Meet the app that helps Gig staff know how much they’re really making

Uber says its drivers make an average of $30 an hour. Delivery service DoorDash says its drivers make at least $25. In reality, many of their drivers aren’t sure how much they’re making when they factor in all of their expenses.

David Pickerell discovered this while working as an operations manager at Uber from 2015-2017. It didn’t seem fair, he said, that the drivers couldn’t access the same information he had behind his computer.

“The information is there — we just don’t empower people,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we tell the driver and help him calculate it?”

So Pickerell left Uber and built his own app, Para. Released last year, the free app aims to give gig economy workers more information about their jobs to help them maximize their earnings — even if the platforms that dispatch them are resisting.

The app’s most popular feature allowed DoorDash drivers to know the tip for each job before taking it. Unlike in New York City (where apps have been required to show tips upfront since last year), DoorDash hides this number from drivers, though most customers set the tip when they place their order.

Para also allows riders to set parameters to juggle multiple apps, automatically decline low-paying gigs, and flag rude customers and undesirable places, such as: B. confusing apartment complexes and restaurants with long waiting times.

The app offers a tiny resistance to the dominance of the big corporations, which dispatch millions of drivers to deliver pizza, groceries, prescriptions, or marijuana at the touch of a button. Drivers work as independent contractors or freelancers and are paid by the job, not by the hour. DoorDash, Uber, Instacart, Grubhub, Lyft, Caviar, Eaze, Postmates, Amazon Flex, Walmart Spark, and Shipt all use this model.

Para is growing in popularity as on-demand delivery services come under fire from all sides: They’re largely unprofitable and investors are pushing them to cut costs. Restaurants that have relied on delivery as a lifeline during the pandemic are fed up with the fees they’re charging.

Drivers, many of whom have started working for multiple apps in recent years, have expressed frustration with their pay, especially given volatile gas prices. The Federal Trade Commission said this month it will take action against unfair and deceptive practices related to wages by the on-demand delivery apps.

Para was not exactly welcomed by the gig companies. DoorDash sent out a cease and desist letter shortly after the app launched last summer, stating that it was illegal for drivers to use their DoorDash credentials on Para and that Para’s traffic was so high that it was disrupting DoorDash’s platform “destabilized” even more than once. Pickerell responded by offering to have a chat, and he never heard a reply.

In July, DoorDash tightened security controls on how drivers log into its app, cutting Para from it. Every time Para created a workaround, DoorDash fixed it within hours with a new update, Pickerell said. After a few weeks of cat-and-mouse, Para gave up and ended workers’ ability to use the app with DoorDash.

“Getting caught up in a daily engineering war wasn’t sustainable,” Pickerell said.

DoorDash doesn’t show full tip amounts for “orders that contain larger tips” up front, “to ensure all dashers have an equal opportunity to receive high-value orders,” said Rachel Bradford, a spokeswoman. If drivers only take orders with large tips, “it detracts from the experience” for customers and vendors, she continued. Additionally, third-party apps that require drivers to share credentials are “a worrying security risk.”

Last week, Uber also sent Para a cease and desist letter. Uber declined to comment.

Harry Campbell, founder of The Rideshare Guy, a blog and podcast for gig workers, said there are “inherent tensions” between ride-hailing platforms and their workers. Drivers want fewer drivers on the road, which gives them less competition for the best paying jobs and more bonuses. But the platforms want the opposite – slightly more drivers than orders to keep the service reliable and consistent.

“That inherent tension always creates problems,” Campbell said.

DoorDash came under fire for using tips to subsidize driver payments, a practice it stopped after an outcry and lawsuits in 2019. In 2020, Uber gave its drivers more flexibility to refuse lower-paying rides to achieve a California ballot measure that would retain drivers as independent contractors. A year later, after the measure was passed, drivers accused Uber of taking away that flexibility. The company has made changes in recent weeks to address the complaints.

Other apps have offered drivers various tools over the years, but none have directly undermined the delivery apps like Para has done with its hidden tip feature. The company claims its app has more users — 100,000 sign up each week and more than 400,000 downloads — than anyone else trying to give drivers more information about their net pay.

Para started as a pandemic project. When COVID-19 first spread, it wasn’t clear if gig workers were eligible for government assistance. Pickerell, 31, built a website,, which scraped government pages and told people how to make money in different time periods.

This idea – to make useful information more accessible – formed the philosophy of Para. Pickerell noticed that more gig workers were driving for multiple apps at the same time, so he built an earnings tracker that allowed them to calculate their earnings in one place. He persuaded drivers to try it out by promoting it on online forums, in Facebook groups and on YouTube, and quickly discovered that the drivers making the most money were the ones juggling apps and paying the highest selected gigs.

This required smart decision-making — calculating the time, mileage, and fuel consumption it takes to do a job while driving amidst app pings.

“We basically said, ‘What can we do to help people do this more safely and get more competition for their time?'” Pickerell said.

Para does not yet have a business model. But it recently raised $11 million in funding from investors like Brand Foundry and GGV Capital. Some of the company’s backers previously invested in the delivery apps that Para needles, such as GSR Ventures, which backed Didi, China’s Uber.

Yuechen Zhao, an investor at GSR Ventures who also worked at Uber, said Pickerell’s suggestion of giving drivers more power resonated with him. The platforms are huge and exercise their control like market makers and often let the drivers down.

“You don’t know what the platforms are going to do next,” he said. “There is a lot of distrust between workers and these platforms.”

The app launched last May when Para began offering its tip transparency feature. Luke Brewer, a driver in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, heard about it on YouTube.

“I thought it was something like the best thing in the world,” he said. He wants to make $50-$75 a night, which means he turns down a lot of gigs. Ordering from Red Lobster without a tip could mean less than $3 for 30 minutes of work during a peak hour, he said.

“They rely too much on tips to make up the difference,” he said of the apps.

Similar apps have struggled with the platform companies. Released in 2017, the Mystro app makes it easy for drivers to switch between Uber and Lyft. Lyft blocked it in 2019, although Mystro has since found a workaround and plans to expand to DoorDash soon, according to Douglas Feigelson, the company’s chief executive. The app has thousands of drivers, each paying $18 a month to use it, Feigelson said. Lyft declined to comment.

Other services aimed at helping drivers include Muver, which charges drivers between $2 and $6 per week to help them manage multiple apps at once; Solo, which gives Gig workers working across multiple apps a guaranteed daily rate; and Gridwise, which tracks drivers’ earnings and mileage.

In some cases, the delivery companies have made Para’s features irrelevant. Shortly after Para started showing Grubhub drivers how many miles each trip took, Grubhub started showing this information to its drivers as well.

In September, Uber announced a series of changes for drivers, including sharing a ride’s destination and paying in advance, as well as sending multiple rides to choose from.

Stephanie Vigil, a rider working for multiple apps in Colorado Springs, Colorado, started Para last year. “It ends up increasing your earnings because you’re not wasting your time doing anything,” she said. “I won’t take anything that isn’t a solid offer because I don’t have to.”

The hidden tipping feature was crucial before it was cut off, she said, because tips disappeared with contactless delivery in the pandemic. If the customer doesn’t tip in advance, one probably won’t come.

“You don’t think about people you don’t see in person,” Vigil said.

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