Lavi Founder Nathaniel Torres is a self-described problem solver. Whether it was when he was a project manager for Duke Energy and Share Mobility or as an analyst for the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Torres always looks for ways to improve situations.
That’s what brought him to initially begin his Raleigh-based startup, which debuted as a golf cart ridesharing service in the summer of 2019. When Torres came downtown to work, it was always a pain to find parking. If he did find a free spot, he’d often have to walk several blocks to get where he needed to be.
By partnering with a golf cart company, he was able to launch a service that solved all of his prior problems. When the pandemic hit, though, Lavi pivoted into a delivery model for restaurants, grocery stores and pharmacies in downtown Raleigh.
During the switch, from talking to customers across 4,000 deliveries, Torres realized their value proposition could be much stronger by enabling customers to get what they want by just sending a text. After all, most consumers they spoke to already knew what they wanted before looking to place an order.
“I like things that make life easier,” Torres said. “Even with being an analyst in the military, you identify problems, and you recommend solutions. It’s all about being efficient. Easy is always better, especially when you’re more productive.”
Lavi is exactly that: a tool to make things easier. While apps like DoorDash and Grubhub already exist, apps can be a lot of work for the type of customer who already knows the specific thing they want to order, whether it be food or household items from the store, Torres said. Now all they need to do is to sign up for Lavi, and their next text message will instantly connect with a driver to bring whatever they need to them.
“We humans are lazy, but not in a bad way,” Torres said. “We always find the path of least resistance. We want the easiest way to get something done, so that’s how we came about this automatic text messaging service.”
As of late May, Lavi is serving pilot customers as an on-demand concierge service enabled via text. Lavi is a subscription-based service promising unlimited requests. At the “starter level” of $100/month, Lavi adds a 3.5% order fee, while those who opt for the “Lavi Life” level at $250/month don’t pay any additional fees per order.
While it might have taken a pivot or two to get here, Torres knows this is part of the process. A founder often starts with an idea that solves a problem that they personally face, but talking to your target customers is the real way to figure out if you’re solving a problem for others, Torres said.
“I look at it as experiments,” Torres said. “You want to find something that works. Are you doing something that people want? And that’s what we’ve been learning.”
Torres said their current model is unparalleled in terms of convenience, especially for those who don’t want to go through the hassle of downloading another app.
The startup already secured a $3,500 grant from Bunker Labs, a nonprofit that helps veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs connect with each other and their local communities.
Torres credits his experiences at Bunker Labs as part of what got him this far in his entrepreneurial journey.
“What I love about that is it is a network of veteran entrepreneurs that are like-minded risk-takers,” Torres said.
Talking with other entrepreneurs pushed him to pivot Lavi into a more promising value proposition and business model.
“You don’t want to just ride a wave,” Torres said. “That’s what we were doing. We were riding the wave on the third-party app delivery service that’s already out there.”
Now, Torres believes Lavi is well on its way shifting the way we use delivery services more broadly.
“We definitely want to be a disrupter,” Torres said. “There’s so many apps out there. We want to make getting things people want easy.”