No dopes: Hong Kong's on-demand concierge start-up will organise just about anything
In four months, SpotHelp has found babysitters and photographers, delivered an engagement ring and planned corporate events. A marijuana pickup was a no-no, though
For anyone whose time is scarce, it's a service like no other. Just reach for the phone, tap in a request, click send, and your every wish is SpotHelp's command - within reason.
A mind-boggling range of tasks, from the mundane to the extravagant, has been heaped upon the Hong Kong start-up since it was launched in late June. It has found babysitters, chauffeurs and photographers, delivered medicine and cakes, planned corporate events and even a surprise engagement proposal.
"She said 'yes'," says Tamim Batcha, SpotHelp's founder and vice-president.
No job is too big or small, he adds. "We had a request for someone to take their grandmother to hospital and wait with her for three hours because she didn't want to be by herself."
Batcha dreamed up SpotHelp as a solution for Hongkongers who are often too busy to deal with basic, necessary chores. He reckoned a service "basically selling time" had potential. There was a market for clientele other than the wealthy who are served by exclusive concierge services.
"A simple delivery may cost as little as HK$100," he says. "If you need a band for a wedding, a photographer for family portraits, or a holiday organised, we charge a small premium on top of the costs. We have a matrix and can work out the price quickly based on what you need, where and when."
To save time, rather than download and navigate an app, users merely send a Whatsapp or Facebook message directly to SpotHelp, and will receive a reply within a minute, Batcha says.
One of its first customers was a friend who wanted to put him to the test by requesting a delivery of Lady M cakes, a hugely popular sweet delicacy.
"There's always a queue and he didn't want to line up, so we sent someone for him. We lined up and bought his cakes, then he posted about it on Facebook and all hell broke loose," he says. "The phone just kept beeping and beeping. There's a limit of six slices but some people wanted 12 slices, so we sent two people. Some people wanted 24 slices. We sent four people."
Word has spread like wildfire, Batcha says, and little has been spent on marketing. A busy mother who needed a chauffeur for a day turned to the start-up. Happy with the service, she posted about it on Facebook's Hong Kong Moms page. Thereafter, more than 30 other page members expressed an interest in using SpotHelp.
Batcha says about 40 per cent of SpotHelp's customers are mothers who have their hands full. They may need someone to pick up laundry or shopping, deliver and reassemble second-hand furniture, or put up shelves. Other users include time-stretched workers such as bankers or pilots, and even companies.
"We did a corporate event for a digital branding company," Batcha says. "The general manager was in a pickle, doing an event in a couple of days and had no time to plan. She had a venue but needed bartenders, ice - everything sorted. We turned it around in less than 24 hours and she was very happy."
With help from family and local start-ups accelerator Jaarvis Labs, Batcha says, SpotHelp quickly raised more than US$1 million in start-up capital. After assembling a core team, they got together and brainstormed solutions for 1,000 different requests, playing them out one by one to identify bottlenecks and solutions.
"It's just about networking and knowing who to call," he says. "I went to a Hong Kong public school and a lot of my friends are in the food and beverage industry. Some own or work in restaurants, are in a band, or work in cargo or travel agencies. So it's working within our network and reaching out to as many people as possible."
SpotHelp employs a team - dubbed "task heroes" - some of whom are workers whose skills have grown outdated, freelancers from a wide range of occupations, and university students looking for a source of pocket money.
All new requests are the start of a learning curve, he says, but with a bit of imagination can also open the door to new business opportunities. Asked to digitise a CD collection, the team realised that this service had more potential. SpotHelp is now digitising everything from vinyl records and audio cassettes to name card collections. "We will send someone to collect the package of name cards or music, and return it when the job is done."
The task heroes particularly enjoy the surprise jobs, he says.
"There was a guy flying in from the UK who wanted to surprise his girlfriend and needed help setting it up," Batcha says. "We called his hotel, explained the situation, and arranged to set up music, a camcorder and a GoPro - to capture from different angles. We got a cake, and he wanted a special bottle of champagne. We got the room completely clean and set it up for him to propose, chilling the champagne. He said, 'What if she says no?" I said, 'In that case, we can hide in the closet, pop out and say, April fools.'"
Customer service with a personal touch, and a dose of humour, is key to the SpotHelp experience, Batcha says. Humour also comes in handy with pranksters. One man made a late-night call to SpotHelp asking if they could get him a sheep to shave.
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"We wrote back saying we could organise a sheep, but he'd only be able to shear it; not shave it," Batcha says.
They have also been asked to get hold of marijuana. "I mentioned it's against Hong Kong law. We told him all we could offer was a packet of gum and a lot of water, and some McDonald's, if he liked."
After just four months in business, SpotHelp has almost become a one-stop shop, Batcha says - as long as requests are reasonable and not illegal.
"We're an affordable luxury, and I like to think of it as a physical version of Google and Amazon put together, where you can get something on demand."