A few months ago, Mark and Pepper Ventresca noticed ants filing into their house via the back door. "There was nothing wrong with the door, but the door frame was clearly rotted," says Pepper.
Mark Googled "door repair" and called three or four different listings in Toronto. Only two of the companies phoned back and only one said it did repairs. "It will cost you $50 for us to come out and take a look," he was told.
As with most dual-career couples with kids, Mark (an urban forestry supervisor) and Pepper (a teacher) had to negotiate who would man the house during the two-hour window offered by the repairman. "The reality is you usually have to take a personal day from work in order to wait for these people to come in," says Pepper. "Even if they work evening hours, there are kids' activities to contend with."
To add insult to injury, when the "repairman" finally showed up, he barely glanced at the door before telling the Ventrescas it couldn't be fixed – they'd have to replace it. The door options he offered were all geared to commercial clients – heavy duty steel doors with minimal windows. The Ventrescas declined, but still had to pay the $50. "I was really annoyed," says Pepper.
That's a common refrain for two-career couples, and one that Toronto startup Jiffy On Demand Home Services intends to remedy. The company just received $500,000 in seed funding from Jordan Banks, global head of vertical strategy at Facebook, and other investors.
Jiffy is a new app – basically an Uber for home services – that launched in April. Its aim: to take some of the hassle out of booking home repairs. The company hand-picks home maintenance and service people in 22 different categories including heating and cooling, furniture assembly and appliance repair using personal recommendations and online reviews.
Then it connects those people with you – the homeowner in need a quick fix. "When you sign up for a service such as moving and delivery, Jiffy notifies dozens of providers in that category," explains Paul Arlin, co-founder of Jiffy. If someone is in your area or has a gap in their schedule, they can pick up the call.
Such on-demand services have been gaining traction in recent years, with the advent of apps like Handy Cleaning Services (home cleaning and services) and U.S.-only TaskRabbit (home tasks such as cleaning, party prep and shopping and delivery), Porch.com and Pro.com (home improvements from kitchen renos to pool installation).
The main selling points: Customers like the prospect of being connected instantly with the services they need. And providers hope for a steady flow of jobs and fast payment with minimal fuss.
Mr. Arlin dreamed up the idea for Jiffy after arranging to have two new light fixtures installed in his home. "It took just a half-hour for an electrician to do the work," he says. And yet Mr. Arlin spent an hour-and-a-half of his own time reading reviews, calling around and fielding return phone calls. "In the end, I had no idea if it was a fair price," he says.
It took a week to get the small job done – a fact that didn't sit well with Mr. Arlin's wife. "And all the while I figured there was probably an electrician, driving around the neighbourhood, who would have been happy to come by," he says. "But there was no dispatch network, like there is for taxis."
Jiffy was designed to fill that need. The app is currently available on iOS and works in the same way as other on-demand apps on the market. You search for a specific need, such as painting or carpentry, offering details (kitchen painted) if necessary. Then you have the option of booking your service "In a jiffy" or "later."
Choose the immediate option and a service person will be at your house usually within three hours. You get immediate confirmation that your job has been accepted, followed by a phone call to confirm timing. If you'd rather, you can select a specific date in the future and book a window in the morning, afternoon or evening.
Mr. Arlin says he pre-vets every supplier on the platform to ensure they have at least $2-million in liability insurance, are licensed in their fields and have a good reputation. Then he pre-negotiates pricing. "They all follow our standard pricing within each category, based on the industry average," he explains. "If you look up what an electrician charges, you'll get all kinds of different answers. We called 30-plus companies in each category to get to our rate, so customers have peace of mind that they are getting great service for a fair price."
Homeowners rate the service providers when the project is complete, and Jiffy guarantees the work. "So if you're dissatisfied," says Mr. Arlin, "you can always come to Jiffy as the third party in the situation and we'll make sure that you're completely satisfied with the job."
The model works for service providers, too, says Mike Kostinuk, a service manager with one of Jiffy's suppliers, Canada Climate Services. The Jiffy app allows Kostinuk to fill in gaps in his schedule with clients that he might not have access to otherwise. "If I'm busy, I don't have to take the call," he says. "And there's no dickering with clients over price because that is negotiated in advance."
Neither does he have to worry about invoicing and payment. Once Kostinuk finishes a call, he simply inputs the time spent and the client's credit card gets automatically charged. Jiffy takes a "small cut" and the rest goes to the supplier. Clients get an electronic receipt.
Mr. Arlin expects his primary market will be new homeowners (like himself) who don't already have a list of home service providers to call on. He anticipates expanding into as many as six other cities by early next year.
Appliance repair and furniture assembly are so far proving to be among the company's most popular services, he says, with the IKEA PAX unit generating a lot of demand in the furniture assembly category.
"Everyone realizes they can't do it themselves a quarter of the way into the job when they have to start anchoring it up against the wall with a drill," says Mr. Arlin. "Our rate for furniture assembly is $75 an hour, but the suppliers work five times as fast as a general handyman because they have so much experience."