If you frequently find yourself with not enough time to run all your errands, a new startup, Alfred, has officially launched to fix that for you, as long as you live in Manhattan or Boston.
Alfred is a subscription service that assigns you a client manager to take care of mundane tasks like buying groceries, dropping off laundry and dry cleaning, and taking packages to the post office. You’ll pay $99 a month to have your runner come by once a week for a main visit, followed by a second visit a couple days later to drop off items like clean laundry. You can choose any or all of the errands on Alfred’s service list, but you’ll have to pay extra for the actual goods and services.
I tested Alfred during the beta phase and was impressed with the value. I sent the helper by Whole Foods and the pharmacy to grab some groceries and medicine on the way in, then sent him off with some laundry, dry cleaning and shoes to shine and repair.
Over time, your Alfred assistant is supposed to learn your habits and preferences in order to better anticipate your needs. At launch, members will communicate with Alfred assistants via email, but eventually the company will release a client-facing app for sending instructions. Runners have an Alfred app to show them their to-do list, route and client preferences.
If you’re up for it, you can entrust Alfred with your key, enabling the client manager to put your groceries away for you and tidy up. It usually takes me a few weeks to get comfortable with letting a service provider into my home while I’m gone, but I imagine that coming home to a completed Alfred run feels a bit like getting a visit from a magic elf.
To put it in startup buzzwords, Alfred is an anticipation engine and distribution layer to make the service economy more efficient. The company will work with service providers, such as Washio and Handy, to get things done instead of doing it all in-house. Alfred acts as a hub so you don’t have to keep track of and coordinate individual services.
For a service like Handy, your helper would let the cleaners into your house, give them instructions and then come back to lock up if needed. Keep in mind, though, that you’re potentially opening up your house to companies that you’re not directly connected to, so you’ll need to have a lot of faith in Alfred’s ability to vet vendors ahead of time.
Hiring someone to do all the tasks that you don’t want to do will undoubtedly seem off-putting to some, but there are certain groups that it should appeal to. Professionals who work long hours, such as startup founders, investment bankers, consultants, doctors and lawyers, will have no problem spending the extra money to gain back some precious time. Families can also benefit greatly from Alfred, since having kids adds a number of routine errands, such as buying milk or more frequent laundry.
One of my fears is that Alfred will breed a sense of entitlement in us, a belief that we deserve to offload any unpleasantries at the press of a button. That’s definitely something we need to keep in mind, but I wouldn’t advocate continuing to do errands inefficiently simply out of principle. If Alfred works as advertised, it will consolidate tasks so that your helper can get things done more quickly and cheaply than you can, while making a livable wage.
Alfred CEO Marcela Sapone views the exchange “as connecting [services] that are already happening and making them simpler.”
“We’re trying to make your life better consistently. It’s not a dirty thing to ask for help,” she said. “The people who are helping are really excited to do it. We create jobs that pay well, then give them enough work, create meaningful work.”
The hope is that Alfred will have a similar impact on the domestic help space as Uber did for luxury transportation. Most of us can’t afford to regularly take a liveried black car service or hire a butler and maids, but those services can move down-market if startups use technology to increase efficiency in their respective industries.
Interestingly, Alfred has eschewed the independent employee model favored by many service economy startups, preferring instead of hire its client managers as part-time and full-time employees.
“It’s not about delivering everything to your door the fastest, it’s about keeping quality consistent week after week after week,” Sapone explained.
I’m excited about Alfred. From day one, it has genuine potential to improve the quality of my daily life with minimal damage to my bank account. Now, if only I could convince my helper to address me as, “Mister Wayne.”