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Product idea: SMS Based Personal Assistant

This past week I was in Brisbane promoting our upcoming design conference. I was scheduled in to give 15 presentations to design colleges / universities in 4 days.

The entire experience was made a lot easier because my amazing friend and business partner Leisha went to the effort of sending me an SMS at the beginning of each day with a list of the presentations I had that day, the address & location of the presentation and the room number and contact details of the person I had to check in with.


The Experience

While not highly technical, Leisha’s efforts made a huge difference to my week. Knowing I had all the details I needed in my phone meant I could focus on the task at hand and enjoy my down time without having to stress about where my next presentation was or how I was going to find the room.



Last month I was in SF staying by myself using Airbnb. At the time they were testing a new service named Local Companion. There service is an SMS style conversation with a person employed by Airbnb to help make your experience better.

In the screen shots below, you can see I was asked if I liked a band (based on a YouTube clip) and then offered two tickets to their gig that night.sms2 sms3


Surprisingly great

In each case, I’ve been surprised how great the experience has been. With the Airbnb example, I was travelling alone and I really appreciated some local suggestions of things to do and placed to visit. While in Brisbane last week, it was small thing to have locations and names SMS’d to me each morning, but knowing that I had the info with me meant I didn’t have to stress at all about being late or missing a presentation.


Other use cases

It’s easy to see how this kind of personal SMS based, assistant-style service would be valuable to a lot of people. Certainly organising appointments etc. is useful, but cafe or restaurant recommendations are great, but I can think of 100’s of other ways a service like this could be useful.

If the person at the other end knew I liked to cook breakfast on the weekend (which I do) I’d love to know if my local supermarket had avocados on special for example. The more the app/person knew about me, the more valuable it would become.


Could everyone experience this?

Airbnb has the resources to try this out without worrying about the cost and Leisha was doing her work on our company time, but is it possible that anyone could pay to use a service like this?

Here are some rough numbers I’ve been playing with.

I’ve estimated that 1 person might be able to handle 10 – 15 customers at one time. One of the tricky parts to this is that you can see this service being useful outside regular work hours as well as weekends so the amount of time required to service them is not clear to me.

Let’s work with the lowest and most conservative number of customers, 10 per employee.

Leisha was able to make a big different to my week by sending me a series of messages that I would think didn’t take longer than 30 – 45mins to put together. Across 10 customers though, that’s 7.5 hours or a typical work day.

If our employee is earning $60,000 per year, each customer would have to pay $6,000 a year or $500 per-month.

When I asked a couple of people about the idea today, then said they would like to pay “about the same as I pay for Spotify”. Spotify is $11.99 per month in Australia. So our new service is 41x Spotify right now.

Looking around online, some virtual assistants start around $30 a month and go to $200 and above, so it’s likely my estimates are off.



This wouldn’t be a difficult idea to prototype and test to get more information, but I don’t have the bandwidth right now to do so. I believe that people would love this kind of service but I think the challenge lies in creating a sustainable business around it.




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