GoButler, the Berlin-headquartered ‘virtual assistant’ startup founded by ex-Rocket Internet execs, is launching in New York City, taking U.S. rival Magic, the company that it originally cloned, head on.
This includes opening a dedicated U.S. office to be headed up by Pierluigi Ferrari, another Rocket Internet alum who previously helped build out e-commerce behemoth Zalando.
Prior to this, Ferrari was a consultant at McKinsey, and has an academic background in business and mathematics from UCLA and Columbia University.
Zooming out further, however, the strategy for GoButler — in, dare I say, a typical Rocket Internet-styled play — is to outpace and out-execute its U.S. rival, in part by focusing on geographical markets that Magic has yet to enter.
GoButler has already soft-launched in Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and the U.K.
And in less typical Rocket Internet fashion, this now also includes the U.S., specifically New York City.
It’s my understanding that GoButler is happy to leave the West Coast to Magic (at least for now) while it makes a land grab on the East Coast. That makes for an interesting battle between the two nascent but fast-moving startups.
The two companies’ revenue models appear to diverge, too. Aside from paying for the goods and services you request, GoButler itself is currently free to use and the startup isn’t planning to change this anytime soon.
“The obvious part would be monetising on the customer end through premiums, but where we see the real value is on the supply side,” co-founder and CEO Navid Hadzaad told me earlier this month. “If you understand the way e-commerce and lead generation works, you understand what value this business has,” he said.
That suggests some kind of affiliate revenue model. Or perhaps more direct partnerships with retailers and service providers.
Like Magic, GoButler offers an SMS-based ‘virtual assistant’ that claims to be able to help you with anything, as long as it’s legal. You simply send a text message to the service with your request, and the startup’s ‘butlers’ get to work, keeping you informed along the way.
Requests so far typically include ordering food, delivering flowers or even arranging flights, hotel bookings or entire vacations. “Text us to get whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you are,” is how Hadzaad describes the service.
Weekend side-project to international startup in 4 weeks
GoButler originally launched in Berlin, Germany in early March (two weeks after Magic) as a weekend side project by founding team members Navid Hadzaad, Jens Urbaniak and Maximilian Deilmann, while they still worked for the hugely successful German startup factory.
Just 48 hours later, after seeing the service receive 10,000 requests, all three had quit their jobs at Rocket, and closed a round of seed funding.
Early backers include Jan Beckers (co-founder of HitFox), Cherry Ventures (the VC arm of Zalando/Quandoo founders’ Filip Dames, Christian Meermann and Daniel Glasner), and Gunther Schmidt (co-founder of Ekomi). More recently, German TV star Joko Winterscheidt joined GoButler as co-founder and investor.
To date, and just a month after launching, the startup has processed over 100,000 requests and claims over 30,000 registered users. Its team of ‘butlers’ is now 40 people strong, supporting users in 11 countries.
Meanwhile, and unsurprisingly, GoButler is currently raising a Series A round. How far this has progressed isn’t clear, though I understand a term sheet has yet to be signed. At the speed at which things are progressing, however, this could change very soon. As a point of reference, Magic is already thought to be valued at $40 million.