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Unpakt's platform business model offers a moving experience

Unpakt overcame an early chicken-and-egg challenge to create an online marketplace that let users view price quotes from multiple moving companies when planning a move.

Like root canal and a trip to the DMV, moving a household is one of life's sometimes necessary but typically unpleasant...

experiences. 

Unpakt, a New York company, provides an online tool for managing moves that aims to take the pain out of the task of finding a reputable moving company and obtaining price quote comparisons. The company's platform business model, which provides a marketplace for moving companies and people preparing for a move, has expanded rapidly since its launch in 2012. 

Initially, Unpakt worked with a half dozen movers in the New York City area. The company now reports a roster of more than 600 movers in cities across the U.S. including Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. 

"We are keeping the high growth rates and reaching new records this summer while always testing and optimizing," said Adam Doron, CEO at Unpakt.

Initial struggles

Growth didn't come easily, however. A platform business model often experiences a chicken-and-egg problem: Customers want plenty of options especially on an aggregation platform that involves price shopping, but a young platform may not offer many choices initially. Vendors, meanwhile, may encounter a limited number of customers during a platform's start-up stage when few product or service suppliers are there to attract buyers. 

Doron said the supply-side of Unpakt's platform business model was the first hurdle to clear.

"That was the biggest problem in the beginning -- moving companies didn't want to join," he said. "We fought to get the first few vendors." 

Part of the problem was the low-tech nature of many moving companies, some of which use "pen and paper" to manage their businesses, Doron noted. Overall, the real estate industry, in which moving is embedded, has been fairly slow to adopt technology

That situation has changed in recent years with the rise of online real estate marketplaces such as Zillow. The ascendancy of real estate tech seems set to continue. The Counselors of Real Estate (CRE), an organization for real estate professionals, identified the "technology boom" as among the top 10 issues affecting the industry in 2017-2018. 

"The tech start-up boom is revolutionizing real estate operations across the board," according to a CRE report

The report pegged the number off real estate tech startups worldwide at 1,600, citing MIT research. 

The availability of technology is one thing, but uptake can prove quite another. In Unpakt's case, sales and marketing overhead provided one business lever to convince moving companies to adopt 21st century technology. Doron said 20% to 30% of a moving company's costs are in sales and marketing, an estimate based on Unpakt's experience with member moving companies and their customer acquisition costs. 

Unpakt, he said, provides a moving company with "a way to sell and fill a truck without having a sales and marketing force." 

With the first few movers on board, attracting customers was an easier task. Doron said Unpakt's "guaranteed pricing and transparency" offered an edge on the buyers' side of the platform business model. Unpakt's website lets users enter their moving particulars -- move date, current location, destination and move size (the site includes an inventory list feature) -- to receive prices from multiple moving companies. 

Unpakt said it guarantees those prices based on the details of the customer's move plan. The company also said it verifies that participating moving companies are "experienced, licensed, reliable and insured."

Technology infrastructure

The Unpakt platform is hosted on Amazon Web Services and uses Braintree, a PayPal service, as its payment system. The Unpakt website was created using

AngularJS, a JavaScript framework for web application development. The use of AngularJS let Unpakt create a single-page application, an app that resides on a single HTML page. 

The single-page design is easier for users to navigate and boosts Unpakt's conversion funnel, the process of getting website visitors to book a move. 

"It allows us to provide an experience of staying on a single page as you go through the steps of our funnel," Doron said. "It proved to have a much higher conversion rate in addition to making our work easier when deploying tests and changes." 

Investments in the Unpakt platform tend to take place in the company's offseason. The company is now in the midst of peak moving season, which runs April to September. 

"Winter … is the time to catch up with operations," Doron said.

 

Next Steps

Learn about the objectives of a platform business model

Find out what a former IBM CEO has to say about the advantages of platform business models

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