As we reported earlier today, Google, after much speculation, has finally unveiled its soon-to-launch peer-to-peer video service called Helpouts. The service is not live yet, but will feature face-to-face live video calling where experts will be able to connect with real people via Google+ and help customers with their problems.
If that sounds familiar to you, that might be because it is awfully similar to what other sites are already doing, most notably Pearl. That site, along with Q&A websites, likes Quora and Ask.com, having been popping up over the past decade or so, to help people get their problems solved without having to pay a lot of money.
So, with Google deciding to take a piece of that action, the question is: will the entrance of such a large competitor result in a positive or negative affect on the industry?
A positive effect
Much to my surprise, the answer to that question seems to be that it will be pretty positive, at least according to what Andy Kurtzig, CEO of Pearl, told me in an interview.
With Google now offering online professional services, it will actually wind up bringing "a lot more awareness" to the space, Kurtzig said.
In fact, he sees the fact that such a giant company would recognize the opportunities of being in this business as "a validation of what we has been doing for the last 10 years."
Rather than Google taking away resources from other, smaller, sites, the company will be quite the opposite effect, as Kurtzig sees it.
"It's an exciting time to be in space. We have been waiting for this moment, and we are expecting Google’s entry to actually accelerate our growth."
Part of what makes Kurtzig so positive about this move is that the space is so big, he said, that Google won’t be able to monopolize it.
There are room for many players that u can handle Google, along with Pearl, and all of its competitors. There is just that much money to be made from online professional services.
"This is the next multi-billion dollar e-commerce opportunity. Professional services are at least two times bigger than retail. Amazon and eBay are $50 billion companies, so that should show you the size of the opportunity," he said. "This is an enormous space."
So what does the space offer that makes it so valuable? Kurtzig compared it to what Amazon and eBay offer.
"What made Amazon and eBay so successful? They were less expensive than the offline stories, like Sears and Borders," he said. "They were accessible 24/7, and from anywhere, with much greater selection."
Pearl offers similar benefits, as it is less expensive, has round the clock access, and can be accessed from anywhere. These are things that you simply cannot get in the offline world.
Plus, the site also offers speed. Questions on Pearl are answered in 8 minutes on average, as compared to the 21 minutes that are spent in the waiting room alone.
The space is also prime for big growth in the years ahead, as, like it happened for retail, soon every professional will soon have an online presence, meaning
"Every retailer is online now, and has at least some presence. The same will be true with services: every one will have online presence," he said. "This is what customers want."
And, ultimately that will be a good thing for society.
"What's actually happening is that we're helping people who can't afford a lawyer, or didn’t have access to a doctor. It is very exciting to see this industry maturing right before our eyes."
Still, while Kurtzig seemed more than happy to welcome Google into the fold, he also noted some stark differences between what the two companies offer.
For example, on Pearl, questions and answers are done through texting and chatting. On Helpouts, they are done through video.
So is this an area that Pearl might now want to venture into so that it can compete?
While admitting that the site has done "experiments with video," Kurtzig said that, overall, he has found that "most customers are not ready for it."
"We do what customers want, and they are not saying that want video," he told me. "People like to watch videos, but what percentage like to post? They are probably teenagers or 12 year olds, but those are not the people who are paying for professional services."
"Video is important in future, but it is just one aspect of the business."
There is also difference in strategy between the Google and Pearl as well, and when it comes to their focus.
"They’ve been focused on more of a service providers, where customers will have to filter through and find the best one," he told me. " But Pearl has been focused on providing the customer with verified, vetted and curated professionals. We don’t make the customer figure it out."
Plus, Pearl has been focused on flexability, including in the number of different ways of paying, such as PayPal, direct debit and credit card. With Helpouts, on the other hand, all transactions will be handled through Google Wallet. A platform fee of 20% will be applied to all Helpouts.
A bit about Pearl
Founded in 2003 as JustAnswer, the original idea for the site came as a way for Kurtzig’s then-pregnant wife to talk with an OB/GYN about her round-the-clock health concerns in a more convenient way.
Rebranded as Pearl in June of last year (the name is meant reflect the wise instruction and advice, or pearls of wisdom, a consumer can get from the service) and has grown to provide access to professionals in various other fields, such as lawyers, veterinarians, electricians and technology specialists. The website currently provides access to over 10,000 professionals in 700 specialties. It been growing revenue an average of 123 percent years over the last five years and currently generates revenue in 196 countries and 22 currencies.
In June of 2012, the San Francisco-based company announced that it had raised $25 million in financing from angel investors, such as Charles Schwab, as well as Glynn Capital.
As Pearl has not been publishing any updated numbers recently, Kurtzig would only say that the company is "growing very nicely."
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