GoButler has a straightforward premise — you should be able to send a text message and one of its "Heroes" will help you get whatever you need, whether you want to order dinner or make a flight reservation.
Today, the startup is announcing that it has moved out of beta testing and is available in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It's also announcing that it has raised $8 million in Series A funding.
The round was led by General Catalyst Partners, with participation from Lakestar, Rocket Internet's Global Founders Capital, Slow Ventures, BoxGroup, Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary's Sound Ventures, and Cherry Ventures. General Catalyst's Joel Cutler is now on the GoButler board.
We've described the service as a "Magic clone," comparing it that other SMS service that promises to bring you anything you want, on-demand. (Magic can't deliver a tiger, though.) Not surprisingly, co-founder and CEO Navid Hadzaad rejects the label, arguing that "while it may have sounded like a weekend side project," you can't build a service like this overnight.
GoButler's connection to Rocket Internet isn't just through the funding — its founding team (pictured below) includes former executives from the Berlin-headquartered company. Hadzaad, for example, worked on Rocket Internet services ZipJet and Helpling. And, well, Rocket Internet has a reputation for cloning successful services. But Hadzaad said that what really distinguishes the team, and what they got from their Rocket Internet experience, is "a strong footprint building consumer-facing operations."
"Magic could be interesting, but I want to do it differently and build a super high-touch business to scale four, five, six thousand requests a day," he said.
Since launching earlier this year, GoButler says it has been used by more than 100,000 people and processed more than 1 million requests.
I'm not a regular GoButler user, but I did try it out last night. The ordering process took more than 30 minutes, with some long pauses in between texts. I'm not complaining, though. My GoButler Hero was unfailingly polite and helpful, and they narrowed down my generic request for dinner to a specific order from one of the few Chinese restaurants in my neighborhood that was still taking online orders at 11pm. Once we'd settled on the details, including the price, they sent me a link to pay through PayPal, then they placed the order with Seamless.
I suppose GoButler may not be the best (or most necessary) option if you know exactly what you're looking for and where you want to get it, but I'm definitely going to try it out again, especially when I have another vague request.
Hadzaad estimated that when GoButler launched, "99 percent of what we were doing was manual." Over time, it's built out technology to automate some responses and ensure that requests get routed to the best team. But even though tech is making the process more efficient, Hadzaad said the company will still need its Heroes — who are, by the way, actual GoButler employees.
"If in six months people expect that their pizza order is going to be end-to-end automated, that's not going to happen," he said.
The service will get smarter about your preferences as you use it more often, he added.
There's another big selling point: GoButler entirely free, and Hadzaad plans to keep it that way. As for possible business models, he said he's most interested in using customer data and "building more of an ad network around it." he also said he's open to an affiliate model, where GoButler takes a cut when it drives business to other apps and services, but he emphasized that GoButler can't show preference to specific services just because they have affiliate deals.