Fancy Hands Enhances Mobile Search In Novel Ways

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Editor’s Note: Semil Shah works on product for Swell, is a TechCrunch columnist, and an investor. He blogs at Haywire, and you can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

This weekly column has been focused on mobile lately and will likely stay this way. Last week, I wrote from a devil’s advocate position to consider situations in which entrepreneurs may not want to enter the market “mobile-first.” This week, I want to take a slightly different approach and highlight one app (which also has a web presence) that I’ve come to use so often, it’s made it to my wallet (I’m a subscriber) and my home screen: Fancy Hands.

The idea is pretty simple: Enter in a request, a task, or a search command into Fancy Hands, and a set of virtual assistants will complete the task for you and/or ask questions along the way to clarify until the task is marked “complete.” Most of the interaction for me happens in email, though I input tasks either on the web (at home) or on mobile (when I’m out). After trying a handful of these kind of services, I settled on Fancy Hands and happily pay them $45/month for the ability to initiate fifteen (15) requests within a monthly period.

While $3 per request may seem high, I’ve found the cognitive load it saves me is worth it. My work-flow is roughly as follows: On my laptop or mobile, I input tasks into CLEAR and/or Asana, and if any of those require light research, I quickly initiate a Fancy Hands request, which then gets queued into my email, the feed I spend the most time looking at. I’ve found Fancy Hands is most useful when I’m on the go, when I have a few moments to kill, and I can kickstart a task and have someone working on it in the background so that I can act on it when I get back to my desk.

The nature of the tasks center around search. This provides me great value on mobile. While I use networks like Facebook and Twitter to ask friends and colleagues for recommendations (a type of search), for ones that are more private or specific, Fancy Hands is like having someone help conduct online research for you with options to choose from. The ones I’ve used most often involve travel plans and pricing, looking for suggestions for gifts for family and friends (instead of just going to Amazon), and helping with logistics around making a reservation at a bar or restaurant for a private group, all the way from research to booking.

There are some lessons for mobile apps in the success of Fancy Hands. One, it is multi-platform, and for a utility like this, I engage more with the service by toggling between web and iPhone. Two, the company has organized, vetted, and trained an army of virtual assistants to stay within the bounds of what’s reasonable in search and coordination, so each request I make is sent to a pool of available labor at a pre-set market price of $3 per inquiry. By making input easier on mobile, I’m inside Fancy Hands more often as I come to rely on it more, and this increases my requests, which in turn increases the work for the assistants. Three, once a task is initiated, I’m alerted with mobile push notifications that update me periodically on the progress of the task, whether more input is needed, and when it’s done. Often, I don’t need to go back into the app, it just sends me a push to keep me posted. That’s my favorite feature, it creates the feeling that stuff is working for me in the background as I do other things.

Outside of games, photos, and messaging on mobile, the apps that tend to win my loyalty are the types that provide me with mobile utility that saves me time, works in the background, and allows me to seamlessly work between platforms. And, while I can search for just about anything on my phone, either through the browser, or more vertical searches in apps, the unique flavor of Fancy Hands is the comfort that another person has taken your search intent and helped generate new results. While it all may be possible on the web, to be sure, there’s tremendous value in the mobile app, to help me save a few minutes here or there in a world where I’m constantly searching for any morsel of free time.