The electronics industry has long been obsessed with usurping the personal assistant, with attempts ranging from Siri back to the Palm Pilot. Generally speaking, most of those efforts have failed to achieve the adoption their creators once hoped for.
According to Lee Hnetinka, the 25-year-old founder of a new iPhone app called WunWun, the very idea of replacing the personal assistant using the Internet is wrongheaded. WunWun, which stands for "what you need, when you need it," does something very different. It gives iPhone users access to a network of live dispatchers and super-local "helpers" that can perform nearly any task imaginable (within legal bounds). "The state of the web right now is search-and-sift," he tells me. "Our big idea is to create local, on-demand networks that generate an array of information that you could never find using Google."
WunWun offers a couple of different things. You can ask for a delivery of almost anything (a cake, an iPhone charger, a pack of gum) and pay a flat $15 delivery fee. Or, you can request a service (walk my dog, unclog the toilet, or as one user requested, drive to Ikea and pick up some Swedish meatballs). That costs $2 for every five minutes. Lastly, you can ask for advice (where should I take my date?), which is totally free. It’s a bit like on-demand car service Uber, but with a vastly broader array of services.
Once you make your request, a dispatcher assigns it to one of WunWun’s growing ranks of "helpers." These are students, freelancers, even retirees who’ve been background checked and trained to respond to requests around them. "Your helper could be your neighbor, for all you know," Hnetinka says. "They aren’t just going to Google or Yelp your request." The helpers make $10 for every $15 you pay for a deliver—not a bad rate, considering it’s a side job for most of WunWun’s fast-growing pool. Eventually, the company hopes to have one helper for every three blocks in the city. "Our best use case came up a few weeks ago," he says. "This guy was in Punta Cana, and he left a special camera charger at home. His helper met the doorman and FedEx-ed it overnight. We didn’t set out to disrupt the messenger industry, but that’s what’s happening."
To test that claim, I set up WunWun on my phone. It’s a cleverly designed app, and the UI is as simple as can be. I entered my credit card info and WunWun asked me a series of simple questions: What did I want, when did I want it, and where did it need to be delivered. Hesitant to blow $15 on a coffee delivery, I opted for a free question ("What’s the best vegan place near me?"). A helper responded within a few seconds asking where I was, and then, about five minutes later, I got an email with three suggestions. They didn’t include what I was secretly expecting (a vegan diner two blocks down the street), but they did include some places that most consider the best in the broader neighborhood. I suspect my local favorite is still sort of a hidden gem—not something every helper might know about.
In a way, WunWun is doing for the service industry what cloud computing did for storage. By pooling small contributions from a large group of helpers, they’re making it possible to request help that’s tailored to you, for less money and less waiting time. Right now, the app is only available in New York City (which, hilariously, the founders define as Manhattan-only), but Hnetinka hints that Brooklyn is next on the agenda.
Check out WunWun for yourself here.