Life as a mobile developer can be tough. First, you’re hoping and praying your app will get noticed among the thousands in Apple’s App Store. Then, if you’re lucky, you hit the jackpot — your app’s downloaded by 10,000 users. But your excitement lasts only until you start getting tons of customer complaints and you have no money to pay a customer support staff.
Now, if you could outsource that customer support when you need it, wouldn’t you? That’s the pitch a startup called Help Me is making to mobile app developers. The Karachi, Pakistan-based company, which launched in April 2008, is an off shoot of Next Generation Innovations. “Mobile app support is currently non existent, and a niche where we can help provide affordable support,” says Farzal Dojki, CEO of Next generation Innovations.
Currently Apple doesn’t have a very good after-sale support mechanism for the apps in its AppStore: Users click on a “Report a Problem” button, and are then prompted to go to the developers website, where they can directly contact the developer. Developers working with Help Me would link their contact information (email or phone) to Help Me so that Help Me can then take over the support.
One of the company’s most recent clients, Jaadu VNC, is a sophisticated app that lets users access their computers from anywhere with their iPhone. Jaadu needed tech support to deal with multiple operating systems, internet service providers, networking equipment, and firewalls. “While it’s important for iPhone developers to listen to their customers, having developers function as tech support staff can be taxing and ultimately not sustainable”, said Jahanzeb Sherwani, CEO of Jugaari, the Mountain View-based company that is behind Jaadu VNC.
Next Generation Innovations is angel funded and profitable since last summer. Help Me, which primarily handles mobile apps support, currently has 5 international customers — 3 in the US, 1 in the UK and 1 in Germany. Gross revenue of these 5 customers is over $ 5 Million.
I also asked Farzal how he was able to attract current clients and how he would scale his work, given the delicate political climate of Pakistan. He told me that guerrilla activities happening at the border do not impact life in the big cities such as Karachi. Pakistan is one of only 7 countries with an MIT Enterprise Forum chapter, which holds business plan competitions among other activities. The telecom sector in particular is growing at a rapid pace: There are 5 Wi-Max providers, putting Pakistan in the top 3 countries when ranked by number of WiMax deployments. In addition, Motorola, Huawei, Nortel, Ericson, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, and Oracle have a presence in Pakistan.
Farzal says the company is looking at two potential business models for mobile applications support. In one, Help Me directly charges developers — small developers who don’t have enough resources or even expertise for tech support might be willing to pay a little premium. In the second, Help Me might be able to partner with Apple to provide technical support for iPhone developers. This would substantially simplify the support process and result in happier users. Apple already has a similar partnership with Skyhook Wireless. Apple made geo-based application programming interfaces completely free to developers in order to promote location-based services, but Skyhook actually provides the technology. Apple could potentially take the same route for after sale support.
Despite its remote presence, Help Me has done quite well as evidenced by its early clients and profitability. But in order to woo Apple or any other big customers., I think it will need to have presence of some sort in the US.