How-to videos are some of the most popular searches on YouTube, but there’s a vast gulf between watching a tutorial and getting hands-on, in-person guidance. That is the gap Fountain set out to bridge when it launched at the beginning of March: It offers expert advice over video chat, via an iOS app. Today, Fountain is expanding its service to a web app (with an Android app coming soon) and opening up expert profile pages, where users can engage experts directly.
Fountain debuted with experts in two fields–home improvement and beauty care–under the belief that you can fix most things yourself and save serious money on house calls, but only if you are shown how. Fountain works by taking user questions (“What’s wrong with this lightbulb?” “What products should I use if I want a different hairstyle?”) and feeding them into a language-analyzing algorithm that matches the question with a proper expert. Users chat with experts via text, audio, and video at a rate of $7 per 15 minutes, an increment that assures experts get a minimum fee per call even if they answer questions quickly–but on the user side, 15-minute blocks allow users to relax into full conversations instead of anxiously watching their charges creep up from per-minute rates, says Fountain CEO and cofounder Aaron Patzer, also the founder of personal finance website Mint.com.
Today’s release sees Fountain expanding into any web browser with WebRTC video standards baked in (Chrome and Firefox). The other new feature, the expert profile pages, lets experts choose their own per-hour rates when users seek them out directly. Experts also get a higher cut, keeping 95% of those rates, as opposed to the 70% cut experts get when Fountain matches a user with them. So long as they pass Fountain’s expert vetting process, anyone can make a request for an expert profile page, from hairstylists to plumbers to academic tutors. But instead of competing with YouTube for how-to attention, Fountain reached out, pursuing YouTube stars to open up their own profile pages where they can chat with and instruct their fans one-on-one. The first YouTube star Fountain is bringing on board is Silvia Reis, better known as Ellebangs, a San Francisco-based hairstylist with 136,000 subscribers.
Fountain is allowing experts from many more fields to open up expert profile pages, but it’s going to be another month before Fountain opens up its user question expert-matching system to all categories of experts. Even I could be an expert, Patzer says, likely categorized under editorial or English literature. To qualify, I’d have to pass Fountain’s half-hour interview, but Fountain also vets its experts via the reviews on trusted sites like Angie’s List.
Experts in fields that require advanced schooling, specifically medicine and law, receive higher scrutiny–and the relationship with users becomes a little more nuanced. In fact, Fountain may delay access to medical and legal experts for a month or two just to figure out the legal nuances of medical advisement and attorney/client privilege, says CEO Patzer.
Other services have provided experts via the Internet, like JustAnswer, which has been doing it since 2003. But JustAnswer’s interactions are text-based, and its experts charge $40 to $70 per question.
Whether it finds a specialist for you or lets you find your favorite YouTube star’s profile for one-on-one sessions, Fountain wants to be the Internet marketplace for experts.