Calif. — The broken printer frayed Ross Armstrong’s
had to make photo copies of the death certificate of his
late husband, Jay Stern, who died in May. But it was
Stern who had always handled home tech repairs, and
Armstrong, drowning in the grief of his loss, broke down
at the small but horribly timed irritation.
the printer break was the straw that broke the camel’s
back. I thought, ‘What else now?’" Armstrong
said. "Before, every time something went wrong, I’d
say ‘Jay, fix it.’"
two hours on the phone with Hewlett-Packard and $90
later, a new printer was on its way to Armstrong’s
Oakland home. But he left it in the box in his bedroom,
he said, without the first clue about how to set it up.
thought I could spend two hours trying to do this and
cursing and sweating and probably not get it
right," said Armstrong, who is 60 and retired.
he Googled "Geek Squad," the tech support and
repair service owned by big-box retailer Best Buy. The
results Google gave him included not only Geek Squad’s
website, but another name: Geekatoo.
is among a growing crop of startups offering Uber-style,
on-demand service for home and office tech repair, setup
and troubleshooting. These companies dispatch tech
experts when summoned to fix everything from a cracked
iPhone screen to a tricky Nest installation or a laptop
riddled with malware.
tech expert from San Francisco-based Geekatoo arrived at
Armstrong’s promptly at 9 one morning this month to
set up the new printer.
he started typing in commands I thought ‘Boy, am I
glad I didn’t do this,’" Armstrong said.
"It was way under an hour that he got this thing
such a service sounds familiar, it’s because Geek
Squad has been offering it since 1994. But, with classic
Silicon Valley hubris, startups have declared that
business too slow and expensive, and are each battling
to become the tech Superman who will swoop in and dazzle
consumers with their solutions to tech frustrations
large and small.
got a ways to go. Geekatoo is among the largest, with
7,000 independent contractors serving across the
country; it’s raised $2.1 million from investors since
2013. Co-founder and CEO Kevin Davis says he started the
company shortly after Geek Squad kept his laptop for
three months, lost it along the way and then told him
they couldn’t fix it. Eden, which launched in May, has
raised $1.3 million from investors and employs about 35
people who serve Bay Area residents. And Enjoy, another
startup that emerged in May, has about 140 employees,
has raised $30 million and serves the Bay Area and New
Squad, by comparison, has 20,000 employees and is in
every strip mall across the country that houses one of
Best Buy’s 1,049 stores.
startups don’t have distribution," said Robert
Stephens, Geek Squad founder and former chief technical
officer of Best Buy. "Target’s not going to buy
them. They are basically sitting around waiting for a
said to these guys: ‘What are you doing? Why are you
so far, customers have been tickled by these startups
— particularly retired or older customers who use
technology at home, are sometimes overwhelmed by it and
have the cash to pay someone to fix it.
Suess, a retired realtor in San Francisco, used the same
tech repairman for years — but he moved out of state,
and when she found herself with a new Comcast modem that
wouldn’t connect to the many Wi-Fi devices around her
home, she didn’t know who to call. A neighbor
recommended San Francisco-based Eden.
two hours I had a handsome, muscular, smart, courteous
young man in my home," she said. "He was so
efficient and went right about the business. He took
care of it. He didn’t hang around talking."
U.S. tech support industry makes about $30 billion in
annual revenue, according to research by Parks
Associates, a consulting firm. And with the growth of
the Internet of Things — devices such as thermostats,
door locks and hot water heaters that are connected to
the Internet to gather and share data — the need for
home tech service is expected to grow. Devices such as
Dropcam, a Wi-Fi video streaming camera for home
security, isn’t the easiest devices to set up at home,
even for the tech-savvy.
I look at the market opportunity and all the wireless
systems that people want to get installed at home, it’s
a great time" for companies like Eden, said Rebecca
Lynn, a general partner with Canvas Venture Fund, which
has backed Eden. "It’s not just ‘Hey, come fix
hires technicians who must pass tests on their technical
as well as people skills — they have to be polite,
take their shoes off in people’s homes and be patient
with customers who are frustrated, said CEO and
co-founder Joe Du Bey said.
want their homes to be a place where everything
works," he said.
STORY CAN END HERE)
company is in the process of reclassifying its
technicians from independent contractors to employees.
Menlo Park-based Enjoy also hires full- or part-time
employees who are experienced in IT. Geekatoo’s
technicians, however, are contract workers. The company
says many of them are self-employed and use Geekatoo to
earn extra cash on the side — but Geekatoo can expect
to take some heat for how it classifies its workers as
all on-demand tech companies face mounting backlash for
overreliance on independent contractors.
offers a service slightly different form the other two:
Customers can buy high-end gadgets, such as a GoPro
camera or drone, from the Enjoy website; the startup has
a deal with hardware companies to buy their products
wholesale and sell them at retail prices. For no extra
cost, an Enjoy technician delivers the gadget to the
customer’s home, sets it up and connects it to other
wireless devices in the house, and gives the customer a
tutorial on their new toy.
Ari Bloom, Enjoy’s head of marketing and
communications: "People think they just want some
help, but when they get an expert in their house, they
realize all that they don’t know."
SUPPORT TO YOUR FRONT DOOR
it offers: On-demand tech repair wherever it’s needed
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$69 per hour with the first hour free; $79 flat fee for
it offers: On-demand tech repair for homes and
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