Buy more time with the new Whence app, a mobile Columbus marketplace and delivery service

Photo courtesy Web Smith

Web Smith was enjoying a rare moment early one morning with his family.

They were all together-him, his wife, his two daughters-watching TV in bed.

But he needed to run some errands. Yard tools, charcoal and a few other items were on his shopping list. So the rare moment ended just a little too soon.

Smith asked himself: How would I fix this situation if I could control it with technology?

The 31-year-old entrepreneur, one of the co-founders of the online fashion retailer Mizzen+Main, found his answer in Whence, an iOS app he and three other co-founders are beta launching today, Oct 1.

Think of Whence as your mobile, hyperlocal marketplace. Smith and his team have partnered with Ladybird, Rowe,MilkBar, Tigertree, Lucky's Market, Thread on Grandview, Native Cold Pressed and Robert Mason Co. to create a shopping space you can scroll through, purchase items (between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.) and have delivered to you-in 90 minutes or less.

It's not free, of course-you have the option of a $5 or $10 monthly subscription. But that amount will be taken off of each delivery transaction, making delivery fees fall between $9 and $22 per purchase.

"Whether you live in German Village or you live in Pickerington, we can take care of you," Smith says.

They've been building a waitlist (at about 1,000 as of 3:30 p.m. yesterday) of customers eager to download the app. And they'll let about 200 do so on day one.

"We're starting small," he says. "We want to make sure every person that interacts with us has the experience of a lifetime."

How does it all work? We talked with Smith about the ins and outs of Whence and his vision for the app.

-Taylor Starek, @taylorstarek

On the origins of the idea…

Ironically enough, everyone that works for the company is close to 30 or over 30, and they're all married. We realized that the most expensive thing that we have right now is time. It's the thing that's the least available for us. It's one of those things that you try to solve through time management software or planning. When you use the Whence app, the most important thing that we're giving you is time to do what matters most. What could be done in that time if you didn't have to spend it on driving or shopping? That's what really matters to us. A lot of our motivation for doing this was to help people spend more time with their families.

Academically, I read this huge document from a venture capitalist a while back that talks about the village economy and how eventually our commerce is going to be more reminiscent of the time when you knew who butchered your meat or who produced your vegetables. That was something that really inspired me to iterate that through a digital medium, and that medium was served through iOS. So that's why we built the platform as an iOS app.

On how the app works…

The subscribers that have the app will be able to view our marketplace. On day one, we'll have nine or 10 vendor partners that we're working with. We hope to expand that to a hundred in the next few weeks. So we see October as our onboarding month. You'll be able to scroll through certain goods, and with the ease of a swipe, you'll be able to buy those goods and have them delivered to your door within an hour and a half.

There's another side to the app called The Concierge. You can say This is what I want. Can you find this? And we will find it. We will authorize payment, and deliver it to your house in under an hour and a half, whether it's something that's unlisted in the fashion realm or grocery or specialty foods or utility from Lowe's or Home Depot or Target, wherever. We can facilitate all of those things through the app without you ever having to talk to anyone. I think that's pretty special.

Photo courtesy Web Smith

On how it all gets done…

We have quite the team here. We're already a team of nine. I'm funding this operation myself, but I have three cofounders and a staff of five already. From the logistics side to facilitating the delivery, we have it all in house.

On plans for growth…

We're launching in Columbus, and our plan is to expand to five additional cities by the summer of 2018. We're looking at Cincinnati, where two of our co-founders live, Charleston, Nashville, Austin and Charlotte. Those cities are what I like to call mid-market major cities. They tend to be underrated, meaning if you don't live there, you don't think as highly of the city as you would if you had lived there. They're sort of hidden gems. One thing we're trying to duplicate in every single city is that village economy feel, where if the city is tightknit enough, if it's not big enough but growing fast, there are certain needs that the city has that we address. We believe that Columbus is very similar to that next round of cities in a lot of ways.

We have nine or 10 vendors. We have another seven in the works, but I haven't finished the legal for those yet. Native [Cold Pressed] will now be able to deliver for the first time. We built their ecommerce platform in house just to work with them. We're excited about that. We have a lot of our grounds covered, and we're going to spend the next 30 days onboarding the right partners to move forward.

On his vision for Whence…

My vision is to have 20,000 subscribers in the city. I honestly cannot imagine more than that. But if we do, awesome for us. My vision for vendors is to have the best that the city has to offer, whether that number be 30 vendors, 50 or 100. We chose this group of vendors to start with because I have great relationships with them, and I feel like they represent the city really well. Those are the types of companies we want to work with. The sky's the limit for us. I'm not building this app and this software company to be a mom-and-pop shop. I'm building this to be the solution that other cities try to duplicate, whether it's with us or without us.