As more experts express concerns about the reach into private lives of social media companies like Facebook, an Olds, Alta. native and University of Calgary graduate is trying to build a better social network.
But Bruce Fikowski, CEO of Get Assist, didn’t set out with ambitions to take on Mark Zuckerburg. He just needed someone to hang a light fixture in his home.
“I can hang a light,” said Fikowski. “I’ve built hotels and I’m a handy guy.”
The problem was that he was busy with other things. He said he was prepared to pay someone to do the small job, but trying to locate someone via the internet was cumbersome.
That was how he came up with the idea of Get Assist – a social media network geared to connect really small businesses and service providers with the general public.
Along the way towards building Get Assist, Fikowski realized he could create a social network like Facebook, but without the advertisements and data collection.
“All the features of social membership are free,” he said. “We don’t share your data, we don’t collect your data other than your verifiable email address and postal code. We don’t share your data with anyone. We don’t advertise. We don’t track you, and it’s free – so you get full social features.”
He said the users on the network are creating public and private groups for sharing their interests. New parents are sharing baby pictures with other family members. Public groups share the latest Hollywood movie trailers. So far there are over 90,000 groups on Get Assist.
How Get Assist makes its money is not through selling users attention to advertising companies, but rather by connecting small businesses with people requesting a service.
“Small businesses have been left behind by technology,” said Fikowski. “There’s not a network for them like there is for professionals. That’s what LinkedIn is. Facebook is more for entertainment. But when we talk with small business, they say, ‘We don’t do Facebook anymore.’”
Bruce said now if he needed that light fixture installed, he would plug in his request and the price he would be willing to pay into Get Assist, and that lead would go out to paying business customers, who can then bid on the job.
Calgary landscaper Joe Aaron is one of those paying customers. He said the service pays for itself in a year if he gets even one lead.
“If you get one job off it for what it costs – it’s worth it,” said Aaron. “It’s a no brainer for me.”
He described himself as a busy guy who’s running his business, Aaron Contracting Inc., and as someone who doesn’t have a lot of time or interest in computers.
He gets a push notification when someone does request a job on Get Assist. In addition to paying a yearly subscription, he also pays a few dollars to see the request.
From there he can bid on the job. He’s competing with other businesses using the site, so it’s not a sure thing.
“It depends on how competitive you want to be,” said Aaron. “I don’t always get the job.”
Fikowski’s company is growing. While he said Get Assist doesn’t give out its exact user base, it’s under 100,000. He’s got 60 employees with plans to grow that to around 100 by the end of the year as they open more brick-and-mortar offices in Canadian and US cities.
Those offices are there to offer support to small business customers.
“It’s not like a Facebook where if something goes wrong you’ve got no help. You can go down to an office and get help with your stuff,” he said.
Fikowski is trying a shared office space concept in Winnipeg that will give users a space with day-use desks and spaces where they can meet privately with clients.
He said they hope to do the same thing in other cities as leases come up at their regional sales and support offices.