• Richard Wolpert’s Big Idea: Tech Support for Your Parents

    richard wolpert“I’m no spring chicken,” says Richard Wolpert. “But I’ve been at this for 30 years and I have a lot of great experience under my belt.”

    Wolpert — who sold companies to Adobe and RealNetworks and launched Disney’s earliest online businesses before joining Accel Partners as a venture partner and cofounding Amplify.la — is explaining why, after more than seven years as a full-time investor, he just founded his fourth startup.

    The L.A.-based company is three-month-old Hello Tech. Its big idea, the one that Wolpert couldn’t let go: remote tech support for consumers who own or want to buy products like Sonos speakers and Nest thermostats but who need help in keeping them up and running.

    “These are homeowners with disposable income who don’t how how to get through the newest digital security service or latest update [to their other products],” says Wolpert. “It’s much more than, “Let us catch that virus.” He adds with a laugh: “Most investors we pitched said, ‘I would buy this for my parents so I don’t have to do this anymore.’”

    It’s really no joke. The tech support market — valued at $21 billion — appears to remain wide open at the moment.

    Services like Geek Squad, the Best Buy subsidiary, have largely alienated U.S. consumers over the years. Meanwhile, no brand has managed to capture much of the market in its place. A sampling of Hello Tech’s current competitors include Student@Home, a London-based company that sends IT students to customers’ homes; iCracked, a two-year-old, Redwood Shores, Ca., company that sends out help to consumers who’ve damaged their Apple products; and Geekatoo of Mountain View, Ca., an Angie’s List-like service that connects product owners with “verified geeks” and which Wolpert doesn’t seem to take very seriously.

    “You ask for help, then within 24 hours, someone like Tom at ComputerRepair.com arranges to come out and you pay him directly. It’s not an end-to-end service. We imagine something much tighter.”

    Just don’t ask how it works. Aside from Hello Tech’s funding – it just raised $2.5 million co-led by Accel, Upfront Ventures, and Crosscut Ventures – Wolpert isn’t ready to disclose much, saying he prefers not to share “some of what we think will be the secret sauce.”

    Indeed, he declines to answer numerous questions about how Hello Tech will manage supply and demand, how it will market the service, or how the company can ensure that its remote workforce represents the standards Wolpert envisions.

    Wolpert offers instead that he cofounded Hello Tech with two former Disney colleagues who he has known for 19 years: Minah Oh and Sascha Linn. He says Hello Tech will run “much like other marketplace models,” meaning it will take a percentage off every transaction and that users will rate the technicians who visit them. He also says that Hello Tech will launch in six cities to prove out its model, starting this spring in L.A.

    Asked a related question about the company’s road map, Wolpert says only that, “We have some clever ideas and we don’t want to tip our hat to the market.”

    Likely, by “market,” Wolpert means Ron Johnson. As PandoDaily notes, Johnson, a former SVP of retail operations at Apple, also recently launched a company that’s largely operating in stealth mode.

    It sounds as if it’s targeting the same, big opportunity, too. Back in October, Johnson talked with the Wall Street Journal about providing customers with the ability to touch and try expensive electronic goods before making a big purchase.

    Johnson told the outlet: “That’s when you typically want something more than fast delivery; you might want a little help . . . There’s a place for high touch in a high-tech world.”

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