Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Directly Is a TaskRabbit for Online Customer Service

A new site called wants to outsource customer service. But it doesn’t want to help companies outsource their own customer service — it wants to help customers get better service by asking questions and getting answers from outside “experts,” often for a fee.

Think of it like TaskRabbit, Redbeacon, or LawPivot — but instead of getting help around the house or medical or legal advice, Directly helps people with their problems related to AT&T, Bank of America, DirecTV or one of the other 24 companies it independently supports.

For those companies’ customers, Directly wants to be an alternative to tweeting out into the ether, struggling through often-unhelpful overseas call centers, or scanning the dead ends of online forum discussions to find the occasional relevant comment.

Directly co-founder Antony Brydon claimed in an interview last week that companies don’t mind that Directly is stepping in between them and their customers. He said that, in testing — Directly has been operating for the past year under the name — companies often informally asked staffers to participate with their own expert knowledge.

Unlike some Q&A sites like Quora that shun actual cash payments, Directly supports both karmically driven and monetarily driven helpers.

Directly’s questioners can opt to assign a reward — say $10 — for an answer. Answerers can cash out the money or donate it. The two can connect to each other for a one-on-one consultation.

Also, contrary to the trend of using social authentication from Facebook to make a marketplace more transparent, Directly allows for pseudonyms, with answerers ranked on their “helpfulness.”

After customer service, Directly wants to target mortgage advice. The company — which currently has six employees and is based in San Francisco — sees itself as a platform for matching up customers and experts in all sorts of fields, Brydon said.

Brydon and his co-founders have a history of starting and selling companies together, including Visible Path and IUMA. They’ve raised $1.75 million in seed funding from True Ventures and other investors.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik