RIT on TV: RIT Philosopher comments on new butler service – on PBS


Anchor>>Finally tonight, an on-demand assistant
for those with too much to do and too little time. Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman
has the story. It’s part of our ongoing reporting, “Making Sense,” which airs every
Thursday on the Newshour. Stanton>>As a single person living on my own, the only reason I have so
much stuff in my fridge is because somebody else has bothered to do the shopping for me. Reporter>> When Dr. Emma Stanton moved to Boston this spring, work left little time
for prepping her new apartment. Stanton>>It was cleaned when I moved in, which was about nine
days ago. Reporter>>Or choosing a new coffee maker. Stanton>>I just asked for particular recommendations,
and this was one of three they suggested. Reporter>>Cleaning her clothes. Stanton>>This
is my laundry. I just chuck it in here. The Alfred comes and picks it up. Reporter>>
and who exactly is “Alfred”? A new online service, the company’s name is “Hello Alfred,”
named after batman’s ultimate butler. Movie>>There’s a problem with the graphite sir. Reporter>>
Who caters to your every need. Movie>>Let me suggest you try to avoid landing on your head. Reporter>>
Now if you really want to outsource your chores these days, there are apps galore, among them
Instacart for shopping; Homejoy for cleaning. But Stanton’s Alfred does it all. Stanton>>Hello
Alfred were able to be here last week, when I had my Wi-Fi installed in my new apartment.
Hello Alfred were able to be here when a storage company came to pick up a box that I needed
to go to storage, and deal with some of the other hassles that happen when you move house. Reporter>>Hello Alfred was conceived by Marcela Sapone and Jess Beck, who both pulled
out of Harvard business school last year to scale up the business of butlering. MC>>And
the winner of the 2014 disrupt San Francisco battlefield competition is: Alfred! Reporter>>
Sapone’s case in point in pitching “Alfred” at a high-powered startup competition was
harried, hypothetical “Dan.” Sapone>>The butler you never had, for the very first time, the
luxury of personal service for the rest of us. For $99 a month Dan can get his very own
Alfred that visits once a week, every week, on set days to take care of his household
chores. Reporter>>Alfred was suddenly on the app map and within months, Sapone and
Beck had more than $12 million in funding, for an idea they’d come up with while working
on Wall Street. Sapone>>We were working 90-hour workweeks. I mean, you barely saw the light
of day. I was not doing a good job of taking care of myself. Reporter>>So far, Alfred
is taking care of clients who can easily afford an extra $25 a week only in New York and Boston.
But Sapone has a waiting list and plans to expand wherever there are dense clusters of
customers. Sapone>>I’m giving people back their time. Life is actually becoming unmanageable.
And the hours that we’re working are going up, and the amount of complexity in our lives
is only going up. Reporter>>So, a good deal for clients. But what about the Alfreds?
Eeva Lee moved to New York from Finland last summer. A psychologist, she now works part-time,
25 hours a week or more, as an Alfred, perambulating Greenwich village with as much as 50 pounds
in tow. Lee>>Sometimes you have a lot to carry on you, you can take it as an exercise, and
don’t have to go to the gym later. (laughs) Reporter>>Especially given the flights
of stairs. Lee>>Usual day it’s like, anywhere from 20 to 40, depending on how many elevator
buildings I have. I don’t know if my iPhone has a jinx on it, but it claims to me that
there’s one day that I’ve done 80. But that sounds crazy, even in this job. Reporter>>
would you not rather be practicing psychology than doing what you’re doing? Lee>>Of course.
I would like to do what I have the education for. But I understand how important wherever
you work in the world, it is to know the culture and the people and the ways of working. And
I’m getting that education all the time as work, the other very nice thing is that
I sleep like a baby. Reporter>>Unlike other on- demand services, which rely on low-paid
contract workers, C.E.O. Sapone says Alfreds are employees who earn $18 to $30 an hour.
But how do the economics work if clients only pay $25 week?>>You’re essentially sharing
the cost of a personal assistant. That Alfred is serving multiple people. Reporter>>How
many clients do you need in an area before it’s economically viable? Sapone>>Anywhere from
four to seven. Reporter>>Boston tech entrepreneur Nick Rellas got off the Hello Alfred waiting
list four months ago. A favorite feature for him: freshly pressed shirts from the dry cleaners
down the street. So you couldn’t do this yourself? Rellas>>That’s what my mother
asks me! It’s not about proximity. It’s about what time it closes every day. I don’t
leave work until at least 9:00 or 10:00 and I never have time to get here before it closes. Reporter>>So, Rellas’s Alfred takes care of it. Rellas>>You can see here, closes at 7:00. Reporter>>And before wrapping up for the day, she (real name, Lauren) leaves him a
handwritten summary of tasks completed. Rellas>>She cleaned up the apartment a little today, took
out the garbage, fluffed the bed. Here’s what I love about Alfred. She noticed I was
out of garbage bags. Reporter>>Yes? Rellas>>And she’s gonna pick some up for me. Reporter>>
But wait a second: should we outsource everything? Selinger>>How is it that we’ve all become
so pinched, that we feel we can’t do very much for ourselves? Reporter>>Evan Selinger
teaches philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, is skeptical of outsourcing
apps like Hello Alfred. Selinger>>Instead of actually giving us our time back, they
just open up more time for us to be imprisoned in other ways, often for us to work longer
hours. What kind of character do we develop, the more that we outsource? How does outsourcing
more and more change our interactions with more and more people? Reporter>>But on
the other hand, Alfred could free up more time for professional interactions since folks
like Emma Stanton can subcontract lesser tasks. Stanton>>We noticed one of your shirts still had
some small stains on it, we took it back to the dry cleaners. Thank you, have a great
weekend. So I probably wouldn’t maybe even noticed that my shirt had a stain on it. So,
I kind of like the fact that they just picked that up and dealt with it! Reporter>>And
to CEO Marcela Sapone, it’s just a division of labor, that allows anyone in a dense neighborhood
to buy a butler. Sapone>>There’s no reason you or I can’t be just as extraordinary as batman. Reporter>>Economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting for the PBS Newshour from Boston and NYC.

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