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Weymouth-based hopes this week's blizzard could help it become Uber for snowplows

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 7, 2013 11:28 AM

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The Uber mobile app lets people summon a taxi or towncar at the precise moment they need a lift across town. Drivers have a smartphone on their dash, and they can accept the request from a rider by simply clicking the screen.

What if there was something similar for getting a plow to come clear your driveway, or someone to blow the snow off your sidewalk?

Weymouth entrepreneur Yeh Diab has been working on since last January. But you may recall that 2011-2012 was not exactly the whitest of winters around these parts. Still, Diab built a site, and recruited about 60 drivers around Boston, southern New Hampshire, Denver, and Chicago. PlowMe lets you request one-time snow removal, or set up automatic service anytime it snows.

He's hoping that the coming blizzard, dubbed Nemo, could be a massive rainmaker (snowmaker?) for his startup.

Diab says that many snow-removal companies "don't want to touch residential work, because it's a pain, and it's not profitable. But that's because it hasn't been optimized yet." By that, he means that it can be hard for plow drivers to assemble a route of houses that are close to one another, or to pick up on-demand work in East Arlington when they happen to be finishing a few jobs in East Arlington, for instance.

"They want the driveways as close together as possible," says Diab, a native of New Hampshire and a graduate of Suffolk Law School. "And these guys sit around at Dunkin' Donuts when they're done with a route, waiting for their phone to ring with another job. They're criss-crossing each other, wasting time and fuel. And that makes their costs higher than they need to be." Diab hopes that PlowMe will be able to combat price-gouging on the day of a big storm, by giving consumers access to a larger population of plow drivers, and letting consumers specify the price they're willing to pay for a job. A driver can call or text with questions. (Diab acknowledges that streamlining the site's pricing process has been a challenge.) PlowMe takes 20 percent off the top of the one-time work it generates for drivers, and with recurring service, it takes 50 percent off the first storm, and 10 percent off subsequent storms.

Diab tells me that his startup has recruited almost 100 drivers in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire who are using the PlowMe app on their smartphones. (Unlike Uber, consumers use the PlowMe website, not a mobile app, to request service.) "The supply side hasn't been hard to get," he says. "It's consumers — the demand side. People don't care about snow removal until a big storm hits."

That would be... right about now.


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Innovation and technology news that matters, on a new website from the Boston Globe, featuring Scott Kirsner and other original reporting.

About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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