The high tech sector is renowned for its capacity to churn out companies that dominate their respective markets. Once a company has emerged as a clear winner – consider IBM in mainframes, Microsoft in desktop operating systems and Google in search – there is a need for paradigm shifting innovation before the dominant firm can be upended by a new upstart.
Yet despite this tendency it is interesting to see how, in the early stages of a market’s development, companies bet differently to one another on the future direction that the market is likely to take. This week we consider two venture-backed Israeli startups: FixYa and SupportSpace. Both companies are addressing the market for online technical support but in very different ways.
FixYa: an information marketplace
FixYa is the largest online tech support community and has 15 million unique visitors per month. Users can search through an enormous database of troubleshooting questions relating to 800,000 products, and are able to lodge requests to the company’s network of tech support experts if a question has not been covered previously.
Users can also call on the personal attention of FixYa experts, of which there are over 160,000. Personal assistance is a paid-for service, which begins at $12.99 for one-time premium email support. Other options include 1 month of unlimited email premium support for $19.99, and live chat assistance for the same price per session.
In addition to these direct-to-consumer offerings, the company offers an out-of-the-box solution for retailers and small businesses. FixYa SMB provides retailers and small businesses with free access to the database and expert network – a white label solution, essentially – as it represents a way of achieving wider distribution of FixYa’s content assets and experts.
Evidently, FixYa is heavily focused on leveraging and extending its database of technical support questions and answers. The network effects for this type of service are clear. The more consumers visit the site and ask questions, the greater the likelihood that future visitors will find what they are looking for. The company was founded in 2005 by Yaniv Bensadon, a seasoned internet executive, and has raised a total of $8 million over two rounds – the most recent took place in March 2008 and was led by Mayfield Fund and Pitango Venture Capital.
SupportSpace: a services marketplace
SupportSpace, founded in 2006 by Doron Elgressy and Yair Gridnlinger, is an online technical support marketplace. Certified experts deliver a series of pre-defined and custom services to consumers via SupportSpace’s SaaS platform and support tools. The focus here is on solving technical issues occurring on web-connected devices, principally PCs, rather than answering questions about problems with consumer products in general.
Users can come to the site and browse through pre-defined services – examples of pre-defined services include Email Account Setup ($65.99) and PC Transfer ($41.99). Users are also able to pay for Expert Services which can be delivered as Express Sessions, priced on a flat-rate basis, or Premium Sessions, priced on a per job basis.
Service delivery is made possible through SupportSpace’s platform, which includes CRM, collaboration, desktop sharing and diagnostic tools. The company emphasizes that all SupportSpace Experts are required to go through a certification process, including background verification, a serviceability test, a phone interview and training.
SupportSpace does not offer open access to a knowledge base and is principally focused on connecting qualified experts with paying customers. Analogies could be drawn with oDesk and Elance though, as opposed to providing a general platform for freelancers, SupportSpace is focused on delivering tech support through its SaaS platform and tools.
The company maintains a US Headquarters in San Francisco and an Israeli R&D center in Netanya, and has raised a total of $14.25 million in financing since October 2006. The most recent round of $10 million was closed last month by Gemini Israel Funds and BRM Capital.
Both FixYa and SupportSpace have demonstrated that there is significant consumer demand for online technical support services by taking very different approaches. While FixYa provides free access to a large repository of valuable troubleshooting insights, in addition to expert services, SupportSpace connects consumers with certified experts that resolve technical problems on web-connected devices. It will be interesting to see how the companies continue to evolve going forward, though early signals suggest that their respective market segments are sufficiently large to sustain growth for some time to come.