Thursday, May 28, 2015
HelloTech: On Demand, In-Home Tech Support Via College Students Near You
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Almost everyone of a technical bent in the technology industry is familiar with that old routine: your parents, your friends, and your neighbors inevitably calls you for free technical support. However, almost no one really wants to be that technical support person. Los Angeles-based HelloTech (www.hellotech.com) wants to be the service that you refer all of your friends and family to, instead--by offering up low cost, on-demand, in-home technical support. We spoke with CEO and founder--and longtime startup veteran--Richard Wolpert about the company . Wolpert is a a local technology investor and technology veteran, who helps run Venice-based startup accelerator AmplifyLA, is a Venture Advisor at Accel Partners, and was Chief Strategy Officer at RealNetworks.
How does HelloTech work?
Richard Wolpert: It's essentially two things. First and foremost, it's an on-demand, in -home technical support service. If you are having trouble with your wireless network, or your printer, or moving photos from your iPhone to your PC, we're there to help you with any problems like that. You go online, tell us what your problem is, and select a time you'd like people to come to your house, and we match you up with a technician. Those technicians are almost exclusively college students we have trained. They show up at the exact time window you have selected. So, if you tell them to show up at 6pm, they show up then, solve your problem, and you sign out with us and approve that the problem was fixed. We then bill you, and everyone is happy. The service is $79.00 an hour, and since we just went live we have a promotion where the first hour is free. We've been running this for friends and family for the last month, and we've found that half of our calls hae been resolved within an hour. So, for lots of people, that first all will be completely resolved for free.
You have worked with lots of startups, why did you decide now was the time to start a new company? Why in home technical support?
Richard Wolpert: The thing that drew me to this, was the combination of recognizing that a big pain point exists here. Plus, I also learned how big the market opportunity is here. This pain point is pretty common. I talk with lots of friends who are sort of the identified technical support provider for their parents. It's not just their parents, it's also their neighbors and friends. When they are asked to help, they don't want to say no--because that would be rude--but they really don't want to do that, because it's really a pain and takes lots of time. What they'd really like to do, is if there was a service we trusted, which was cost effective, we'd rather refer our friends and family to that service. That resonated with a lot of people I talked to. The other thing, beyond the pain point, is the market opportunity. In-home technical support is already a $20 billion a year industry. It's not some brand new category where you're a startup hoping to find paying customers. There are already many people in the United States, spending around $20 billion on IT support. If we can get five, ten, or 20 percent of that market, that would be good enough. It's also a market that is growing. There has been a proliferation of Internet-connected evices in the home, and it's already started to go nuts. Over the next five to ten years, it will get kind of crazy, with everything Internet connected and out of control. With all that advanced technology, there will be more and more confusion. It's at least a $20 billion market, and it's even bigger taking into account all of the additional technology products out there being installed.
How is this different from other services?
Richard Wolpert: One of the things about this that is appealing, is there is only one player of any size that matters in this market, which is Geek Squad. They don't publicize their numbers, but it's estimated they have a 3 billion a year business. It's also widely known that Geek Squad is the most profitable part of Best Buy. That business, while evolutionary, was started fifteen years ago, and really hasn't evolved since. To use that service, you have to call someone up, speak to people on the phone, and they call you back, and make an appointment for six or seven days out. Plus, it's pretty expensive. If you call them up and ask how much to fix a virus, you might be quoted something like $249.00. They do quote fixed feeds, but at that rate, they can get away with it. If you do the math, that's three hours of our time, and obviously it wouldn't take that long to fix that issue. On the technology side, there has been one company that popped up in San Francisco and New York, but we feel like we have a better, overall comprehensive solution, and we're the only ones in Los Angeles. Plus, our demographics really are different, as we are focused on people in their late 40's and over.
What's the biggest challenge you see with this business?
Richard Wolpert: Through our trial with friends and family, we were able to prove a couple of key points in the business. The first, was if we could recruit college students, and if we could effectively train those college students so they can go out and provide customer support calls so the customers will be happy. We were able to check that box, which was a really big one. The other, was were we able to offer up additional products to customers, in a consultative way, not a pushy way, for additional sale to customers. About 25 percent of our friends and family have participated in sales of additional products, so we were able to check off a lot of those, too. I think the big challenge is going to be customer acquisition. We'll be doing lots of experimentation there over the next few months. In addition to the usual suspects like Facebook advertising and Yelp, we're going to be looking at some very cost effective means that work really well for our demographic, which is print and radio. That's the next frontier we have to conquer. One of the appeals of going with those older mediums, is our demographic is still significantly using those mediums, and they are much lower cost.
What are your plans for expansion?
Richard Wolpert: Our plan for the next couple of months is to focus on Los Angeles. LA is a huge market, with millions of people. We really want to hone our business here, and make the business profitable and successful in LA. Our plan, which obviously like all other plans in a startup is in flux, is to add a second city in the fall. We are also still debating what city that will be. Th e ther thing we announced, was we've raising an additional round of seed funding. We raised $2.5M in January, and now have raised an additional $2M in seed funding, so we've now raised $4.5M in seed funding, which as a seed round goes, is pretty good. I only bring that up, because at the end of the year, we'll probably raise a larger Series A, so we can expand to 10's and 20's of cities next year.
Thanks, and good luck!