When Alli, a University of California-Davis student who prefers to be known only by her first name, first got to school, she assumed she would eventually get a retail job like the one she had previously held at a Hollister. Instead, a fellow student alerted her to the existence of a delivery app called JoyRun through which she could earn money delivering food to other people on campus.
A year later, Alli had made over $10,000.
To earn that money, she set her own schedule, working three or four hours a day, four or five days a week, without having to answer to a boss and often in the company of her boyfriend, who can accompany her on trips. And she's thrilled.
"I love it," she tells CNBC. "I always feel like I have money and I always feel like I can take care of my responsibilities."
Her income goes towards immediate needs, such as textbooks, supplies and car insurance, as well as towards the future in the form of savings. She's even able to pay down her student loans. "It's really great," she says. "I'm able to pay for everything and I have extra money to, like, go on little trips with my friends."
Alli prefers making deliveries using JoyRun over working for a more well-established gig economy companies like Uber, Lyft or Task Rabbit because she's interacting with members of her own community. The people who order food through the app are almost all affiliated with her school. "Occasionally we get faculty members of UC Davis or people from all over. But it's mostly students and that's really nice," she says.
"I'm not just doing a job for people I don't know; I'm doing a job for people I see every day."
That's exactly the reaction co-founders Manish Rathi and Shama Pagarkar were hoping for when they took what Rathi calls "the Facebook approach to launch" and debuted their peer-to-peer app on select college campuses.
Rathi, who is also the company's CEO, tells CNBC that the community aspect is central to JoyRun's appeal: "Any member of the community can deliver to their colleagues, dorm-mates and neighbors."
"Students earned $100,000 last month across our pilot campuses," Rathi says, and the company is "doing about 10,000 orders/week. A couple weeks ago [in March], we made JoyRun available to be unlocked at college campuses nationwide, 24/7, 365 days a year."
The co-founders have raised $10 million so far. Though Rathi declines to share revenue figures, he points to excellent growth and expresses optimism about the company's future. In short, JoyRun is going to graduate from college. Expanding outward from universities, "we plan to expand to office parks and neighborhoods and make [the app] a part of everyday life across the country," he says.
The expansion might dilute some of its "by friends, for friends" appeal, and yet it feels inevitable, given the amount of VC money invested in this idea. Still, Rathi is confident the app will retain its competitive advantage. "JoyRun is crowd-sourced by those in your area, which makes the experience much more personal, affordable and rewarding" than other existing services, he says.
The trick will be to scale while keeping its users as happy as Alli is, driving around to pick up burritos and groceries for the people in her dorm. "I've had nothing but positive experiences," she says. "I didn't expect it to be so easy."