Tracking down a repair company to mend a leaky roof? While searching online using Google has replaced much of the hassle of leafing through Yellow Book pages, it still can be challenging to find the right company and coordinating work schedules.
Which is why Potomac, Md-based Seva Call, which launched in Baltimore in July, handles the coordinating for you.
Using the startup’s web interface, people search in their city for the service they need — plumbing, accounting, roof repair and the like.
Users plug in times during the week they’re available, a short description of the problem they need fixed and Seva Call takes on the burden of calling service providers, one of whom will call the Seva Call user if it’s a job the service provider can take on.
As co-founder Manpreet Singh, 29, says, “What if we actually tell the businesses when the consumers want help, and then tell [businesses] where they’re located and what the description is before [businesses] talk to them?”
The idea for Seva Call came out of troubles CEO Gurpreet Singh (brother to Manpreet) had with a former business, Geeks on Site. In that startup, Gurpreet fielded phone calls from consumers in need of computer and IT assistance, but many of the callers became frustrated when the specific problems they were having weren’t matters with which Geeks on Site could assist.
“[Gurpreet] spent almost $1 million of his own money to get consumers to call him,” Singh says. “There was no way for him to choose or pick his customers.”
What the brothers Singh have done with Seva Call is construct a pay-for-conversation model. Businesses only speak with those consumers they want to. Businesses receive leads for jobs for free—these are automatic phone calls placed to businesses after a person requests service through Seva Call’s online interface—and only pay something to Seva Call if they talk to the consumer.
Watch a promo video.
On the consumer side, Seva Call users who end up speaking to businesses over the phone are talking to service providers who “already know what you want, where you’re located and when you want to get the service performed,” Singh says.
And the businesses themselves have been screened for quality: Singh’s team created a database of businesses in the U.S.—using Google, Yelp and CitiSearch, among other resources, in the process—and then built an algorithm that figures out which business is best suited for a particular user’s service request.
In the Baltimore area alone, some 2,000 businesses are registered on Seva Call. Although, Singh says, Seva Call hasn’t spent a great deal of time registering businesses on the site, opting instead to let businesses essentially find out on their own that they’re being contacted by consumers via Seva Call, and then filling businesses in about the startup if they ask.
Seva Call, which launched in Washington, D.C., in June, has also expanded to Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia, and Philadelphia. The service is in open beta nationwide, although Singh says the plan is to expand to other cities along the East Coast throughout the fall and be in another 10 to 20 cities by year’s end.
The Singh brothers are natives of Silver Spring, Md., and are University of Maryland, College Park graduates. (Manpreet also spent two years at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.) Right now they’re running Seva Call out of their parents’ basement with the help of a $1.3 million in capital raised last fall. And while some venture capital firms on the West Coast have tried to entice Seva Call into relocating, Singh says they’re here to stay.
“We’re from this area, and we want to do well for this area,” he says. “We believe the ecosystem is here to allow you to build a great business.”