Fancy Hands Finds You an Assistant for $30 a Month ... in the Cloud

Fancy Hands

I was headed to Mammoth Mountain, about five hours north of L.A., for a quick dose of late-season skiing. I'd been up there plenty, but this time I hoped to ditch the après-ski fare for once and try having a civilized dinner somewhere in town. Yelp reviews were scarce, and I couldn't find a decent dining guide to the area online. So I tapped Fancy Hands, a new personal assistant service where subscribers pay $30 a month to email requests (or tasks) to a team of assistants located throughout the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

Within 21 minutes the first of three emails I would receive over the course of the next two days came flying back to my phone. A courteous person named Kristie had selected five potential restaurants for consideration, along with Web sites and contact information. The next morning, before I jumped on the chairlift, I selected the one I liked the best and I emailed Kristie back, asking her to make a reservation for four at 7 p.m. Even though the restaurant didn't open until 5 p.m., at 12:36 p.m., Kristie wrote back to let us know she had secured us a 6:45 reservation. I was on the slopes—and mostly out of cell range—the entire time.

Fancy Hands

Ted Roden started Fancy Hands thinking that others might be similarly relieved of such burdens, which, according to the Web site, can range from securing a car service with an infant car seat to reviewing fantasy league baseball picks. (Roden does outline what they will and will not do.) Although Roden is reluctant to give any figures about how many subscribers Fancy Hands has gathered since its launch last month, he has hired over 100 assistants so far and has more who he describes as "ready to work."

When a task comes in via a subscriber (you sign in using your Google account), an algorithm sorts and routes it to the assistant who is available and best suited to handle it. Roden, who recruits assistants with online job postings, pays those assistants according to task complexity—the harder the task, the more they'll get paid. But he says that most of those assistants are still working full-time at other jobs. "When I hired them all I sent them an email saying 'don't quit your day job,'" he says. "However, I absolutely expect some of them to start making a living doing this, sooner rather than later." (Roden, ironically, also has a day job—he works in the research and development group at the New York Times.)

Ted RodenKyle Castleberry, a 25-year-old based in New York City, was brought on board a week after the launch of the site after seeing an ad online. Due to his love for traveling, Castleberry prides himself on staying marginally employed—selling goods on eBay, being an extra in films, walking dogs—but Fancy Hands, he says, goes along with his lifestyle. "It is my dream job to have the ability to work anytime, anywhere, from a spiffy phone or laptop," he says.

The number of tasks Castleberry completes in a day can range widely, as can the amount of time spent on each task. But he claims he doesn't automatically go clicking over to Google for answers. In some cases he uses the Internet for preliminary research looking up terms or definitions to find out what the client is asking. "Sometimes," he says, "my personal experience yields better information." He also says he has reached out to a personal contact as a "life line" for information if they specialize in an area. Roden says training for the assistants is minimal. "I give them a pretty big test before I hire them which gives me a pretty good idea about how good they'll do," he says, but that's pretty much it.

Right now, subscribers pay $30 a month for up to 15 tasks, a plan that was introduced to lure early adopters. But Roden doesn't think that price point will change too much, even as more people sign up. "I think we've more or less hit scale and can make that work for basic services," he says. "However, we're going to be rolling out higher service levels in the near future. I've been shocked that users are requesting 'more' not 'cheaper.'" For example, Roden is preparing to offer a new feature of "hourly workers," where clients can request X number of people working for Y hours on a task. "It's quite a bit more expensive," he says, "but this has actually been my #1 most requested feature."

Fancy Hands

Fancy Hands is far more classy than other ad-supported "ask a question" sites like ChaCha or Aardvark, which can receive and send crowdsourced requests via IM. When I tried a similar request for Mammoth restaurants at each of those services, I got zero answers. Fancy Hands' privacy factor also gives the impression that an eager-to-please person who seems to know what they're doing is fully dedicated to your every need. Plus, Kristie's Mammoth restaurant advice to me was right on, according to a local who I asked to review it for me.

It was a simple request, and I've been hard-pressed to come up with other tasks I would entrust to Fancy Hands outside of researching my articles (which they will do, says Roden, but not write them for you). Most of the time, my iPhone or a Google search seem to do the trick. But in my case, a reservation was made without a hitch, and hours before I would have even thought to call. I suppose I could have spent more time researching spots, or even stopped to ask a hotel clerk, then taken some time when I was on the mountain to make the reservation call. That's the equation you have to work out for yourself—what is your time worth?

For Fancy Hands' assistants, it's less of a debate, since completing tasks is almost

"I usually learn something I didn't know before," says Castleberry. "They get helped and have more time on their hands to do as they wish, and I can get compensated for it." For instance, says Castleberry, before working for Fancy Hands, he did not know what a dropshipper was, or what entertaining nightlife options were to be found in Berlin, or what free online learning resources are available from reputed universities, or that many airlines keep 20% of their seats open on flights. "I could learn all that in a couple hours, while working, and helping others," he says. "The way I see it, everyone wins."

Photo by Justin Ouellette

[Fancy Hands]

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  • Augustus Loi

    Actually, it was a couple of articles like this that got be started with Fancy Hands. There's definitely a need for something like this for people like me. Not sure if Fancy Hands exactly lives up to expectations, though - not for power users like me.

    I find their quality relatively good. Used them a couple of months. If you're clear about what you want, it generally gets done, and they're willing to fix it if there's an error. That's understandable.

    Note, though: Signed up for the unlimited plan – which of course I wasn’t naive to believe was literally unlimited.

    I'm a heavy user, and at some point, they wanted to deny service even though they’re unwilling to specify how many tasks is actually in the unlimited plan, which I think feels a bit shady.

    Hate to point out a negative for a company with so much potential, and that's been quite helpful in the past. But if you're a power user considering the unlimited plan, just take note.

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  • Kurt

    I tried them out, but the quality of work isn't very good.  There are delayed response times and it's always one or two people that I get stuck with.   They have potential, but there are plenty of other solutions out there.  If you want to outsource to India you can, there's also an US based company called Red Butler that's really good.  

  • Kurt

    It's amazing to me how a company can just spring up and end up in a reputable magazine like Fast Company.   They don't have hundreds of assistants and they are not qualified.  I signed up for a trial right after they launched and it was a disaster. 

    I can appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit, but most of these virtual assistant companies are dangerous.  This isn't something new they're creating, there are a handful of companies overseas that do the same thing.  Sorry, but tired of seeing mediocre companies get this kind of press for doing nothing more than setting up a website, payment card and responding to people's emails.

  • Chris Reich

    You Rock Alissa---thank you for taking my comments in the spirit intended and not as a criticism. I think there IS a need for a service that can actually do the things like typing up notes or adding some content to Facebook, etc.

    Chris Reich

  • Chris Reich

    I don't intend to criticize your article but wonder if Fancy Hands does anything really useful.

    I was in Santa Fe on business for 2 weeks and really wanted a day off but I had 100 pages of material to type up. I looked and looked for someone to do the typing---finally, a guy at the hotel found someone who did a great job for me. That allowed me a day off to take a nice hike and find my own place to enjoy dinner.

    I see a silly trend with this stuff---people need I-Phones to find a place for dinner? Isn't that half the fun of a get away weekend? Do we need a $500 phone with a $100/mo. internet plan and another $30/mo. to find a pace to eat?

    Chris Reich

  • Alissa Walker

    Chris, there's a list that I linked to with a more definitive list of what they will and will not do at Fancy Hands:

    I'm guessing for your 100-page note request Fancy Hands would help you locate a local transcriber, but they probably wouldn't type up your notes for you.

    I agree, though, that it was tough to come up with any task for Fancy Hands that I couldn't easily do myself. But that's the point of the service according to Roden---of course you *could* do these tasks yourself, but your time might be more valuable spent doing something else.

  • Sandra Pearson

    Ok, just sent them a task to create an account on Hootsuite. Not really diinner reservations but really just as simple. Let's see what happens.

    Sandra Pearson
    WinInfinity Network
    SandraPearson dot com

  • Chris Reich

    This sounds really great but the article doesn't clarify what exactly this service will do. I'd love to find a subscription like this that would actually do work and not just "research" or tell me where I can get a latte.

    Somebody should start it! For example, I was working in Santa Fe recently and needed to type about 100 pages of assorted notes. The notes were going into reports and speaking outlines. I was exhausted and really needed a day off but knew I'd have to pound away at the keyboard on my only possible day off.

    I found a hotel employee who knew someone---I handed over the notes and was pleased to find everything nicely typed into Word in my email box when I woke up! Yay! A real day off for me. We are a society of "busy" people who really aren't producing much. I mean, not to be critical, but a personal assistant for a ski trip?

    Chris Reich

    I really don't need anyone to find me a place to eat---are we that helpless? That used to be part of the fun---checking out new places, taking the plunge.