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Postmates has picked up an Obama administration alum as it eyes the policy fights to come

The company is the latest Silicon Valley startup to get serious about policy in Washington.

postmates Postmates

Whether it counts on human couriers or someday replaces them entirely, the on-demand food-delivery service Postmates is beginning to recognize that it has plenty of policy battles on its hands.

To that end, the startup has hired one of former President Barack Obama’s top aides on innovation and automation: Vikrum Aiyer, who is joining Postmates as its head of strategic communications and policy, he told me in an email. He’ll be part of a growing roster of former White House ex-pats taking up residence in San Francisco.


Like many in the on-demand industry, Postmates relies on independent contractors, who aren’t guaranteed benefits like health care that are normally afforded to full-time employees. Some couriers dislike that designation, and even filed a class-action lawsuit against the company in 2015. The state of Washington, meanwhile, ordered Postmates in December to pay workers’ compensation premiums to about 3,000 of its couriers, a ruling the company has since challenged.

As it battles over benefits, though, Postmates is also exploring whether it can replace some human couriers altogether — a push toward automation that many in the gig economy have contemplated as they seek to reduce their overhead costs.

In Washington, D.C., Postmates teamed up with robotics company Starship Technologies in January to launch a pilot to deliver food by robot. The duo required regulatory approval before they could get going, however, and conversations with other state and federal regulators appear to be on the horizon. (A spokeswoman said Monday that robots are definitely on the policy radar, at least.)

Aiyer, for his part, arrives at Postmates from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, where he served as chief of staff to the agency’s leader, Michelle Lee. Before that, however, he was a top innovation adviser to Obama who worked on policy areas like self-driving cars and manufacturing.

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