Hookah Delivery Company ‘GoPuff’ Changes Up Its Business Model

Instead of focusing solely on smoking products, they are turning into an on-demand convenience store.

Image via Associated Press

Image via Associated Press

A Philadelphia-based startup that expanded its roots to Boston this month is shying away from exclusively delivering hookahs to customers through their smartphone app by adding alternative services such as bringing food and goods typically sold in convenience stores to people’s front steps.

Back in March, Rafael Ilishayev, cofounder of GoPuff, which billed itself as the first-ever on-demand hookah-tobacco-and-pipe delivery company, told Boston that he was making moves to bring his startup to the area to cater to the booming college population.

Now that he’s here, Ilishayev said the company has made a major shift, and rather than advertising just hookahs, which can be purchased with the click of an app, the founders are stocking up on food items, household products, and other daily necessities to expand their concept.

But they’re keeping the company name.

“We are trying to appeal to everybody, not just someone who wants to smoke. Lots of our sales are coming from non-smoking products,” said Ilishayev. “People are getting snacks and drinks; the normal items you need everyday that you don’t want to go to the store for. The app is rolled out, you go on, plug in any Boston address, and we have a category called ‘GoGrub,’ which has stuff you would see in a supermarket.”

When asked what makes this business model different from apps like TaskRabbit and Postmates—besides the hookahs, of course— Ilishayev said GoPuff doesn’t rely on a third party to pickup up items from the store and then deliver them to users. Instead, GoPuff has two storage locations where they keep their goods, so delivery drivers don’t need to make the extra stop before fulfilling an order.

“We provide the same courier service but in a faster method of delivery,” he said, adding that their delivery charges are also considerably less.

Ilishayev said sales have been much slower in Boston since they first launched, bringing in around 60 to 70 requests per day between the operating hours of noon and 4:20 a.m., but he expects soon enough that they will reach the numbers they have seen in Philly, which is in the hundreds. Ilishayev said they have 25,000 users and 25 drivers delivering goods there.

“With the students back we are really catering to them—and the young professionals,” he said.

While they kept the name GoPuff, Ilishayev said they shed some parts of their image, including the scantily clad women on their website’s homepage, pictures of hookahs, and even tobacco items that contain nicotine.

“People still want hookahs,” said Ilishayev. “But there are no cigarettes, or e-cigarettes. We made a stand against it, but we sell non-nicotine hookah stuff.”