October 31, 2012
BufferBox: Frustration fuels innovation to found a company
An idea sparked by a missed parcel delivery fuelled an award-winning fourth-year engineering project that grew into a successful business. BufferBox, a consumer-friendly delivery system, is popping up in locations across Ontario.
On a co-op placement in California, Mike McCauley came home one day to find that he had missed a parcel because he couldn’t be around when it was delivered.
“The more we heard about this problem, the more we saw an opportunity to solve it,’' says Aditya Bali, who with University of Waterloo classmates McCauley and Jay Shah founded BufferBox, a more consumer-friendly delivery system.
Two years and many sleepless nights later, the founders have turned an award-winning, fourth-year engineering project into a business. Green BufferBox pick-up stations with multiple compartments landed last month at select GO Transit stations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), after being awarded a contract with transit agency, Metrolinx.
There is a BufferBox in University of Waterloo’s Student Life Centre and another in the former Lang Tannery building in Kitchener, where BufferBox has staked out a few desks in the university’s frontier town of young innovators known as the VeloCity Garage. BufferBoxes are also located in other spots around the GTA.
An online shopper registers with bufferbox.com or uw.bufferbox.com for University of Waterloo students, shops online as usual, and submits the BufferBox shipping address on the checkout page. They receive an automatic email with a code when the parcel arrives.
The customer goes to the BufferBox and types their code on a keypad to retrieve their shipment. The goal, Bali says, is to get online retailers to add BufferBox as a delivery option on check-out.
The name BufferBox popped up at 4 a.m. during last-minute brainstorming to polish a 60-page business plan the students entered in the Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Competition. The service, says Bali, is a buffer between the parcel and the customer.
Founders McCauley, Shah and Bali launched the business on Waterloo’s main campus a year ago, hand-delivering parcels for students because their BufferBox didn’t arrive from manufacturing in time.
Now they show up to talk to students about the thrills of starting a business.
“We don’t try to mask it,” Bali says. “We give them the truth: You work your butt off 24 hours a day for a year. But solving problems is really rewarding.”