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THE STARTUP LINE: Filling a Need

Shawn Brannan saw an opportunity to start an affordable, same-day package delivery service that uses travelers already out on the road

Shawn Brannan is on a mission to make North Dakotans’ lives easier and more interesting through two smartphone apps he’s helped design. Those apps are called Pakkage and Talking Trail.

Brannan recently launched the beta version of the Pakkage app, a service that is like a ride-sharing app but for packages. “Sometimes you need to get a package to another city in the same day, but you don’t want to pay a lot of money to get it there, and that’s where Pakkage would come in,” Brannan says. “I also find myself driving on Interstate 94 frequently.”

The way Pakkage works is a person would drop off a package at a Pakkage drop-off site. Then, when a driver logs into the app and sees some packages need to be delivered to the same city he or she is driving to, they would stop at the drop-off site and pick up the packages. Once the driver arrives in the destination city, he or she would drop them off at that city’s drop-off site. The driver would get paid for each package he or she transports, and the sender would get same-day delivery for only $10.

In the beta trial of the app, cities available for pickup and drop off are Minot, Bismarck, Mandan and Dickinson.

Brannan says he created Pakkage because of his own experiences but also because he saw it as a need in North Dakota. “This is the kind of innovative thinking you see in Silicon Valley, but the type of travel they see isn’t what we experience here,” Brannan says. “Travel is ongoing here, so we’ll always have drivers for packages. Download the app and start making money for the driving you’re doing anyway.”

Before Brannan started working on Pakkage, he became involved with a website called Talking Trail, an idea of fellow entrepreneur Marlo Anderson. Brannan and Anderson are now preparing to launch the Talking Trail smartphone app, which will provide self-guided talking tours of tourist destinations throughout North Dakota. Several tours and stories are already available on the Talking Trail website. Once the mobile app is launched, users will be able to earn badges for each place they visit, and those badges will enter them into drawings for prizes from North Dakota tourist destinations.

“Talking Trail takes guests beyond a line or two on a sign and tells the whole story behind an exhibit or a location,” Brannan says.

While attending graduate school at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, Brannan received a grant from the Center for Innovation to create a language learning app. “During that process, I learned a lot and also realized I wouldn’t be able to launch the app as quickly as I thought I would,” he says. “But that experience kept me thinking creatively about my next app venture.”

While he’s an experienced entrepreneur, Brannan hasn’t worked on these projects alone. He’s worked with the Idea Center in Bismarck, which he calls “a phenomenal business incubator,” and Talking Trail went through the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Innovate ND program. “We have met so many great people as we’ve gone through this journey, and each one has been so helpful in pushing these projects along.”