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Startup wants to deliver ... your gas

By PETER HOLLEY
The Washington Post

August 12. 2018 6:50PM
Edwin Andrade, a technician with Yoshi, pumps gas to a car in Washington on Aug. 2. Yoshi is an on-demand car maintenance service that delivers gas to customers. (ROBERT MILLER/WASHINGTON POST)



Like so many people juggling a career, a commute and unexpected day-to-day chores, Whitney Block’s life unfurls in a perpetual state of semi-controlled chaos.

The 30-year-old Redwood, Calif., resident works as a nurse practitioner, a demanding job that requires her to travel to three clinics, driving as long as an hour and a half some days to meet with patients.

To ensure that her weeks run smoothly, Block, an avid planner, has turned to technology, using AmazonFresh and Google Express to stock her fridge and order products ranging from toilet paper to electronics. She can’t remember the last time she pushed a shopping cart through a store.

Until a few months ago, there remained a single irritating chore that Block couldn’t seem to avoid: filling her car up with gas.

Her solution: a Silicon Valley startup that functions like a mobile gas station, using “field technicians” to fill up vehicles when they’re not being driven. The company, known as Yoshi, is part of a crop of gas-delivery startups billing themselves as “Uber for gasoline.” Yoshi members pay a $20 monthly subscription fee, plus the cost of gas, a deal that Block — who considers gas stations dirty and inconvenient — said she couldn’t resist.

“The more demanding my career has become, the more I’ve realized I don’t want my free time to be consumed by mundane tasks that I don’t want to be doing — and that includes going to the gas station to fill up,” she said.

“It’s not fun, it’s not stimulating and it’s not enjoyable,” she added. “If I can pay somebody to get it done for me, I will totally do that.”

For many drivers, a trip to the gas station is a forgettable inconvenience that occurs once or twice a week. But Yoshi is banking on the idea that there are millions of people like Block all over the country: urban professionals whose demanding schedules and disposable income make them ideal candidates for outsourcing a chore that has been a feature of car ownership since the inception of the automobile.

The company seeks to be more than a concierge service for the affluent, and it arrives at a time when companies such as Uber, Amazon.com, Whole Foods (now owned by Amazon) and Netflix are trying to capitalize on the appeal of convenience. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

In the past 12 months, the company has spread from three cities nationwide to 16, including Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles, picking up investments from superstar athletes Kevin Durant and Joe Montana along the way. They’ve recently added the Washington region to that list.

Yoshi, which competes with other gas-delivery startups on the West Coast, has to convince potential customers that the subscription is worthwhile, particularly in cities with ample public transit.

The company declined to say how many people use the service across the country.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of inexperienced startups lugging around tanks of flammable liquid, though Yoshi claims their fuel tanks — which are small enough to fit in the back of the company’s delivery fleet of Ford pickup trucks — conform to local laws and are certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Some of the (companies) are using 1,000-gallon tanks,” Greg Andersen, a division chief in the California state fire marshal’s office, told the Guardian newspaper. “If they’re going into the basement parking lot of a high-rise, that actually is a large concern.”

Yoshi field technicians deliver gas to parking garages and high-rise buildings when necessary. The company says its field techs are hazmat-certified and have not had a single spill in three years of operation.

The automotive industry has taken notice. The rise of ride-hailing and car-sharing is prompting a fundamental re-evaluation of vehicle ownership among consumers, experts say, a shift that is forcing auto companies to make concessions to their drivers. Some of those concessions — such as providing round-the-clock, concierge-style maintenance — look a lot like Yoshi.

“Convenience is becoming a lifestyle,” said Alistair Weaver, editor in chief at the automotive website Edmunds.com.


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