“Are they even making money?”

This was the question posed by 19-year-old Roshan*, a delivery personnel on the payrolls of UberEats, Uber’s food delivery arm. We’d been discussing his employment with UberEats, and the more I explained the company’s business model to him, the more worried he seemed.

Roshan is a college student, with little to no disposable income and no prior job experience. He signed up with UberEats when he was unable to find an internship during his college break. He felt like he’d struck gold. The job afforded him the chance to make more money than a lot of entry and mid-level degree-holding job seekers—up to Rs 50,000 ($690) a month. Roshan even gets to pick his own work hours. As a result, even though his classes have started again, he can still do deliveries during his free time. With this alone, he’s able to net a cool Rs 8,000-10,000 ($110-$138) each month.

But beyond the money, Roshan realises that things don’t quite add up. “Last night, I did a delivery of a Rs 105 ($1.50) meal, but I made Rs 95 ($1.3) on that delivery. I don’t understand what business Uber is doing for Rs 10 ($0.14)? Another time, the food price was just Rs 70 ($1), but I was paid Rs 125 ($1.72) for that delivery,” he recounts, still trying to wrap his head around the economics. Is this sustainable, he asked. A pertinent question indeed.

As the various players in the food delivery space look to keep up with growing demand, delivery personnel have become a precious commodity. According to an employee of food delivery startup Swiggy, the company, which has already tripled its fleet size to 60,000 since the start of this year, intends to double its current strength in the next six months. Similarly, Foodpanda, resurrected since Ola’s buyout late last year, plans to hire 50,000 delivery personnel in the same time period, said a Foodpanda employee. Both spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not allowed to publicly discuss company strategy.

But shoring up their delivery fleets is one thing, maintaining them is another. Attrition is high. Loyalty is low. These jobs are seen as stop-gaps or looked down on altogether. With little else to keep their delivery fleets loyal, companies have begun throwing cash at them in the hopes of reducing the churn. Roshan is one of around 185,000 delivery personnel—from college students and graduates to dropouts from other jobs—who are reaping the benefits of this. Their earnings have soared to levels scarcely imaginable a year ago.

For now, companies are meeting delivery fleet targets, and delivery personnel are a happy lot.

AUTHOR

Salman SH

Salman has around four years of experience reporting primarily on consumer internet, startups, and the telecom sector. Previously, he worked with the financial newspaper Mint, reporting on startups and consumer internet trends. Prior to this, he worked with MediaNama and NextBigWhat. At The Ken, Salman will look at startups, technology trends, and the government policies shaping up around them. Loud metal, moshpits, and local gigs are he what he lives for.

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