Traffic Woes? In West Hollywood, the Pharmacy Comes to Your House

Francesca Billington

Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.

Traffic Woes? In West Hollywood, the Pharmacy Comes to Your House

As Amazon Fresh and Instacart race to deliver groceries to your front door, a new kind of shopping experience has quietly joined the market.

Enter Robomart's small fleet of Mercedes vans stocked like convenience stores and guaranteed to show up at your house in under 10 minutes.


In West Hollywood, residents who run out of toilet paper or laundry detergent can pay $2 to hail the miniature stores straight to their home addresses. The pharmacy van's sliding doors open to reveal rows of paper products and over the counter medicine. There's also a snack car stocked with cold soda and candy.

"Who's our target demographic?" said Ali Ahmed, founder and CEO of Robomart. "It's pretty much everyone."

The Santa Monica-based company pitches the car as a robot, but that might depend on how you define "automated." Vans are navigated by drivers who are trained to keep the tinted windows rolled up and wait quietly for customers to browse products.

For contactless checkout, the company relies on radio-frequency identification, or RFID, which uses small sensors that pick up movement from little white tabs taped to each item.

After a shift, drivers bring the vans back to an operating zone where REEF, the company known for managing ghost kitchens, replenishes products and counts inventory.

I tried the service out. After hailing the van and waiting a little over eight minutes, my pharmacy Robomart pulled up and I started shopping. The shelves displayed a standard selection of toiletries and medicine cabinet items you might find at a gas station convenience store.

Prices were lower than I expected (the same tube of Colgate toothpaste from the nearest CVS cost $1 more) but variety was limited. And there are still glitches.

The van doors slid shut once I ended my transaction on the app. I idled outside the car for a few extra minutes talking to the Robomart driver when an email arrived listing my purchases, minus a bottle of conditioner I picked up.

Ahmed promptly sent a note to inform me the mistake was a "human error" that he suggested was caused by the Robomart driver. He said my chat threw off the sensors that are supposed to track what customers take. To work properly it requires the driver to leave immediately after the purchase.

He said to fix the problem, he plans on installing a two-way speaker system for customers to chat with the driver or a customer support agent.

Already, there's a small video camera inside each van "as a backup check." Where exactly they're planted and what is done with that footage is unclear.

The van is still somewhat of a beta version and far from what Ahmed first envisioned. His prototype in 2018 was completely self-driving, a dream he's had to put on ice for now as have other delivery and ride hailing services.

Ahmed declined to say how much capital he's raised but said the company is backed by Wasabi Ventures, SOSV, The Automation Fund, Hustle Fund, Archetype Ventures, Hardware Accelerator and W Ventures.

The CEO is eying groceries, deli food and pantry essentials next.

"The alternative, I feel, is actually driving to the store," he said. "We save that entire headache."

https://twitter.com/frosebillington
francesca@dot.la

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Cadence

Greater Good Health Raises $10 Million To Fix America’s Doctor Shortage

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

Greater Good Health Raises $10 Million To Fix America’s Doctor Shortage
Courtesy of Greater Good Health

The pandemic highlighted what’s been a growing trend for years: Medical students are prioritizing high-paying specialty fields over primary care, leading to a shortage of primary care doctors who take care of a patient’s day-to-day health concerns. These physicians are a cornerstone of preventative health care, which when addressed can lower health care costs for patients, insurers and the government. But there’s a massive shortage of doctors all over the country, and the pipeline for primary care physicians is even weaker.

One local startup is offering a possible answer to this supply squeeze: nurse practitioners.

On Wednesday, Manhattan Beach-based Greater Good Health unveiled a $10 million Series A funding round led by LRVHealth, which adds to the startup’s $3 million seed round last year. The company employs nurse practitioners and pairs them with doctor’s offices and medical clinics; this allows nurse practitioners to take on patients who would otherwise have to wait weeks, or even months, to see a doctor.

Read more Show less

Plus Capital Partner Amanda Groves on Celebrity Equity Investments

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
PLUS Capital​’s Amanda Groves.
Courtesy of Amanda Groves.

On this episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, Amanda Groves talks about how PLUS Capital advises celebrity investors and why more high-profile individuals are choosing to invest instead of endorse.

As a partner at PLUS, Groves works with over 70 artists and athletes, helping to guide their investment strategies. PLUS advises their talent roster to combine their financial capital with their social capital and focus on five investment areas: the future of work, future of education, health and wellness, the conscious consumer and sustainability.

Read more Show less
RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
LA TECH JOBS
interchangeLA
Trending