Q&A with Cofounder Roland Ligtenberg
Editor’s note: The HouseCall team is impressive. They were founding members and all worked together at Qualcomm Labs, an incubator within Qualcomm that focuses on wireless product development. Their vision for HouseCall is something anyone who’s hired a service professional can immediately see the need for. It’s been a pleasure for us to work with them and see the innovative, transformative ways they’re incorporating Layer. HouseCall is available in the San Diego, CA area initially. We can’t wait until it’s available in San Francisco, too.
Layer: How did the idea for HouseCall come about?
RL: The founding team all came from Qualcomm. It’s a big company with a lot of technical cred and we were all very comfortable there, but had an entrepreneurial itch. We all had long lists of things that needed fixing and maintenance issues at our houses but we were always too busy. So we got together and collaborated on an idea to solve that problem: wouldn’t it be cool to just click a button and have a service provider show up at your house? There are lots of local service providers — plumbers, electricians, handymen — but there was no way to tell who was close and available when you need him/her. There’s also the trustworthiness factor. Pricing isn’t always transparent and it’s often difficult to determine which online reviews are legitimate. We’re setting out to fix all of that.
Layer: Tell us about the role of communications in the app.
RL: We knew early on that communications would be a central component of the HouseCall user experience. In an industry where every house and situation is different, a lot of communication is necessary to foster a feeling of trust. There’s the homeowner to service provider communications channel, and in many cases there are multiple decision makers in a household who need to collaborate with the service provider. Common case is a wife at home to meet the scheduled pro and she wants to loop in her husband to get additional details on the appliance he purchased that needs to be fixed. We knew from the start that the communications experience in HouseCall needed to be excellent. The more streamlined and natural the experience – the more our users will find more value in the in-app experience and stay.
Layer: Let’s talk specific features. How are you using Layer?
RL: We knew we wanted basic messaging, so we found Layer doing research for that specific feature. We started there, building rich messaging into HouseCall for a streamlined, in-app experience. This allows us to not only facilitate the conversation thread, but also helps us from an auditing and customer service standpoint. We’re also incorporating photo sending. For our particular use case, sending of photos is critical — we’ll have service providers requesting homeowners to send detailed photos for the purpose of buying replacement parts and pre-diagnosing problems resulting in cost savings to the end-user due to saved time and gas mileage. We also learned what was possible with Layer and starting to build push-to-talk, so our users can have voice-calling ability in the app. Sometimes it’s just easier to explain things live, and allows for the service pros to replay important details when purchasing items on behalf of the project in store. We’ve been surprised to learn just how much is capable on the Layer platform.
Layer: Why not simply build and power these communications features yourself?
RL: The simplest answer to this question is: We’re trying to solve a problem for homeowners, we’re not trying to solve a communications problem. Communications is Layer’s core competency. As the original team that built Gimbal, a context aware SDK for iOS & Android at Qualcomm, we understand the immense value and acceleration gained by integrating with another platform. We were able to integrate LayerKit [the Layer iOS SDK] in our app very quickly. After deciding on the final features we wanted to expose, we enabled communications features within one iteration. Many SDK’s favor a particular architecture dictated by the sample apps an SDK ships with — Layer does not. The app hooks into your application in a manner that doesn’t require broader changes to your architecture. Other communications services create all of these complexities. With Layer it’s all native and in app. Now we give the HouseCall home service professional a chance to say, “just go outside and take a picture of it,” and quickly understand what a consumer is talking about, all without leaving the HouseCall app. Layer is helping us bring transparency to the home services industry.