Cargo is a startup based in New York that is launching a vending machine full of snacks and supplies for passengers, many of which are free.
They send a “Cargo” box along with anything that goes inside it to drivers. Drivers then earn money on the side by being paid for whatever is sold or given away through the Cargo box.
Basically, instead of paying for a bunch of snacks to increase your tips and ratings, Cargo will send you everything you need AND pay you in the process. You also get some free snacks for yourself.
Cargo advertises that drivers can make an extra $150 per month with the Cargo box, which seems reasonable from our initial testing, but your results will definitely vary.
Cargo tells me earnings vary between $120-305 per month for drivers. I’ll explain how you can make some extra side money with it below.
How Does Cargo Work?
The Cargo box is somewhat like a vending machine for rideshare drivers. Cargo provides the inventory while drivers pass out the snacks and supplies.
They then pay drivers for every item that is distributed to a passenger (free and paid items).
Cargo makes deals with companies to distribute free snacks to passengers as a way to build brand awareness for the snack company.
Drivers still get paid for the free items they end up passing out to passengers.
Once a driver signs up, Cargo will ship a Cargo box to the driver. The box easily straps onto the center console of the car and when a passenger makes a purchase, Cargo automatically texts the driver exactly which items to give to the passenger.
The passenger purchases something from Cargo by going to https://drivecargo.com on their phone.
Once they land on that page, they enter your Cargo box ID number and it automatically displays what you have available in the box.
They select their purchase and pay via credit card, Apple/Android pay, or Paypal. It takes about 20 seconds for them to complete the purchase, and they do not have to signup for anything or download an app.
When the purchase is complete, you get a text letting you know to give the passenger the item. You don’t have to worry about passengers stealing the snacks since it is positioned so only the driver can open the box.
Cargo Box Inventory
The box itself and all of the inventory to stock it is free for drivers. Cargo knows how many items they send you and, as items are purchased via cargo through your box ID, they will also automatically know when you are running low. They then ship your new items before you run out. You can also call Cargo if you are running low or need to manually reorder.
This is probably Cargo’s value prop to drivers. I can probably almost certainly make more money by selling my own snacks.
However, it would be a lot of extra work to constantly purchase, restock, figure out what to sell, and then how much to sell it for.
I would have to do all of that extra work and maybe make $20 to $30 more. I would rather let Cargo handle it and squeeze in the extra rides. In the time it would take me to go to Costco, I would make up the extra $20 anyways.
Where is Cargo Available?
Cargo is currently live in New York, Minneapolis, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit, but they are also presently accepting signups everywhere with plans to expand rapidly to additional cities before the year is out. If you are in a major market, they plan to be there soon.
What’s In The Cargo Box?
Cargo sent a fully stocked Cargo box plus a bunch of other supplies. Here is the full list of everything included in their first shipment:
- (40) Rice Krispies Treats (free)
- (12) Original Pringles (free)
- (16) Michel et Augustin Cookies (free and ADDICTIVE)
- (10) Skittles snack-size bags (free)
- (16) 5-Hour Energy (Berry Flavored)
- (9) Altoids Smalls (Peppermint)
- (5) Advil
- (10) Stain Removal Napkins
- (6) Xpress Gear iPhone charger
- (20) Extra Spearmint Gum
The Cargo box is well put together and has some useful features that make it more than a plastic box. The rear of the box (passenger facing) lights up enough to see that it’s there, so that passengers can see the products at night, but not too much to look like I’m throwing a rave in my car. It comes with straps and the bottom of the box is soft so it won’t scratch the surface of your center console.
4 Extra Charging Ports
The Cargo box comes with a 7.2 amp USB car charging attachment that plugs into your cigarette lighter. Once you plug in the Cargo, you still have 2 extra ports for your phone or Lyft Amp. The rear of the Cargo box includes 2 extra USB ports to charge your passengers’ phones, bringing your car to a total of 4 USB charging ports.
This is useful to me because it prevents having to dig for a phone charger every time a passenger requests a charge. Passengers simply plug into one of the ports facing the backseat.
Cargo Passenger Reviews
I was initially a little worried that passengers would balk at the idea of paying for snacks. It used to be common for Lyft and Uber drivers to offer free waters and snacks to their passengers. However, this is almost non-existent now, so it never ended up becoming a problem while testing it.
Passenger: “Are Those SKITTLES?!”
It turned out that not a single passenger was surprised at the idea of selling snacks. It probably helped that I told them that some of the snacks were free. In fact, any passenger who noticed the Cargo thought it was a cool and clever idea. It actually served as a good conversation piece for the ride because my passengers hadn’t seen anything like it yet. SF has a lot of startup people, so I got a lot of questions about EVERY aspect of how Cargo works.
Getting People To Buy or Accept Free Snacks
During my testing, I found that the biggest barrier for passengers was getting them to physically type “cargo.menu” into their phone browser. (This has changed since). Many thought they would have to go through an arduous signup process to (literally) get a cookie. There is no signup process involved though. You just go to the site, enter the box number, and select “cookie”.
I eventually ended up telling people that they would get a free snack for “testing” the user flow on cargo.menu. This made it clear that they didn’t have to download or signup for anything.
Cargo Pay Structure
It’s important to note that Cargo is still pretty new and this pay structure will probably change over time. This is what it is right now:
- $1.00 for each transaction
- 25% of retail item sales
- Each Week:
- $5 bonus for 5 items/wk
- $10 bonus for 10 items/wk
- Each Month:
- $5 bonus for 5 items/mo
- $10 bonus for 10 items/mo
- $20 bonus for 40 items/mo
- $50 bonus for 100 items/mo
- + Tips from passengers on the Cargo checkout screen.
Cargo will distribute earnings to drivers on the 1st and 15th of each month. Make sure you add your bank details within the Cargo driver portal.
Maximizing Cargo Earnings and Sales
Cargo box sales obviously won’t make you rich. It is probably best to focus on using it as a way to passively generate extra income on top of your normal earnings. That being said, I think there are some ways to maximize your earnings. If you distribute 2 items/hour on average, then that’s an extra dollar per hour at no cost to you (not including bonuses or tips).
1. Start With The Free Stuff To Increase your Tips
I started to tell my passengers that Cargo was offering free snacks for going to Cargo and going through the “purchase flow”. I also made sure to pack a lot of the free stuff in my backpack to restock the Cargo as people started taking free snacks. Cargo will still pay drivers to distribute the free snacks. I figured the $0.50/snack would get me something while increasing my chances of getting a tip from my passengers. Each passenger can take up to 3 free items which is an easy extra $1.50/passenger (assuming they don’t even tip).
2. Think of When People Want Snacks
The people I drove during commuting hours didn’t have an appetite for snacks. This is probably because they had already eaten or were trying to count their calories. However, as the night went on and people became a little more intoxicated, the snacks started flying out of the box. Drunk munchies + free snacks = happy passengers.
3. Personal Emergencies
Other supplies are more for emergencies. iPhone 5/6 chargers, Advil, wet napkins, etc. These seem to be more situational, but if you hear someone say they need something you can let them know that it’s available in the Cargo. These items are reasonably priced and I think most will be happy to solve whatever their problem is.
4. Driver Referrals Are Strong
Cargo is currently offering $20 for every driver you refer to them. That is stronger than the referrals we can get for generating new Lyft/Uber passengers or for any other rideshare related service out there. It helps that everything is free as long as you don’t eat too many snacks.
Right now the product is still very new and there seems to be strong interest in it from drivers. You may have already seen others posting their referral codes in driver Facebook groups. This leaves a lot of opportunity on the table to generate bigger earnings by referring drivers. You can find your code in the cargo driver portal and send it to other drivers. Cargo actually told me that someone in Chicago referred over 200 people. That’s $4000 in referral earnings!
Things That Can Improve
Most of my experience was positive but there are some areas where I think Cargo can improve. Also, there are a few drawbacks to having a snack machine in your car.
- Cargo Mounting Kit: Cargo seems to fit fine in most cars. As long as your center console is one “plank” that you can run a strap under you should be good to go. It’s designed to fit 90% of cars. Mounting includes a strap that is supposed to go under your center console. My center console didn’t have a way to run the strap though so I had to improvise. It took me an extra 5 minutes to figure out.
- Funny Bone Smack: I did smack my funny bone after turning in my car and forgetting I had the Cargo box mounted to my center console. So try to remember that it’s there. I usually like to lean on my center console a little bit as I drive. After a few rides, I just ended up leaning on the Cargo instead since it was about 4 inches higher than my center console.
- Potential For Mess: Nobody left a mess in my car, but I know it’s only a matter of time before someone with the drunk munchies tears through 3 cans of Pringles like a bear beating a piñata full of hamburger meat. Extra snacks will probably come with doing some extra cleaning at times, but I expect it to be situational (1-2 times a week). You can mitigate this by passing out snacks at the end of the ride and keeping a handheld vacuum in your trunk. If someone goes out of their way to REALLY leave a mess, then I would take very good pictures and submit them to Lyft/Uber for a cleaning fee. You can also avoid this by passing out the snacks at the end of the ride.
Is Cargo Worth It?
I originally wasn’t sure If I would end up keeping the Cargo box after I tested it. Back in the early days of driving for Lyft, I used to give free snacks to my passengers, but after rate cuts I obviously stopped. After my test I found that overall it made driving a little more fun because it got such a positive response from my passengers. Going back through my statements on Lyft, I saw that passengers who accepted my free snacks were more likely to tip $2 to $4 instead of $0 to $1.
So for me, this brings back the ratings and tips benefits of having free snacks. However this time the big difference is Cargo is paying me to hand them out and covering the inventory and shipping costs. I literally have to do nothing except pass out cookies and collect money. So this one’s a no-brainer. I’m keeping it.