HelpHive Tests “Pay Per Job” Model, Connects Home-Service Businesses with Consumers

10/21/09Follow @gthuang

Doing some home remodeling? Need someone to clean that pesky gutter? Karim Meghji has an offer for you.

Meghji and Dave Richards, both veterans of Seattle-based RealNetworks (NASDAQ: RNWK), have been busy working on their home-services networking site, HelpHive, since it was first publicly introduced in May. The community site helps people find reputable businesses in the Seattle area that do home repair, maintenance, remodeling, cleaning, and the like. The idea is that consumers leave reviews, and people in your social network can recommend local businesses for getting specific jobs done. If done right, it should work a lot better than doing Google and Yellow Pages searches.

Up to now, HelpHive has been free for both consumers and businesses that sign up to be on the site. But today, the company is starting to test a paid model for businesses. (It’s still free for consumers.) So home-services businesses—everyone from plumbers and electricians to landscapers and carpet cleaners to pest control—can pay an annual fee ($99 for an introductory premium plan) to be listed on the site. Then HelpHive uses a “pay per job” model, whereby the company takes a 5 percent commission on any referral that leads to an actual job; if the referral doesn’t lead to a job, the business pays a nominal $5 fee, which is aggregated monthly. That’s different from a lot of online services that charge primarily for leads or referrals, or phone calls, whether or not they turn into revenue for the company. (Which approach is more lucrative depends on how well the service companies do.)

“As their business ebbs and flows, we’re more directly tying our compensation to their compensation,” Meghji says. And, he adds, “Our leads or referrals are higher quality.”

Meghji says the site is getting 9,000 to 10,000 unique visitors per month, and has some 7,600 businesses listed. The plan, he says, is to “stay focused on Seattle. Get it right, get the business model working, and once we get the formula really figured out, then we would look to replicate it in other markets.” Other Internet companies working in the home-services space include Colorado-based ServiceMagic and Silicon Valley’s Redbeacon.

HelpHive has been self-funded since its inception in the summer of 2008, with some contributions from friends and family. The company has four full-time employees and a couple of part-timers. Meghji says it’s still too early to talk about raising outside funding. “The goal is to show the business model connects to the overall value proposition,” he says. “We want to make a good case with real data, and prove the model.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://www.helphive.info Evan Conklin

    Helphive.com is some new kind of scam website

    It exploits businesses and consumers seeking services.

    All businesses listed on this supposed consumer directory have a fake phone number substituted for the company’s real phone number. This fake phone number belongs to the owners of Helphive,com . These local business listings are not placed there by the business but have been harvested from other sources. Helphive.com apparently thinks that it is OK to use any company’s name and substitute the real contact information (the company phone number) with another so that they can harvest the incoming information and make money from it in various ways. If it is your misfortune to own a business listed on this site your customer has been hijacked. Helphive claims that they are giving the company listed a “free” ad or listing. Well, it is not a real benefit to any company if they are collecting data and hiding your real phone number from the public. They have no right to use your company name in conjuction with a phone nuber that isn’t yours without your permission.

    Businesses Beware! Think about it. Do you really want anybody out there to misdirect your calls to themselves first (for any reason), harvest any information they can get from it, and then (theroretically) forward the call to you? Who needs some unknown greedy unethical corporate jerks screening and recording information regarding your incoming phone calls from your customers? They claim they are forwardingthe calls to the business. Are they really. So what if they are. They didn’t forward mine. I called the supposed phone number they attached to my business listing and it did not ring my phone. It dropped me into a programmed data collection program requesting to know what kind of service I was looking for, when I wanted the service performed etc. The program told me that my company was unavailable and then proceeded to get buying information from me. For what purpose? To sell it to somebody of course. The jerks just stole my customer usingmy name.

    The scenario I just described is outright fraud. It is a theft of my reputation, my name and my customer. It is a fraud upon the consumer who thinks they contacted my office looking for a service. They were lied to as we were open and our phones were functional. They had no way to know that the voice machine telling them that we were unavailable wasn’t us telling them that.

    Even if they say that they are forwarding the call to your business, how do you know? Even if they do it, as they say for “free”, how about next year? They call you up on your real phone number and try to sell you an “upgrade” to improve your position in their listings or whatever. The phone is your lifeline between your company and the public. Helphive is attempting to wedge themsemselves between the customer and the services you provide. Do we really need a for-profit company screening our incoming calls, harvesting our customer information and then doing as they wish with the customer all the while hiding our phone number from them?

    What happens when other online directories harvest information from their site? The possibility exists that that phoney number that everbody thinks is your phone number gets replicated in other websites and directories. When Google searches it matches your company name up with the phoney contact number and then what? How is anybody going to undo that damage to your company when your phone stops ringing because everbody is calling a phoney phone number that has your business name attached to it?

    We need a class action lawsuit now to recover damages that we can’t even estimate. If it isn’t illegal to place ads or listings to the public using our company’s name without permission and faking our phone numbers, we need a law now. This behavior is damaging to all businesses listed on their site. In my opinion the activity of Helphive.com is outright criminal in intent. If we can’t call the cops then we file a civil suit.

    Contact Helphive.com and demand that they stop using your company name and attaching a phoney telephone number while hiding your real telephone number.

    File complaints with the Attorney General, the BBB, and anybody else you can think of.

    File a civil suit to stop them from using your good company’s name for their profit without your permission.

    Join a class action suit if you can find one.

  • http://www.helphive.com Karim Meghji

    HelpHive.com is NOT a scam website as Evan Conklin suggests NOR do we exploit business and consumers seeking services.

    I’ll avoid using or responding to defamatory and slanderous accusations, and focus on the conveniently missing facts from Evan Conklin’s comments:

    1) “They call you up on your real phone number and try to sell you an “upgrade” to improve your position in their listings or whatever”

    Yes, we did call Evan Conklin… as a followup to questions Evan Conklin POSTED via our customer service system about how the contact information
    on HelpHive works. It was not nor was it intended to be a sales call.

    2) “All businesses listed on this supposed consumer directory have a fake phone number substituted for the company’s real phone number. This fake phone number belongs to the owners of Helphive.com.”

    Yes, we do have a HelpHive phone number on each business listing. We do this so we can provide a low risk, low cost, performance based model to businesses interested in generating referrals and business from HelpHive. Our business approach is “we get paid when the business is getting paid”. In order to do this, we employ a proxy phone number to track and report to businesses referrals that originated from HelpHive and HelpHive customers. This is not like otherapproaches where evaluating the return on investment can be challenging at best:

    - paying a flat, monthly advertising fee to various phonebooks, online directories or other sites where businesses pay regardless of whether they get referrals or jobs
    - paying a per lead fee to various offline or online services where businesses pay regardless of the quality of the lead or whether the lead resulted in a job

    How a business listing, including contact information, works on HelpHive:

    - every business receives a free customizable listing page ; once a business claims their page, a business can provide information about their services, specialties and post work portfolio as well as request customers to post reviews of their work
    - the ways a customer can contact a business includes the HelpHive phone number as well as a HelpHive.com text-based messaging system. This phone number directs the phone call to the business’s phone number when in trial mode (all businesses when they are first listed) or businesses who have chosen to signup for the one of our referral plans
    - a business that has claimed their page can opt to turn off the HelpHive contact information if they so choose; also a business that has yet to claim their page can request that we turn off their contact information (which we did in the case of )

    3) “They had no way to know that the voice machine telling them that we were unavailable wasn’t us telling them that.”

    When a customer calls a business via HelpHive, the first thing they hear is a welcome from HelpHive and then a request to enter the HelpHive extension of the business they are trying to reach.

    4) “They claim they are forwarding the calls to the business. Are they really. So what if they are. They didn’t forward mine. I called the supposed phone number they attached to my business listing and it did not ring my phone. It dropped me into a programmed data collection program requesting to know what kind of service I was looking for, when I wanted the service performed etc. The program told me that my company was unavailable and then proceeded to get buying information from me. For what purpose? To sell it to somebody of course.”

    In Evan Conklin’s case, the HelpHive phone system encountered their automated phone answering attendant when trying to direct the call to the business; our system treated the automated attendant as an answering machine and as such went into voice message mode. We are resolving the particular issue posed by this case of an automated answering attendant – we expect to have a fix for this on our site this week. All of this was explained to Evan Conklin – and conveniently left out of his comment. Additionally, we DO NOT have a “programmed data collection program” which we sell. This information is collected by our phone system in voice message mode (i.e. when a business doesn’t answer a call originating from HelpHive) for the exclusive and sole purpose of the business being contacted.

    5) “Do we really need a for-profit company screening our incoming calls, harvesting our customer information and then doing as they wish with the customer all the while hiding our phone number from them?”

    We do NOT screen incoming calls as part of any normal operating process – we do NOT harvest information from a customer for any purpose other than providing that information to the business the customer attempted to contact.

    6) On a related note, as part of our normal operating process we review all reviews of businesses posted on HelpHive.com to ensure genuineness and accuracy and to prevent false or shill reviews being posted by businesses themselves (which is in fact a violation of HelpHive.com Terms of Service agreed to by users who post reviews). In going through our normal procedure we found 2 reviews posted on Evan Conklin’s respective businesses dated October 30th by an account setup on HelpHive that very same day. The email address associated with the account that posted the reviews (seattleonly.com) is owned by Evan Conklin. Draw your own conclusion. We have since removed these questionable reviews to protect the integrity of the HelpHive community.

  • Seth

    Helphive has a great service for any contractor thats used online leads. They direct traffic to their site and send the contractor leads. They get leads for you!! Conklin needs to check his facts. I hope there is some recourse againt him for his lies. I guess some people have nothing better to do than write something so misleading? If you dont like the service dont use them. I have used many online services and have had mixed results. Helphive has the best business model and great customer service. Americas Best heating

  • http://www.aawindowgutter.com Brett VandenBrink

    Helphive.com is not a scam. I claimed my listing with them and have received several jobs so far. I have also met with the owners at a breakfast they sponsored to get input from business owners. Yesterday we had a professional video photographer at our business that spent an hour and a half creating a video to represent our business on the Helphive.com website. This was at Helphive’s expense and was free to us. Several customers have called our office recently to report that our technicians have done great work at their residence. I have asked them to post their comments on Helphive.com so that other potential customers can read these comments and I can refer potential customers to them for an unbiased reference. Although they are just getting started I think they are already adding real value to homeowners and service providers both. I do think the proxy phone numbers can be
    fine tuned to offer a seamless connection that will allow customers to call a business and Helphive to charge for the lead. I do hope they get a following of customers who go to Helphive to find a service provider rather than just capturing search traffic for different categories of services and selling the leads. I have gotten a lot of business from customers who
    researched our company on Angie’s List, Puget Sound Checkbook and Yelp and have found these companies add value to the market place. I don’t appreciate businesses who offer no value but just seek to get between my customer and myself. This is not an easy business to break into and I am hopeful they will make it work.

  • http://www.plumbstar.com Tim Carr

    I’m on the fence. I like the pay per job vs. pay per lead model. I don’t like the idea that someone else controls a phone number that represents my business. I think there ought to be a law against that, and there probably is. I’ve been offered that from yellow page advertisers, but always turn it down. It has always been my choice. I claimed my listing just to have some control over it. I found a ton and I mean a ton of sites out there that claim to have your business information and it was all wrong. It didn’t even say that it hadn’t been verified yet. I don’t know how many countless people could have found me on the web, called a bad number and assumed I’m out of business. I really think it is fraud to post a listing of a business without their permission and without verifying that the contact informatio actually belongs to the business and is current. A business today really needs to have a full time position dedicated to correcting erroneous information on the web.
    As for Help Hive, I don’t remember if they listed a bad phone number for me or not. I would like them to get rid of the proxy phone number and find another way to track it. Follow up with the customer who wants the referral, make the customer click a link to get the phone number and track the clicks to each phone number, but put our real phone number. I think they are likely to get into a law suit if they don’t change that part of it. I understand the desire to track referrals, but don’t do it by hijacking my phone calls.

    Tim
    PlumbStar Corporation