The Gig Economy's Latest Twist: Picking Up Other People's Food While Getting Your Own

I meet a man outside my dorm at 11:30 p.m. on a weeknight. We’ve arranged this meeting, but we don’t know each other; I’ve asked him to bring me something I couldn’t get myself. Wearing a dark hoodie with no apparent branding, he hands me a bag as we discuss the transaction before ultimately parting. I walk inside, get up to my friend’s room, and peer into the bag to see what I’d been craving: a burger, some fries, and an order of chicken nuggets from our local Wendy’s.

My order didn’t come from an all-new Wendy’s delivery service, but from JoyRun, an app that, through the power of crowdsourcing, puts new delivery opportunities right at your fingertips.

The primary idea behind JoyRun, which launched in late March, is what instantly differentiates it from competitors like GrubHub and UberEats—instead of partnering with local businesses to open up delivery, it facilitates transactions between community members looking to order food and make extra money.

Here’s how it worked for me: when I opened the app—which is available on both iOS and Android—I saw that a “runner” was going to Wendy’s and was taking orders. In the app, I chose what I wanted to eat from a menu, selected a payment method, entered my location, and placed my order. When the runner was ready to deliver, he messaged me in the app, we met up, and he provided me with my food.

What’s fascinating about JoyRun, though, is that it enables anyone—students, community members, business professionals—to make money by taking runs; to get started, there’s no age limit or application process. Any trip to Taco Bell, for example, could be a semi-lucrative opportunity if enough people choose to jump on the order and pay the runner the small delivery fee. More deliveries means more cash, turning a routine trip to the local grease shack into beer money for the weekends.

The Uber-esque approach that JoyRun adopts comes with the typical how-much-do-I-trust-this-person drawbacks, as well with a myriad of other logistical nightmares: payment issues surrounding linking debit/credit cards in the app and paying runners before you receive your food, poor communication from the runners, or a mistake with the order. Many solutions to these issues revolve around contacting JoyRun support, which inevitably puts two stories against each other.

JoyRun likely knows this, which may contribute to its slow rollout across the United States. Although the company claims that its spread is “coast-to-coast,” much of its business is done around college campuses like mine at Ball State University, allowing it to test the process on tech-savvy and hungry millennials. Expanding further into bigger areas will be critical to gauge if JoyRun can remain viable in markets where restaurants don’t require a 15 minute drive to pick up food.

But for now, JoyRun is a targeted, convenience-based operation that can provide new food options to twenty-somethings who are sick of delivery pizza and the same sandwich every couple of nights. And as an app and platform, it has promise—not only as a way to deliver your pancakes from a local favorite, but also to create a more efficient, better way to order food.