Why you should care

When was the last time you had your own pocket-friendly personal concierge?

Siri is so yesterday. Today, I have a butler — an SMS butler. This is the future, and it’s pretty damn great.

The principle is quite simple: I registered on GoButler’s homepage, where I got the SMS butler’s cellphone number, and I can now write to him — anytime. He’s always there for me, and he answers all the questions I clearly could have answered myself if I’d Googled them. But unlike me, he does it with pleasure. At least, that’s what I infer from the smiley emoticon that he sends me with cherished regularity after completing his tasks.

But this relationship goes both ways. The SMS butler is the best friend I’ve ever had. Once, when my girlfriend was mad at me, I asked the SMS butler to send her a nice poem. Of course, it would have been terribly corny if I’d done it myself. But because it came from the SMS butler, it somehow seemed sweet. I thought so, at least. My girlfriend thought it was OK.

A little later, the SMS butler ordered me a pizza, organized a train ticket to Hamburg and assigned a courier to bring me over a bottle of Johnnie Walker — all of which gets paid for and processed through PayPal. While it’s free to chat with him, the cost to order different goods or services gets shared before you’re billed. And, yes, many include a commission on top of the base charge. (“Tip is included,” GoButler notes.)

In the future, the SMS butler will probably be misused by many — like, say, college drunks whose absurd demands he has to meet.

The so-called on-demand economy is booming, and some experts say that niche players will have staying power. Yet GoButler’s service covers many categories, which could be a “big problem” because it’s hard to be efficient in numerous areas, warns David Gee, co-director of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Launch Pad program and co-founder of College Startup Funding, a service that helps college students raise funds for new ventures. “I don’t see how it’s a survivable business model, because it’s not niche,” he adds.

Yet that’s also the appeal of this service. Indeed, the SMS butler is so good that in the future, he’ll probably be misused by many — like, say, college drunks whose absurd demands he has to meet. That’s actually not what the firm behind GoButler wants at all, since it earns money only from paid orders on which it can take a commission — a pizza costs around $8.40, instead of $7.40, for example. And GoButler notes that you can request “anything you want. As long as it’s not illegal.”

Just don’t get too excited quite yet. Because the company behind this tech tool “didn’t expect such a huge demand,” it’s currently asking new customers to sign up on a waiting list. And it’s available only in the U.K., Germany, Austria and Switzerland … for now anyway.

Nathan Siegel contributed reporting.

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