After Aaron Patzer sold personal finance site Mint.com to Intuit for $170 million in 2009, he went out and bought a house in New Zealand. It was Patzer’s first home, and he quickly learned how little he knew about everything from plumbing to electrical to landscaping. So he went to the web, and found a bunch of how-to videos that rarely addressed his specific issue or allowed him to ask questions.
That experience ultimately led Patzer to create Fountain, which last week came out of stealth mode and announced that it had raised $4 million in VC funding from First Round Capital and Shasta Ventures.
Fountain is an iPhone platform for connecting homeowners with all sorts of home maintenance professionals. Here’s how it works: Imagine you have a roofing question. You’d open up the Fountain app, and ask it either via text or voice (it has developed proprietary natural language algorithms). It then would present you with a number of roofing experts on the Fountain platform, with estimated wait times for each one. You select your “expert” and, when the session begins, you can interact via text or a proprietary video chat service that allows both you and the expert to “draw” on your iPhone:
Fountain charges users in 15-minute increments, based on national averages for salaries in a particular industry. For example, 15 minutes with a plumber will cost the user $5, based on the $40,000 national average for plumbers (with Fountain taking a small piece). Fountain uses Braintree for payment processing.
This pricing strategy is aimed at helping solve part of Fountain’s chicken-and-egg problem of getting enough experts on the system, by effectively offering better rates for experts who don’t work in high-priced markets (plus giving them extra income opportunities on nights and weekends, without having to leave their couches). In other words, a Manhattan apartment-owner may be getting help with flooring repair from someone in rural South Dakota. This lack of geographic specificity reduces the possibility of experts soliciting “in-person” work from users (something that Fountain forbids), although the platform does recognize that certain gardening questions can be best answered by experts who work in similar climates to the users.
Once a session is completed, Fountain asks users to rate the experts via a five-star system (similar to Uber).
Patzer says that while the platform is launching with a focus on home and garden, it could be used for virtually any time of expert Q&A. Everything from autos to math homework. He also says that there are hopes of eventually archiving sessions, so that users can look back at them for future reference.
In addition to CEO Patzer, Fountain’s nine employees include co-founder and CTO Jean Sini, who also is a veteran on Mint.com.
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