the San Francisco Bay Area.
To facilitate this expansion, Purple recently closed a small seed round, with backers like the aforementioned Oscar Salazar. And like Uber with a long bet on self-driving cars, Salazar and Uzzan are thinking one step ahead with Purple.
“Cars are more and more connected, and there is the vision that one day you won’t have to go to the gas station, or even order Purple. The car itself will automatically order gas. All the technical aspects are there,” Uzzan insists. It’s just a matter of putting everything together.
And Uzzan doesn’t just want to stop with gas. He thinks of Purple as an on-demand energy company, and has been brainstorming how the company could give a boost to electric cars, which would be especially useful in places where there’s not a good charging infrastructure.
But for now, Uzzan’s focus is on capturing a piece of the gas market. “40 million people stop into a gas station every day,” he explains. “Even if we have only 0.1% of them, that would be 40 thousand users per day.”
Purple isn’t the first gas-filling startup to market. Filld, based in Palo Alto, also lets you hail tanks of gas like an Uber from your smart phone. And vale parking startup Luxe has mulled the idea of filling gas for its users too.
The market is huge, and the gas station is certainly not the ideal consumer experience. But the question is whether Purple can create a better one, and whether it can continue to keep its (almost certainly subsidized) rates low if its funding begins to run dry.
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