The team at Alto, an elevated rideshare service based in Dallas, began preparing for the effects of COVID-19 in late February, buying additional cleaning supplies and disinfecting equipment to ensure their fleet of Buick Enclaves was as safe as possible.
The weekend of St. Patrick’s Day, the company actually saw a surge in customers, with riders likely preferring Alto’s emphasis on consistency and cleanliness to the uncertainty of Uber or Lyft. However, on Sunday, March 15, the drop in the demand was dramatic. “We woke up on Monday and it was even worse,” says Alto CEO Will Coleman.
That was the last day the Alto team would meet in the office, but they made the most of it. “We knew we needed to find a way to serve customers while they’re staying at home. So that was the decision,” Coleman says. “The next 10 or 15 days were a fury of building new products from the ground up. We needed to find out what customers want, how can we get it to them, and how we can we partner with restaurants, which we hadn’t done before. We just really started trying things.”
They started calling local restaurants, particularly high-end and local businesses that didn’t have existing delivery partnerships in place. As word began to spread about the company’s plan, businesses began coming to Alto.
One of Alto’s most popular new products is “Lunch, Please,” a daily on-demand meal delivery from local restaurants. It’s the perfect example of a whim that worked. The Alto team had ordered 25 sandwiches from Empire Bakery.
“We thought if we sold all 25 it would be a huge success. We sold out in three and a half minutes,” Colemans recalls. The CEO drove to the Inwood Village bakery himself, essentially buying out their entire stock for that day. “That was a Friday, so we said, okay, what are we going to do between now and Monday that can make this more sustainable for us and make it work for our customers? So we built the current site that you see now.”
When Rosewood Ranches, a cattle ranch in Ennis that normally sells to restaurants, reached out to Alto to find a way to sell to consumers, “The Market” was added to the site. Soon, Dallas customers could go online to order fresh produce bundles from the Dallas Farmers Market, dinner boxes from Commissary, quarantine survival kits from Whiskey Cake, and wine bundles from Feed Me Pronto, with more local goods added seemingly every day. (Today, for example, you can order a margarita pack from Mesero.)
“We’ve built more and tried more things in the last 30 days than throughout the entire history of the company,” Coleman says. “It’s been the single most stressful and single most exciting period of my professional career.”
Spreading the Love to Fort Worth
Alto’s goal had always been to launch in Fort Worth one day (and, eventually, more Texas cities), though the expansion didn’t go exactly how Coleman envisioned it.
“This was another whim. We just saw such a unique opportunity to offer our service to more North Texans, so this Monday, we decided to take this show on the road,” he says. “We launched Wednesday, and we’re already seeing pretty significant demand. I just got off the phone with several Fort Worth restaurants that are interested — we hope to bring them onto the platform in the next couple days.”
The Rideshare Company’s Future
Though it’s difficult to envision exactly what the world will look like when we can resume our pre-coronavirus routines, it’s safe to say that cleanliness, something Alto has ensured from the company’s beginnings, will be a priority.
“It’s our current view of the world that people’s behavior is going to shift for quite a while. We think that rides will return in July and August as we get through the stay-at-home orders. Hopefully we’ll have some built-in immunity as people start to recover and, potentially, as people have better testing to understand who really has antibodies,” Coleman says. “We think our ride product will be incredibly compelling then.”
As for “Lunch, Please” and “The Market,” Coleman believes they will still be a part of Alto’s brand for a long time, and possibly forever, especially as restaurants continue to get back on their feet.
“We’ve been faced with a lot of adversity, but we also see there’s a lot of opportunity. We could have just closed our doors and waited for everything to be over, but that would have put a lot of people out of jobs,” the CEO adds. “So we much prefer option B, which is to figure out whatever it takes to keep going.”