After years of helping friends and family with their tech troubles, three students from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMUQ) have designed a new web-based app to help young, computer-savvy student “fixers” offer their services to a wider market.
Dubbed the “Uber for tech support,” the app, FixNation, went beta on Monday as part of the group’s contribution to the European Innovation Academy, a 15-day accelerated start-up competition currently taking place in France.
Speaking to Doha News, 20-year-old CMUQ student Sampriti Jain said that as technology becomes more pervasive, demand for troubleshooting services has been growing.
“The unique value our application offers is that it offers a highly localized solution for those seeking and those willing to provide technological help. A college student rarely has the time and the money to travel very far to provide help to someone and an older person would find it inconvenient to go to IT shops far away and would rather have people close to them help out.”
Initially, the group considered offering freelance tech support services only online, similar to TaskRabbit. Using that popular app, clients post job advertisements, and freelancers in the area or overseas search through available listings and contact clients with proposals.
But Jain said the team scrapped that idea for fear that client requests could be overlooked by potential freelancers.
“After analyzing TaskRabbit’s model, (where) customers list their tasks on the website and workers pick jobs to do, we decided to reverse it by allowing workers to list themselves online and the customers choose the worker they like and contact them,” she said, continuing:
“This puts the customer in charge and gives them more control to choose the worker that they receive assistance from. This would also ensure rapid response to the customer’s issues since the customers directly contact the workers and can set up an appointment instantly, whereas on all other services the customer’s request may (remain pending for a while).”
Using the app
The app was created by a five-member team made up of Jain, Muhammad Ahmed Shah and Maher Khan from CMUQ, and two other students – Karl Martin Miidu from Tallinn University of Technology and Tomas Mesaros from the University of Economics in Bratislava.
As web apps can be easily operated across devices and operating systems, the group decided to create an online – rather than a mobile-based – application.
The coding and development stage, which began in the competition’s second week, involved creating the app from scratch, a task that took the group’s two developers some 80 to 90 hours to complete.
So far, an online prototype of the app is available for public use in Qatar.
The app is similar to Uber, in that customers who sign up to use FixNation will see a map notifying them of all available technicians in their area. Users can also choose to browse additional areas and select technicians in different locations.
Once the user picks a technician, they can contact them through the app and provide a brief description of the problem. The technician will have the job added as an upcoming task and can confirm the appointment with the customer.
Services cost an average of $12/hour. Payment is currently handled face-to-face, where clients and technicians would have to meet to discuss reimbursement. However, the group is hoping to digitize the entire process in the coming months.
Technicians are expected to adhere to the $12/hour cost or risk receiving a negative rating in the app.
“Ratings are a mechanism to reward or penalize technicians for their performance on the jobs. A customer can only rate a technician after an appointment is negotiated through the application and the completion of the job has been reported on the application,” Jain said.
The free signup process occurs online, and users can register themselves as freelancers, clients or both.
In the coming days, the group hopes to fine-tune and further develop the project prior to a final pitch round. Winning apps receive some €10,000 in funding from venture capitalists to go toward their expansion efforts.
Currently, the project already has some 10 registered technicians awaiting jobs, and the group hopes to encourage more users to sign up this week.
In the next few months, they hope to create dedicated iOS and Android mobile-based versions of the app, and integrate a PayPal payment system wherein clients can pay technicians directly via credit card.