Mobile applications like Tinder and Airbnb continue to provide ways for people to use their location anywhere in the world to find, help, and connect with each other.
South Africans have mostly piggy-backed on these foreign-created apps, and with great success, but one local entrepreneur, Francois Briers, still found the need for a more localised and wider offering to meet the needs of South African consumers.
“Although many social platforms exist to bring people together in a pleasant and popular way, and are supported by specific services like food, transport and lodging, the various home maintenance and repair issues of everyday life cannot be ignored,” says Briers.
“Not much has been done in South Africa to connect consumers with the types of businesses that deal with essential, and sometimes, critical situations. So why not use the ever-growing trend of smartphone apps to make this easier,” he says.
To fill this void, Briers launched the HelpOut app, an online tool that connects households with registered servicemen like plumbers, electricians, as well as taxi drivers. With a click of a button they will show up at your door.
“‘Finding the closest service provider, at the right price, used to mean trawling the internet or referencing the Yellow Pages, not to mention the time wasted waiting for the service provider to arrive.
“Now it’s as simple as downloading a free and user-friendly app, that offers an array of the service providers closest to you and getting emergency work done, or a quote, near instantly,” he says.
Building on the success of location services used by other apps, the service offers great advantages to the service providers. More important to note, though, is that when the service provider benefits, these benefits extend to the consumer as well.
‘During our research phase, servicemen like DSTV and alarm installers told us that most of their day was spent on the road travelling ‘longer than necessary’ distances between jobs. The same applied to taxi operators travelling further between fares,” he says. “Now, because our service providers can concentrate on jobs or fares within shorter travelling distances, they are able to do more call-outs or collect more passengers each day. This means that they are able to be more competitive on price – and customers are always looking for the best deal.”
With HelpOut customers being top-of mind, Francois also highlights the importance of only signing up servicemen and taxi operators who have been screened, and who many well-known and reputable companies have already dealt with.
The service also aims to be as flexible as possible. It offers both cash and credit card payment options at your door.
HelpOut has been available on both Android and Apple since 2014 and has undergone numerous revisions, but Francois says the team will continue to keep the application up-to-date and relevant, and continuously working by improving on design and user friendliness. Additional features will be added as the subscriber base grows.
Francois also has plans to include the introduction of a rating service, similar to other popular apps.
The future bodes well for local mobile applications like HelpOut and the consumers that subscribe. Research shows that South Africa leads the number of mobile application downloads in sub-Saharan Africa. The Global System for Mobile Association’s (GSMA) ‘Mobile Economy Report for Sub-Saharan Africa 2015′ adds that social networking and instant messaging apps from global internet players are very popular among smartphone users in the region.
There is, however, a growing interest from local consumers in home-grown apps. Several popular local apps have originated from South Africa, and are now gaining traction in other countries.
Furthermore, the growth in smartphones has spurred a local industry that is racing to build relevant applications that can meet the needs of consumers.
The idea to develop HelpOut initially came about following Briers’ personal experience with the lack of viable options available to him. Because of this, he believes that feedback from users’ personal experience will play a key role in the future evolution of the app.
“One of the greatest benefits of HelpOut is that consumers can easily access available products and services,” he says. “That is why we’ve included a special feature which shows users specials on products and services offered by retail stores and restaurants in close proximity to the user.”
It is like a virtual billboard, and once you click on a featured option, it will direct you to the retailer offering the promotion via your phone’s GPS.
The Gadget Shop, along with many other stores, has already signed up for this feature.