You might get to actually save money while you’re traveling if you just leave some free space in your bag — or not pay for that travel at all — if Daria Rebenok’s plan plays out.
As avid travelers, and ones longing for products from home they can’t get abroad, she and Artem Fedyaev decided to start Grabr to work on exactly this problem. While you might not be able to get those products you’d find everywhere on shelves in a foreign country on Amazon, or anywhere else online for whatever reason, there are people traveling to and from those countries all the time. Grabr serves to connect those travelers that have a few square inches or feet in their bags, tasking them with bringing back those products abroad for a fee. Grabr today said it has raised a new $8 million financing round led by Foundation Capital, as well as some additional investors we’ll add at the bottom.
“Before we moved to San Francisco we used to live in Spain, and we were missing some Spanish goods,” Rebenok said. “As silly as it, sounds we went online on Amazon to find it. We couldn’t even find it in San Francisco, where you can literally get anything you want. There were no convenient ways to get it, and no shipping options. But in Spain it’s as simple as going into a grocery store. We thought, someone should have done this, there are so many internationals, but there was nothing out there.”
Think of it like a kind of global connective tissue for travelers and shoppers inspired by a product like Postmates. Here’s a potential example, if the story plays out as Rebenok hopes: there’s a bespoke clothing store in, say, Florence, Italy, and they don’t have their products online. But you know your measurements, and you know that you want something from there, and it’s going to be a nightmare to ship it. Instead, you could pay someone through Grabr who’s already headed to Florence to swing by and pick it up on the way to the airport, who will then take it through customs and then get it on its way to you.
“We assumed that everything would fit in the suitcase,” Rebenok said. “But we’ve had people delivering bicycles and skis and checking additional luggage, and people were spending such a big price it made sense. People think, the first time they hear about Grabr, most likely they think we are bringing iPhones abroad. That’s not the case, we’re serving peoples’ needs for not being able to shop on Amazon because there’s no convenient logistics method.”
The service probably isn’t quite there yet, and it’ll require some guardrails in order to ensure the quality. But for now it’s working to ensure that the payments go through proper local transaction providers and the end-user is just seeing a value transfer in U.S. dollars and keeping the whole process as simple as possible. Picking up just a couple of pieces of local food or candy from the grocery store is easy enough, and can dramatically lower the barrier to getting products from one country to the other. Grabr walks each user through the policies in customs, as well as ensures any additional customs fees are baked into the cost of the product. But part of the biggest challenges, Rebenok said, was ensuring they figure out and load in all the local transaction methods.
Given the opportunity here — and the kind of longing that international residents will probably always feel for goods from home — there is likely going to be quite a bit of competition. There are services like Backpack and PiggyBee, though part of the equation will also be figuring out how to build the most seamless platform that correctly figures out how to lower the barrier to entry for both consumers and travelers. As Grabr gets more information about what its consumers want, it might just be able to do that.
And Rebenok and her husband are avid points hackers — people that work to optimize airline, hotel and credit cards rewards in order to get the best, cheapest travel options. Rebenok said that this is yet another way for those avid travelers who are points hackers to do it even more by offering the ability for them to get paid for that spare space while still accruing miles and points off their own cards. And it would make sense to even start working with those awards programs too, she said.
“We have definitely been thinking about this from day one,” she said. “Our biggest dream is, you’re checking out from a website like Expedia, and instead of your trip costs $1000, it’s $0 to bring your suitcases and pring products home with you. Instead of paying $1000 to go to Paris, you can grab 2 items and pay $200 to go there. That’s what me and my husband have been doing some time, we’ve been bringing products with Grabr, buying on our credit card, and also getting miles for free.”