I first heard of Google Helpouts on July 24th. It made perfect sense seeing that their video product – Hangouts – has been their “silver bullet” of social, it’s only logical. However, it’s not new. What they’re offering (consumer focused / expert video chat) has been tried in the past. In 2006 Skype launched something similar, only to shut it down. Since then there’s been a half dozen startups to enter the market offering something similar to Helpouts. Even eBay has a new service they’re testing in the UK.
All that being said, as someone who has a dog in the fight (i.e. expert network / advice as collaborative consumption), I think there’s some interesting aspects worth discussing. So here goes.
5 Unfair Advantages:
Google is HUGE. With $25B in 2012 revenue, they have all the money in the world to invest in making this work. Google+ has been a $500M+ investment so far, and I don’t doubt they’d do something equivelent with Helpouts. Even if you took their deep pockets out of the equation, they still have some very impressive competitive advantages worth considering.
Many people still don’t get it. I think that’s a mistake. Google+ has been gaining adoption amongst marketers for some time now as it’s a HUGE channel to build an audience around. Did you know you can “inbox” message anyone in your circle? You can’t do that on Twitter (followers) or Facebook (fans). For now, Google + allows for this. They also launched Hangouts Live, which allows you to easily schedule and produce a live video show that alos gets syndicated and publish to YouTube with a click of a button. My bet’s on Google+ to be the business social network of choice in 2-3 years for those and many other reasons.
2. Google Wallet
Making anything easier is key to creating a great product experience. That’s why Apple has done such a great job helping app developers monetize their apps using 1-click purchase + in-app purchasing. It’s crazy simple. The world has moved to needing “instant gratification” and having a payments product with millions of cards on file will definitely be a big win for them.
Google owns 67% of the search market. That means they have crazy amounts of data to truly understand consumer demand and drive traffic for these terms to Helpouts. They’ve started doing it in other verticals like travel, air fare, etc. Anyone who depends on this traffic for their business (i.e. Pearl.com, Quora.com, Answers.com, etc) may run into issues as these intent terms are probably high conversion terms for downstream paid accounts to those services.
4. Local / Maps
My guess is that a lot of the experts on Helpouts will naturally come from their local listings, continuing their efforts to displace Yelp. Allowing business owners to offer Helpouts on top of connecting their Google+ profile, will likely allow them to standout in those rankings and build reviews. Providing the ability to potential customer, especially via mobile search, to instantly connect & talk (in many cases for free) would be a huge lead gen driver for local businesses. The conversion of helping someone out -> getting a new customer is likely very high.
Have you used their mobile hangouts product? It’s pretty good .. almost as good a Facetime, except theirs works on almost all mobile devices. If you pair that with the distribution they already have with GChat embeded in Gmail, then doing instant Helpouts will be a cinch. They’ve got A LOT of necessary plumbing built out to leverage real time connections.
Why None of This Matters
I guess for some companies this will matter in a big way. If I’m Yelp, Pearl, Answers, etc .. then I would be really concerned. If Helpouts can pull it off, then they’ll be able to provide an instant connection to millions of consumers looking for help on topics they search for every day. As for me (and Clarity) here’s why I’m not concerned.
The market is HUGE!
When you consider why people search, it’s usually to learn something. Either they need to make a decision about something pressing, they’re looking to do something for the first time, or they want to gain a better understanding of a topic. Everything from consumer focused topics like DIY repair, to more business focused topics like managing your finances as a growing business. Each one of these are multi-billion dollar markets ready for disruption. Having Google help teach the market how the future will work only helps us build a stronger customer base.
Consumer vs. Business
As it stands today – Helpouts is very much focused on consumer topics like cooking, computer support, exercise, etc. These are actually some of the top categories that sites like www.ether.com (acquired by AT&T), powhow.com and www.pearl.com make their money from – so it’s not surprising that google is starting there. Clarity is very much focused on business advice and the millions of knowledge workers looking to make better professional decisions every day.
Video Adds Friction
In the early days of Clarity we actually tested Skype Video session for calls. Turns out it dramatically reduces the number of “opportunities” for advice that someone was able to offer. Half our experts do their calls in commute or between meetings. For the most part, they don’t want to think about their appearance prior to taking a request. That being said, the ability to offer shared browsing, etc are things we’re discussing.
Marketplaces Are Hard
The challenge will be building credibility in this space. Creating a marketplace and letting anyone list themselves, and outsourcing support, just add to the challenges. Ask anyone at Fivvr, Thumbtack or Udemy and they’ll all tell you that it requires hands on curation of experts, topics and customers to build a solid community that drives demand.
Free vs. Paid
Doing both is hard. If you’re free, then the goal is lead gen and you might expect the person to take the call and just try to upsell you the whole time. Doing paid is different as it means you need to curate and ensure all your customers have a positive experience (we have a 97% 5 star rating for ALL Clarity calls) – so doing so at scale is tough. Also, it seems the price point people are willing to pay for advice is around $19 dollars. So, does that perception cheapen you if you normally charge $150/hour for your time?
To Sum It All Up
Google needs to infuse some community building culture into it’s business. Any of the following companies would be a great acquisition for Google: Udemy (disclosure: I’m an investor), PowHow, Popexpert or LiveNinja. Why not Clarity? Well, we aren’t for sale. Also, our customers are entrepreneurs, executives and knowledge workers. We want to help companies make better decisions and provide their employees with higher quality advice to reduce learning curves and grow faster.
Our team is extremely dedicated to this mission, and having Google Helpouts launch today only further validates the opportunity we started seeing early last year. We’ve never been more excited about our future.