HouseCall, Led by Ex-Qualcomms, Advances Mobile App for Home Chores
HouseCall, a San Diego-based startup that enables homeowners to tap an online marketplace for plumbers, housekeepers, and other home maintenance services, says it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from San Francisco’s e.ventures, an initial investor in Angie’s List and Groupon.
HouseCall takes a different approach than Angie’s List, Yelp, or HomeAdvisor (previously known as ServiceMagic), according to Reza Olfat, a HouseCall co-founder and lead engineer. For one thing, HouseCall is focused on mobile users, although customers also can book services through the Web. Instead of generating revenue from advertising, HouseCall’s business model is more like Uber, the transportation provider that negotiates contracts with drivers to provide on-demand car service—and takes a percentage of each fare by providing a mobile app that connects customers with drivers.
In the same way, HouseCall says it maintains a roster of carefully selected independent service providers, and takes a slice of each work order sent through its system. This holiday season, for example, HouseCall is offering a Christmas tree delivery service by an intimidating giant elf who might not get hired if he was looking for work on a street corner.
HouseCall also represents a departure from the startup norm, at least in San Diego. All five founders previously worked together at Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), the “great attractor” that loses relatively few employees to the kind of entrepreneurial fervor that runs rampant in Silicon Valley. In San Diego, the wireless giant is known for its relatively high salaries and employee retention—and for regularly appearing in Fortune’s annual listings of America’s “Best Companies to Work For.”
However, Olfat says, “I don’t feel like we’ve burned any bridges, we still talk to those guys. We just did it. I don’t want to say we’re arrogant. We’re just confident in our abilities.”
At Qualcomm, Olfat says he worked with Ian Heidt, Adam Perry-Pelletier, Chris Zwickilton, and Roland Ligtenberg to develop and commercialize Gimbal, the location-sharing technology that began four years ago (as Neer) in Qualcomm Labs, the wireless giant’s in-house technology incubator. The five co-founders started HouseCall in mid-2013.
The company provides one mobile app for homeowners and another for service professionals. (So far, both mobile apps are only available for the iPhone, although homeowners also can access HouseCall on the Web.)
Unlike Angie’s List or Yelp, Olfat says homeowners don’t need to scroll through online reviews or negotiate prices. Homeowners instead select the type of service they need, select someone to provide the service from listings that include picture profiles and ratings, and pay a (usually) fixed-price charge. For service providers, HouseCall’s app includes tools for customer relationship management, scheduling, payment, and billing software they can both use to run their own business and participate in the HouseCall homeowner marketplace. Both apps are provided free.
The company lists home maintenance services in 20 categories, including carpet cleaning, electrical, landscaping, maid service, painting, plumbing, tech help, and even seasonal holiday tasks such as delivering Christmas trees and hanging Christmas lights. After writing recently about San Diego’s inaugural Mini Maker Faire, I’m thinking maybe the do-it-yourself movement isn’t that big after all.
After a three-month beta test in San Diego, HouseCall says, “We were particularly encouraged to see that over a third of our users ordered service at least twice (and often in different categories).” So far, HouseCall is only operating in San Diego, but the company says it is looking to bring its platform to additional cities in the future.
As HouseCall expands, the big question, of course, is how well it can meet competition from established players such as Angie’s List as well as the likes of San Francisco-based TaskRabbit, founded in 2008 with nearly $38 million in cumulative venture funding, and Zaarly, founded in 2011 with more than $15 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, CMEA, and others. And then there is Skyfer, Done, TaskWant, Agent Anything, ViaTask, and more.