We’ve seen the rise of the ‘on-demand’ economy in the form of startups like TaskRabbit and FancyHands. What we have seen less of is a full-blown ‘platform play’ where it is not about connecting buyers and sellers (TaskRabbit) but about managing a business based on time (likeOpenTable). BookingBug, which operates a service in the UK and US, has been doing this for the last three years and pretty successfully. But until recently it’s been more or less alone in the platform space.
BookingBug grew out of the Web and has mobile apps which also take payments, but the requirement here is for a more mobile-centric SaaS platform for service providers of any kind, enabling any business to plug into this global mobile revolution, where getting some time with a music teacher, cleaner, business coach or personal trainer is only a tap away. Now a new startup in this more mobile-oriented era is poised to break cover.
Prompt.ly has something of a star-system of a team, including noted investors and advisers. Leading the company is Richard Titus, already a massively experienced tech entrepreneur. You can sign up to the beta of the app here, but only the Android app is available right now. The iPhone app is awaiting clearance.
Prompt.ly has now secured funding from several key angels including Ethan Beard from Facebook and several funds including Subtraction Capital (a new fund founded by PayPal’s Jason Portnoy and Paul Willard). Titus says they will have topped off their $1.5m seed round before Christmas and “Series A discussions are heating up.”
Titus was co-founder of Razorfish in LA, Schematic, and was the CEO of Associated Northcliffe Digital which created the Daily Mail online, as well as getting the BBC’s digital arm into shape. He’s joined by cofounder Eli-Shaoul Khedouri, CTO, formerly of Everest (another mobile startup) and a former Chief Architect of infosec for NYC.
Titus tells me that Prompt.ly starts off with the premise that “time is broken” and requires a deep, purpose built platform for schedule management and time management.
Attacking the enterprise is hard in this space and yet there is an enormous invisible economy out there for on-demand tasks (as Task Rabbit and others have shown).
He calls this market “The Invisible Economy”. It’s made up of Dog walkers, personal trainers, itinerant web designers, handymen, you name it. And it’s all based on time.
But they’ve done their research. Using data from the SBA and the IRS they estimate there is between 20 to 60m people in USA alone that fall into this ‘small-slot-of-time’ mode of work, making it worth an estimated $1.27 Trillion in the US, and accounting for one in every five purchases.
The majority of purchases are based on time – by hour or by service.
After hundreds of interviews with itinerant workers, they’ve identified 1,200 categories of these people who sell their time by the hour or session. Everyone from lawyers to baby-sitters. “This is an enormous part of the economy but it has no back office,” says Titus. “Less than 150 of the people we spoke to had a computer and yet all had smartphones.”
He or she has no back office; is Mobile-first or mobile-only; takes cash and/or credit cards. That equates, he says, to 30% of US GDP, 56 Million jobs and 44% of the US employment.
This is not like Square (which is the retail space), it’s about selling excess time, so it’s about payment for time not payment tracking for goods. Right now that’s a very broken experience. “We’re closer to Open Table or Square than we are Yelp,” says Titus.
This sector often loses track of billings and collections, so thus a loss of income. Right now it’s being managed with phone calls and dozens of texts. And once they lose a job, they can do nothing about it. Plus they have trouble filling unbooked hours.
Prompt.ly will operate on a Freemium model – free up front then a $9.99 a month & up, feature-tiered offering. It theory, this could pay for itself with the first rebooked session of whatever the service is.
UPDATE: This post has been edited post-publication to correct the earlier omission of BookingBug.