Road Angels: The Airtasker of roadside assistance

- December 19, 2013 5 MIN READ

Today’s most successful startups are not those who have reinvented the wheel, but those that have uncovered a niche market in desperate need of improvement – one that can benefit from current technological trends and already has an established customer base. The three-man team behind Road Angels has leveraged this principle, and has all the right moves in place to disrupt the roadside assistance industry.

Melbourne-based startup Road Angels was founded by brothers Jordan and Jason Yim along with their friend Marcus Wong. Wong pitched the idea for Road Angels at Startup Weekend Melbourne in April. Though Wong and his two co-founders had only just met at the event, the trio walked away as winners of the competition. Two months later, in recognising a great startup endeavour, the team decided to fully commit themselves to Road Angels.

Although still a work in progress, Road Angels is based on principles that anyone can understand. Wong explains that the purpose of Road Angels is “to make roadside assistance more affordable, more efficient and accessible for everyone, regardless of location or socioeconomic status.”

“We understand that many people living outside the Melbourne CBD experience extremely long wait times for roadside assistance, which can sometimes be upwards of two hours during peak periods. On top of that, many people do not possess a roadside assistance policy at all, meaning they have no insurance when things go wrong.”

The inspiration behind creating this app, Wong explains, was an unfortunate experience he faced not too long ago. After years of paying for roadside assistance – totaling almost $2,000 – the company he entrusted left him stranded on the roadside because he was “driving the wrong car”.

“Many people would assume that these policies cover the individual, but they would be mistaken – they are on a per vehicle basis,” Wong says.

“I was left stranded 30km’s from home with a flat car battery with no help on the way; so I had to improvise a solution. I walked around the area prompting strangers for a helping hand, and after an hour searching, I found a helpful elderly couple. They gave me a quick jump start and I was back on the road. I was so grateful I gave them $20 for their service. Out of this maelstrom of frustration, gratitude, anger and happiness came an idea, and Road Angels was born.”

The Road Angels service is offered through a downloadable mobile app which allows users to request roadside assistance from members of their network. With a tap of a button, a request for help is sent to nearby members that can arrive at the site much faster than traditional auto club services. And these vetted members are the Road Angels.

According to Wong, “A Road Angel could be anyone from a mechanic apprentice, to an experienced roadside assistance provider, to your petrol head uncle with lots of spare time on his hands.”

Becoming a Road Angel involves a video interview process whereby roadside skills are tested, personalities are profiled, and backgrounds are checked. The network includes both licensed and non-qualified professionals, but all are trusted members of their local communities. Those accepted into the system can begin assisting motorists within the Road Angels network.

The ‘road angels’ can offer towing, perform mechanical repairs, and provide other kinds of automotive assistance; and upon successful completion of work, they collect compensation. Using a mobile app platform makes communications between motorists and their road angels seamless, with easy payment options and instant messaging.

After having rendered assistance, all parties are asked to give ratings and reviews of one another. This allows the community to police itself through self-auditing, much like Amazon or eBay.

The Road Angels team view their system as mutually beneficial for users and the business itself. Wong says, “We believe this model, given enough time, would be much more time and cost efficient than current available subscription models of roadside assistance.”

Road Angels offers distinct advantages over traditional subscription models. Firstly, there are no subscriptions, so payments are based on necessity and commissions are paid based on job opportunities. Wait times are significantly reduced as the road angels are recruited based on location of assistance needed; and no call centres means distressed motorists have direct contact with assistance operators.

Road Angels Companion App

Road Angels Companion App

The Road Angels Companion App was launched last month as the full version is still under construction, with the intent of being launched at some point within the next six months. The Companion App offers basic functionality where users can call for roadside assistance over Facebook. The purpose of the Companion App is to generate interest in the Road Angels business model and gather a working user base.

Through the ‘Request Assistance’ feature of the app, users can simultaneously alert up to 300 of their nearby friends that they’re in need of help. The alert contains details such as their exact location, the nature of their problem and details of their vehicle. Additionally, users are offered a chance to describe the problem in their own words, upload a photo of what’s happened and offer a financial reward for the assistance.

Wong says, “It taps into social networking to solve a problem which has long been resigned to call centre operators and independent contractors.”

Other features of the app include a diagnostic and solutions manual for common roadside problems, and a motorist quiz for rev heads interested in motoring and vehicular trivia.

The Road Angels business is loosely defined, as with most early-stage startups. Wong says they will implement a small service fee from each assistance task that a road angel completes. This will either be a flat nominal fee, or percentage based on an arbitrary threshold amount that will be decided at a later point. He acknowledges other potential revenue sources, including selling advertising space on their website and partnerships with larger corporate bodies.

Once they’ve established the business locally, the team plans on expanding Road Angels beyond the Australian market.

“Expanding to other countries around the world, especially Asian ones (where roadside assistance coverage could be described as poor at best) is within the scope of our future plans,” says Wong.

Thus far, the team has relied primarily on organic marketing – word-of-mouth and social media. They will be embarking on a more aggressive marketing mission in the New Year – campaigning at events such as University O-week festivities and roadshows, as well as pursuing Google AdWords and Facebook advertising.

Their ultimate goal is to grow a “grassroots roadside assistance community”. They see themselves as “the ‘Airtasker’ of roadside assistance where anyone at anytime can find vetted, skilled roadside assistance practitioners (with or without professional qualifications) at the press of a button.”

Aside from winning Startup Weekend Melbourne in April, their most recent success is surpassing 1,000 registered users in one month, with zero dollars spent on marketing.

Thus far, the entire venture has cost a meager $50 – which covers domain and server costs, as well as early morning coffee runs.

“We have mutually complementary skill sets which means there are no holes in technical ability, and there are little to no overhead costs.  Also, with the accessibility that the Internet provides, we can work from anywhere and converse at any time,” says Wong.

“We all maintain other sources of income additional to this business, and so a salary is not required.  We will seek funding later on down the track, but only when necessary, as we feel that being involved with investors brings on an added element, even burden, of responsibility and accountability to people external to the core team.”

It remains to be seen how the Road Angels startup fairs in the online marketplace. Mobile applications are making a huge impact on the global community; and the ability to access real people in emergency roadside situations using an app is sure to attract wide interest and certainly fills the needs of a huge potential niche market.

The trio have their work cut out for them. Every new startup requires a team that is driven to meet the demands a new business creates. Time will tell if a combination of brotherhood, friendship and passion will bring long-term success to Road Angels.

The team will soon be recruiting their first beta-users of the full service. For more information, visit www.roadangels.com.au.