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Fancy Hands' On-Call Army Of Personal Assistants Log 20,000 Minutes Of Talk Time Per Month

You don't have to be a Hollywood mogul to have someone do mind-numbing tasks for you. Just ask Ted Roden.

Three years ago, Ted Roden was sitting in a maternity ward with his wife and newborn baby when he came to a realization. Between his full-time job as a New York Times developer, the book he was writing, and his family, when would he ever again find time for the small yet necessary tasks of everyday life like booking a dinner reservation? Or paying his electric bill? Or scheduling a phone call with this reporter?

That’s when Roden came up with the idea for Fancy Hands, a team of personal assistants that helps you accomplish the kinds of basic tasks anybody can do, so you have more time to do the things only you can do. For example, Fancy Hands can’t write this article for me, but they can do all the things that might be keeping me from writing it, like calling the cable company or scheduling a dentist appointment.

"The idea came totally out of a need," says Roden, who was Fancy Hands’ only user for the first six months of its quiet launch back in April 2010. Spoken like a true developer, he adds, "Rather than make a simple phone call to take my wife out to dinner, I built an elaborate platform."

Transforming the idea from a personal pet project into a business only made sense, considering the outsized levels of productivity people strive for today. And the transition itself went fairly smoothly, as Roden had worked for a startup before (he was one of the first programmers at Vimeo, back when "you had to explain to people what Vimeo was"), and the way Fancy Hands makes money is pretty straightforward. "It’s a very complicated system underneath, but business-wise it’s very simple. People pay us, we do things." Participants pay a monthly fee depending on the plan—$25 will get you 5 requests a month, while $65 will get you up to 25 requests.

The bigger challenge was, and continues to be, convincing consumers that you don’t have to be a Hollywood mogul or a corporate fatcat to reap the benefits of a personal assistant. "Delegating is hard," Roden says. "Even if you give someone a real assistant sitting next to them, it’s going to be a while before they figure out anything to give them. We try to demonstrate to people how there’s so much you have to do in a given day, but only so much you have to do yourself."

While Roden is coy about the specific number of requests Fancy Hands handles daily, he says that during January and February of this year, his assistants logged over 40,000 minutes on the phone for his clients—that’s about a full month straight of talk-time. And phone jobs don’t even make up the majority of Fancy Hands’ work; most requests involve emailing, proofreading, and research.

One major thing Fancy Hands hasn’t had the infrastructure to support yet is the ability to pay for things on people’s behalf. But that’s all about to change in the coming days and months, Roden says. Another new feature Fancy Hands plans to launch this year is a pricing plan for companies who want to make Fancy Hands’ assistants available to its employees during business hours.

"This is going to be a make-or-break year for us without question. We’re either killing it this time next year or we probably don’t exist."

In the future, Roden hopes that completing "mind-numbing" tasks will become such an automated process that people will forget how they ever completed them in the past. He compares it to how digital immigrants of a certain age may forget how they ever bought airline tickets before the Internet came along. But until the day that technology can take care of all these annoying duties for us, Fancy Hands’ assistants are here to help.

Related: Reddit's Alexis Ohanian's Work Flow: Fancy Hands And Making Things Suck Less

[Image: Flickr user Matteo Mignani]

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  • Anthony Garcia

    I was a member a few months ago but just couldn't make much use of the service.  They've been doing a great job with integrations for other services, but I can't seem to justify the expense.  There are a bunch of companies doing this sort of thing now. Several do a lot more than just handle tasks.  

    I like Founders Card which offers a bunch of hook ups at hotels and upgrades at airports and stuff.  I paid a lot for that card and then realized it had no customer service or assistant type people to coordinate. I tried Red Butler too which has a concierge service and some great perks.  So far, I'm sticking to my American Express card concierge which I pay $60 bucks for a year I think.  Maybe I'll upgrade to platinum.

  • George Bush

    So if a person down't have time to call the dentist to make an appointment then how does he have time to call Fancy Hands to make an appointment for him?
    This seems like some sort of ego boost service for people with WAAAAY more money than sense.

  • Mom2 Es

    Easy: It takes 30 seconds to send a text or an email or leave a message that says, "Make me a dentist appointment.  I can't go on Thursdays or after 2 p.m."  It takes 15 - 20 minutes to call the dentist, sit on hold waiting for the appointment person to decide they feel like picking up, waiting for them to check their bookings, repeating information two or three times because they haven't mastered the software...  One person has time but not a lot of money; the other person has money but not a lot of time; they make a swap; everybody's happy.  I probably wouldn't use a service like this for dentist appointments, but I can think of a lot of other things it would be handy for.