Convenience stores are typically places people run into while gassing up or if they need a quick snack, but when the global pandemic hit and no one wanted to go indoors with others, some could not survive.
That was the case with Adit Gupta’s parents, who owned a convenience store in New Jersey that began struggling due to lack of business. Gupta and Tom Falzani, whom he met while at Drexel University, spent weeks trying to help the store survive by getting it on some delivery apps, but ultimately, Gupta’s parents had to close in mid-2020.
“People wouldn’t come into the store, but I couldn’t order from their store, so we got them on a delivery app or thought about making one for them,” Gupta said. “It was a harrowing experience to get 3,000 or 4,000 items online. After they closed down, we saw an opportunity with the over 150,000 convenience stores, which are really small fulfillment centers run by incredible entrepreneurs, but who don’t have technology to enable them to do delivery.”
Not wanting a similar fate to happen to other companies, they started Philadelphia-based Lula in late 2020 and have already helped hundreds of convenience stores, pharmacies and consumer packaged goods brands use its zero-commission tools to establish a second sales channel and hook themselves up with third-party delivery companies.
Knowing that stores like this often have just one or two employees, Lula works with customers to get thousands of their products into its database and then syndicates that across all of the major delivery companies, Falzani said. On the delivery side, it aggregates the data so that when orders come through any of the companies, it comes through one synchronous tool that Lula provides to the stores.
Gupta touts the tool as the “first multi-vendor 30-minute delivery platform” targeting stores that didn’t previously have the means to deliver online using third-party platforms.
“We wanted to build a business model that was not predatory to convenience stores and merchants, so that's why we only charge a monthly subscription, which most stores break-even on in their first couple days of the month,” he added.
Other companies, from Amazon (physical stores) to Tortoise and Cartken (delivery robots), are turning their attention to this retail sector, especially as convenience store delivery grows along with demand for food and grocery delivery. Between the first and last weeks of 2020, convenience store online spending grew 346%, according to a report by Edison Trends, a consumer insights analytics company.
Lula closed a $1 million pre-seed funding in 2021 to get its first dozen or so customers up-and-running and is now announcing $5.5 million in seed funding aimed at acquiring the next 2,000 customers as it expands into all 50 states this year.
The latest round was co-led by Ripple Ventures, Outlander VC and Up Partners. Joining them in the round were SOSV, Simple Capital, NZVC, Stonks.com, EasyPost, Park City Angels, Alumni Ventures, Broad Street Angels, Ben Franklin Technology Partners and a group of angel investors.
The company is growing its store count by over 30% month-over-month, is already in talks with large convenience store chains in both Europe and Mexico and is receiving organic inbound traffic from independent stores all over the U.S., Gupta said. As such, the funding will also be used on product development and to expand Lula’s headcount with sales and customer success teams.
Lula has 35 employees currently, and Gupta expects to ramp up its customer success team to over 50 people, ultimately ending with a team of 100 people by the end of the year.
“I’m excited to see Lula ramping up to make delivery services accessible to local businesses,” said Matt Cohen, managing partner of Ripple Ventures, in a written statement. “The pandemic has hit Main Street hard, and Lula is a great way for local merchants to access the rapidly growing delivery space. Adit and Tom have identified a huge opportunity and I’m extremely proud of Adit’s journey through Ripple X.”