This company does on-demand cash and no, it’s not an ATM

You know your sense of right and wrong is getting mixed up when someone pitches you an “on-demand cash company” and you don’t immediately want to vomit. Like many Uber-for-x services, Nimbl is an idea so bad it’s good. Consumers will probably want it, but the company’s fate doesn’t rest solely on demand. It depends on whether Nimbl can make enough money meeting said demand.

Here’s the pitch. When you need cash, instead of walking oh so laboriously to the nearest ATM, which is sometimes blocks away (the horror!), you order a human being on your app. Said human appears with wads of cash, you pay them the exchange via Venmo plus a $5 delivery fee, and voila! It’s like an ATM but with roving delivery people instead of machines.

Is it ridiculously lazy and bound to be parodied for the early months of its existence? Yes. Is it possible it could achieve some consumer traction anyways? Absolutely.

Think about it: The cost of an ATM service fee outside your bank is usually $3-$4 anyways. If there isn’t an ATM in a cash-only building and you’re out drinking with friends, enjoying a leisurely brunch, strolling a farmer’s market, or any of the other moments when your card won’t cut it and you don’t want to leave the party, paying an extra buck for delivery dollars won’t seem so bad. Of course, it takes about twenty minutes for the cash to arrive, so you need the forethought to order it before the check arrives.

“People who use Instacart or Postmates know they’re not saving that much time since there’s a grocery store on the corner,” Nimbl founder Jim Luo told me. “But the 20 minutes saved, they put a dollar value to it.” He pointed out that the opportunities in suburban areas, like Cupertino or Mountain View, are even higher than for urban ones. ATMs aren’t easy to get to when you have to hop in a car to find one. At the moment, the service has “soft launched” in New York City and San Francisco, so it hasn’t made its way down the peninsula yet.

The real question for Nimbl isn’t about whether it’s useful — it’s about margins. If you’ve got people biking all over town delivering cash, how many deliveries are they doing an hour? Is this a profitable business? Will the messengers get robbed on a frequent basis?

“We think we can get the velocity so high we can do five to six deliveries per courier per hour,” Luo says. The messengers will stop at locations to refill their cash bags, so they’re not carrying around more than a few hundred dollars at a time. Plus, they’ll be unmarked, as Luo puts it, “A simple, agile discreet service.” Of course that raises an additional concern, which is: How long will it take a cop to think a Nimbl transaction is actually a drug deal going down on the sidewalk?

The delivery margins question is the same one we should be asking all the new on-demand startups, from the food companies that deliver piping hot, pre-made meals to your doorstep, to the laundromat startups cleaning your dirty clothes. At least in the case of food or laundry companies, they’re hopefully able to make a profit on each transaction. But for an on-demand cash company, it’s a one-to-one ratio. Nimbl will need to both make its profit, run its infrastructure, and pay its delivery people on the $5 rate. It’s conceivable to pull off if there was a dense enough network of people ordering cash. But in most cash-only spots, there’s an ATM, so the transactions will be sporadic and not steady, like ordering dinner.

I’m skeptical of the business sense behind the setup. But, like with most on-demand companies, until the day of reckoning arrives, consumers benefit. Get your cheap cheap cheap stuff brought to you instantly by people on bikes while you can! Did I mention it’s cheap?