L.A. Firm Hires College Kids to Set up Old Folks' Computers

Seriously, an iPad? It has one button.EXPAND
Seriously, an iPad? It has one button.
via HelloTech

Ganeev Singh, a 20-year-old UCLA student, used to earn spare money as a delivery driver for Postmates. But the job didn't pay that well — about $10 an hour, minus the cost of gas — so he gave it up. Then in the spring, he went to a networking night on campus and got in touch with a company called HelloTech.

The L.A.-based startup is hiring college students to provide in-home tech support, mostly to older customers. Singh signed up, and now he makes $25 an hour doing house calls.

"It's a good amount of money, especially for any sort of job as a college student," he says. "We already have this knowledge."

HelloTech is one of several companies trying to take on the mobile tech-support market. One of them is Geekatoo, a Silicon Valley company with a nationwide network of "geeks" who offer tech support to homes and businesses. Another is Enjoy, an e-commerce company that sends techs out to deliver and install tech products. All of these startups are challenging the incumbent, Best Buy's Geek Squad, which has been around for two decades.

HelloTech was founded by Richard Wolpert, who was the managing director of Amplify L.A., a tech accelerator. He and his co-founders got the idea over dinner, when they were talking about how they all help their parents and neighbors set up their computers. With the proliferation of smart devices for the home, and the decline of retail stores such as Circuit City and Radio Shack, they decided there was a market for an "Uber for tech support." (Geekatoo also calls itself "Uber for tech support.")

HelloTech has raised $4.5 million in two funding rounds, and launched the service in May. Initially it was available within a five-mile radius of UCLA; that recently expanded to 10 miles. The service costs $79 an hour.

The difference between the cost and the worker's wage goes into branding, training, guaranteeing the work and generating a return for investors. For HelloTech, there's a risk that customers and techs might go "off-platform" and make a deal that would cut out the middleman. Wolpert says that's less of a risk with college students than it would be for professional technicians.

"The college students are very focused on, 'What am I getting out of this?'" Wolpert says. "The student is not looking at this as a 40- to 50-hour-a-week job."

Earlier this week, Singh was called to an apartment in Beverlywood to help set up a scanner for a retired UC professor, who asked not to be named.

"Just put down 'a 75-year-old codger,'" he said. "I got an ex-wife who tracks my every move."

The professor was having difficulty connecting the scanner to his WiFi network, and with several other issues. He told Singh that he had learned six or seven different word processing systems over the years, starting with an old mainframe computer at the university.

"The computer industry — it's like, in the auto industry, if every time they came out with a new model you had to learn to drive again," he said. "If they want improvements, or to install new things — that's fine. But if people want to be able to keep doing it the same old way, they should be able to. It's a ripoff! I get fed up. If some company figures that out, there is a market there. Keep that in mind."

Singh connected the scanner to the WiFi network. The professor got out his grandparents' wedding photo from 1897 and scanned it successfully. Singh then uncluttered his desktop and went through a checklist of other issues. The professor seemed satisfied.

"If you go public, I'll buy some stock," he said.

Singh is a biochemistry major planning a career in medicine. He's been around technology his entire life — he was 12 when the first iPhone came out — so most of the problems he confronts on the job are second nature.

"It’s a good way to get some extra cash to buy textbooks and whatnot," he says. "There's also a helping factor — you're helping people who actually need the help."

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