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Helping Local Services Adapt to the Instant Gratification Economy

"The on-demand economy is sexy and powerful, but in reality it's almost a Walmart effect."

Shutterstock/Rob Hyrons

Maybe cable guys don’t want to give four-hour time windows. Maybe plumbers would gladly accept online payments. Maybe cleaning people would like to set up same-day appointments while they’re already out working.

These are the kinds of issues that on-demand marketplaces like Homejoy and TaskRabbit solve. They make scheduling and payments easy and mobile so local services like housecleaning and home repairs aren’t as much of a headache as they used to be. We call it the instant gratification economy because you can get help at the push of a button.

People also call these services “Uber for X,” because they’re like the smartphone ride-hailing service Uber, but with cleaners and plumbers instead of cab rides. When they work (and when the companies aren’t jerks), it’s great for customers.

But many service providers would rather not be a cog in some startup’s workforce. And some older established businesses are getting hip to the value of the better customer experience that apps help provide.

So guess what — there are startups for them, too.

“You’ve got legacy businesses and enterprises that are watching their market share be chipped away by new ‘Uber for X’ startups,” said Avi Goldberg, CEO and co-founder of Dispatch, one such company that launches today.

A growing number of companies want to help bridge the gap between traditional local businesses and customers accustomed to on-demand marketplaces.

Boston-based Dispatch offers developers tools so other companies can add real-time scheduling and arrival tracking to their own sites and mobile apps. Those companies’ customers can then book service providers the same way they would make a restaurant reservation on OpenTable and then they can track the service’s arrival like they would a cab on Uber.

“The magical experience is really the last mile, the ability to track the driver as they’re coming to you,” Goldberg said. “We’ve layered on an Uber experience so companies don’t have to overhaul their systems.”

Dispatch has raised $3.1 million from Promus Ventures, GrandBanks Capital, Salesforce Ventures, Ray Lane, Mark Goldstein, Launch Capital and Kima Ventures. Its competitors include Trak, which focuses on deliveries.


Meanwhile, Breezeworks today is launching a similarly themed product, but one that’s aimed at smaller businesses. Breezeworks makes an app for service providers to use out in the field, as compared to Dispatch’s tools for companies that already have their own programmers.

The Breezeworks app provides scheduling, mapping and billing, and also helps service providers remember to follow up with their customers.

Breezeworks has also raised funding — $5 million led by Obvious Ventures (Twitter and Medium founder Evan Williams’ new fund), Marc Benioff, James Murdoch, Jeff Skoll, David Sachs, Max Levchin and Peter Thiel.

The startup has been beta testing for a while on Apple’s iOS, and will today start charging $20 per technician per month. Android, which is newly being tested, is free for now.

“The on-demand economy is sexy and powerful, but in reality it’s almost a Walmart effect because it’s driving these small business owners out of business,” said Matthew Cowan, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based Breezeworks.

“Our mission is to empower these guys to remain independent,” Cowan said. “If you join the marketplaces, you basically give up your customer relationships.”

While Cowan said Breezeworks was initially conceived for home services, the app has been used by a bail bondsman, family therapist, burlesque dancer, wedding photographer and yoga instructor during the test period, so far.

There are other companies that offer field management apps too, like Locqus, which is free except for extras like vehicle tracking. (Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the extras included payments processing. Locqus does not charge a fee for credit card processing.)

Longer term, Cowan said he’d like to help service providers stand out even more by analyzing their businesses and recommending how they could make more money.

But while Dispatch and Breezeworks may help businesses large and small feel more like on-demand marketplaces, they aren’t actually marketplaces. So while your electrician or burlesque dancer might set up an appointment and show up when you expect them, there’s nobody balancing supply and demand so there’s a service provider available at the push of a button. It might feel like an Uber, but it’s not actually the full Uber experience where a car arrives a few minutes after you hail it.

Goldberg and Cowan conceded that was the case. “I’m not trying to solve the problem of instant,” Goldberg said. “I’m trying to solve the problem of scheduling.”

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