Anyone looking for a plumber or electrician in the last couple of years has likely faced some sort of existential crisis they haven’t felt since high school. With COVID in the background, you call a service provider with a problem or a plan and then hope. Will they call you back? Will they show up when they said they would? Or not at all ? Will the craftsman actually finish the job or will he pretend, half-done, while he tries to find a part or solution to your knotty problem?
The shortage of tradespeople is well documented; many of them retired or died due to COVID or related complications. Meanwhile, the demand for home improvement has increased, especially the demand for smarter home appliances and fixtures. To help meet this need, the startup Griot does not seek to solve the shortage of artisans. Rather, he hopes to make those still in the business more efficient and, at the same time, help newcomers learn the necessary skills while on the job.
Griot was founded last year and launched at CES. It’s the brainchild of Nate Williams and Chris Kim, both of Union Ventures. They then recruited Sean Miller, the former president of PointCentral, to lead it and act as another co-founder. The startup offers a FaceTime-esque app that works on cellphones (and soon on the web) and allows skilled tradespeople on the job to easily connect with experts.
It might sound stupidly simple from the perspective of anyone who’s been stuck on Zooms, Teams, and Google Meets for two years. In fact, Griot is part of a larger trend of tech companies trying to reach frontline workers with office productivity software. Technology is becoming an essential part of more and more jobs – from medical workers to washing machine repair technicians – so the tech world is trying to adapt its products to be easier to use in environments difficult, and by people who use it as one of several tools during work.
This usually means a streamlined design and features that can quickly deliver relevant information in an easy-to-digest format, such as audio or video. After all, while we’ve seen a lot of the hype around offering AR tools to home service technicians, the hardware and/or user experience can be clunky. To get a taste of just how clumsy it can be, try fixing a car while holding your phone over the engine to identify where the spark plugs are.
Griot provides a front end that looks like FaceTime and allows a technician to connect to an expert with the click of a button. They can use audio or audio and video. The app is paid for by the company that employs the pro, with Griot focusing first on early clients who have multiple employees as opposed to single person operations. Current customers include several HVAC installers, solar installers and alarm companies, Griot is also in early trials with companies such as Alarm.com, Tricon Residential and Mitsubishi Trane.
According to Miller, companies using the service do so because the types of services merchants install have become more tech-intensive as consumers install smart home devices, and also because there is a shortage. of experienced traders to work to help. train newcomers to the field. With a simple way to consult within a company, people in the field can solve problems quickly and experts can intervene remotely. This means that experienced technicians can take on other jobs or retired technicians can consult for a few hours a week to train younger staff.
It’s not the kind of technology that can change the world, but it could become a rich source of data that would turn into a compelling business. Data showing where technicians are struggling or what equipment they are struggling with is valuable for the service company and also for the manufacturers of problematic devices. Additionally, if service calls are recorded, they can become part of a user-created content library that can be used to teach others. These types of user forums can generate new revenue streams, as device makers can pay to advertise alongside the forums or even pay for their own experts to communicate directly with the audience that the device maker hope to achieve.
Miller told me that Griot has already raised about $1 million and hopes to raise a seed round later this year. Given trends in technology adoption, interest in business, and the desire of large tech companies to reach more users, Griot is well positioned.
Update:This story was updated on February 23, 2022 to correct the spelling of a co-founder’s name. It’s Sean Miller, not Scott.