Melbourne roadside assistance startup Road Angels pivoted after failing to establish one side of its marketplace

- July 2, 2015 3 MIN READ

Two years ago, Startup Daily wrote about a new Melbourne startup that was described as the ‘Airtasker of roadside assistance’. Road Angels was a two sided marketplace that connected people who needed roadside assistance with people nearby who could provide it in a bid to make roadside assistance cheaper and quicker.

Co-founder Marcus Wong said the team knew that one side of the market – the people needing cheap, quick assistance – was there. It wasn’t until the startup was featured on SBS2’s The Feed program that they realised the other side wasn’t going to work.

“There was much concern regarding safety, quality, and insurance of these providers, and we soon realised we were a bit idealistic in our initial proposal. We’d heard these concerns from others in the past, but thought we would be able to persist with a strict vetting procedure,”Wong said.

The team discussed these issues with a number of professional providers and soon realised that the job “is far more technical than simply being able to hump a battery or change a tyre,” Wong said.

“The depth of knowledge required for the job is simply staggering; from being able to differentiate between the battery replacement required for the 2004 vs. the 2005 model of the same car, to making best diagnostic estimate of a vehicle’s problem over the phone. This wasn’t like Uber, this wasn’t even like Airtasker. This industry required high level skills certification,” he explained.

So they decided to pivot to a professional-only model.

The roadside assistance market is huge, and Wong said he can realistically see Road Angels taking four percent of that market within two to three years, though it’s “definitely not an easy business getting people interested in roadside assistance.”

“We’re not naïve enough to think that our offering suits everyone; lots of older drivers have a brand recognition with established providers and we think that’s great…with that in mind, and with consideration of technological literacy, our service suits the younger, early-adopter mindset. Just picture the average Uber user, and there’s our target market. However, once we establish some brand recognition and trust, we want to expand our user base beyond this caricature,” Wong said.

As far as Road Angels is concerned, it’s no secret that the average driver only needs roadside assistance once every two or three years, so why pay a fee every year? For users who may have more than one car, Road Angels also allows a user to change the details of the car they’re driving within its app, ensuring that a provider with the right expertise comes to their assistance.

The Road Angels app is free to download. Each peak hour service costs $69, while off peak – 11.30pm to 5.00am – will cost $89. Road Angels gets $9 from each.

Wong said the team is confident there’s interest in the service: they had drivers call the number on their website asking for assistance while the iOS app was being developed, and referred them to their partner providers. No one has needed assistance since the app launched though, of course, app downloads can’t predict when a driver is going to need assistance.

Road Angels has an eye on expanding to other capital cities and regional centres around Australia soon before looking to New Zealand, but investment isn’t a priority yet.

Wong said, “A more immediate goal is to ensure that our service is something worth investing in. That means refining our product/market fit, getting out the Android version, and ironing out any kinks and teething issues that come naturally as part of a new service. From there it’s all about scale.”