Empty-nester with computer issues? HelloTech has students on call to help

HelloTech connects trained independent contractors with people who need help with their computers, smartphones

College students are returning home for the summer, and if parents are happy to have them home, it’s partly because they bring something that has been missing for months: home tech support.

Now, a recently launched Los Angeles start-up is looking to fill the gap, using nearby college students to do it.

HelloTech charges $79 an hour to drive to your home and help with computers, printers, networking and more. Best Buy has offered a similar service called Geek Squad for about a dozen years, but HelloTech founder Richard Wolpert says his company aims to compete with flexibility on requests, lower prices, appointments within 24 hours and the ability to offer advice on future tech purchases.

Wolpert, a longtime tech investor and former Walt Disney Co. executive, has raised $4.5 million to fund his venture.

To start, HelloTech is servicing the Westside, down from the southern San Fernando Valley to the South Bay, with about 25 technicians, mostly students from schools such as UCLA and Santa Monica College. Technicians undergo background checks, online coursework, classroom training and training in the field.

“They come to us as an almost pre-trained workforce and they are underutilized with $10 to $12 [an hour] jobs,” Wolpert said of millennials who have grown accustomed to helping older generations with technology. “It’s a perfect match.”

Like Uber drivers, the technicians are independent contractors. During a trial, they received an average wage of $30 an hour, Wolpert said; he expects a seven-hour workweek on average. The clock starts when they get inside the home and ends when the customer is satisfied, with an hour-minimum of pay per job. They’ll primarily be servicing the homes of people in their 50s and 60s, Wolpert predicts.

He plans to launch a number of websites to help people set up appointments for their parents and older friends and relatives. BuyYourParentsroku.com, for example, would send a technician to connect a Roku online media player box to a TV at the family residence.

The technicians will leave customers with pamphlets and links about new “smart home” gadgetry, such as wireless speaker systems and digital thermostats controllable by smartphones. The hope is that the customers turn to HelloTech if they decide to purchase those items, providing another revenue stream for the start-up.

“The amount of new technology available for the home has exploded, and the number of retail locations to learn about them has shrunk,” Wolpert said. “We can be a primary way of selling the new technology.”

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