When your biannual business event has been satirized by Mike Judge, you need to level up, which is a casual phrase humans say to other humans. And, oh, what a level this year's TechCrunch Disrupt "Battlefield" showed us. Corruption! Hubris! Exploitation! Investment from Michael Arrington! Butlers! It truly had it all.
The startup that took home $50,000 is called Alfred because the last tech bubble already took Jeeves. Just as Uber introduced the world to its private driver, Alfred brings butlers to the masses at the low-low-wait-that's-an-unlivable-wage price of $99/month for weekly home visits.
But it gets even more absurd, Alfred is a butler that manages your other on-demand startup services. Before companies like Homejoy (book a maid online), Washio (book dry cleaning delivery online), and Instacart (book food delivery online) can prove that they will be profitable, there is already a middleman on top of them. Washio doesn't even own a dry cleaning operation, its just a service that brings dry cleaning to your door. Alfred says it will "go the extra meter" and move that dry cleaning from your door into your closet or milk to your refrigerator.
It's middlemen all the way down, people. Startups siphoning off startups. Innovators are now focused on how to make it easier than pressing a button.
Forget the fact that most people have not heard of these startups. There's also the fact that Homejoy, which advertises professional home cleaning for $20/hour (without clarifying that this is only for a 1 bed/1 bath apartment), has left its workers feeling the pinch of having to string together a few hours of cheap labor here and there. So far, Homejoy has raised almost $40 million from venture capitalists.
In terms of investors, Alfred already had Mike Arrington before it won the top prize. An Arrington investment to start the show (Uber) and an Arrington investment to end it—straight from the infomercial playbook. In this disclosure, the "but" has to do a lot of heavy lifting.
[Disclosure: CrunchFund invested in Alfred, but Mike Arrington was not a finals judge, nor in the judging room].
In the announcement, right below "The Winner: Alfred Club," there's a video of the two black cofounders of Partpic, who did not win TechCrunch Disrupt. [Disclosure: I have no idea why the video is there.]
Let's take a closer look at Alfred's pitch, delivered by cofounder Marcela Sapone, who seems like a sharp lady founding a company during a bonkers moment in tech history. (You can watch the video on TechCrunch.) To make this pitch relatable, Sapone tells us about the life of a dude named Dan:
So Dan could have scheduled a Homejoy cleaning or booked Washio to get his laundry. He could have even called Instacart to go grab him milk, but all of that takes time and coordination and the mental energy—Dan doesn't want to give it. So instead Alfred anticipates that Dan will need to press that on demand button and works and acts in the background, coordinating across multiple verticals gluing it all together with a real person so that we actually solve Dan's whole problem.
It takes too much "mental energy" is the same logic behind replacing eating with Soylent and why tech workers dress like crap. This makes sense, precious mental energy should only be expended to make more delivery apps.
Sapone says Alfred has already been working successfully in parts of Boston for 10 months, with a 90 percent retention rate, and cites busy parents as a potential customer base—and the Dans of the world, of course.
Every neighborhood, she says will have its one to three "Alfreds," determined by a "cluster and scheduling algorithm." At four home visits a month, that's less than $25 every time the butler goes to someone's house, minus whatever Alfred's cut is.
We knew this was coming. It's here. The natural successor to 'on demand' is when the services in your life know you and they are automatic . . . So Dan can sit back and have his cereal.
It's almost like being a kid again!