‘‘It’s an on-demand world,” said Glenn Nano, cofounder of startup AnswerQi. “People have unique needs and you can’t just give them off-the-shelf stuff.” Launched in May 2011, AnswerQi is a Web-based question and answer service that can provide immediate answers or detailed support for a wide variety of technology-related questions.
AnswerQi and businesses like it are a new kind of publishing venture, delivering content in the form of high-quality problem solving, in this case on technology—supplied on demand, on the fly, and often in real-time, through the Web, instant chat, phone, or by e-mail.
Before starting AnswerQi with his childhood friend Jamie Forrest, Nano was a hedge fund manager, a seed investor at Centurion Venture Partners, and a public school teacher in Harlem for two years. He is also the organizer of Code Meet Print, a lively series of events held at the General Assembly space in New York City’s Flatiron district that offers presentations on startup ventures like the Atavist, Electric Literature, and Figment.com. Code Meet Print works with ventures focused on the intersection of publishing, technology, and, Nano emphasized, “the future of storytelling.”
Nano acknowledged the on-demand answer market is crowded, but said it is also lucrative and growing like crazy, estimating that “over 750 million questions are posted across online q&a sites like Answers.com and Yahoo Answers, forums, and help sites each year—more when social media is factored in.” In fact, he added, “a massive number of questions, over half, are never answered at all.” AnswerQi (answerqi.com) is financed by its cofounders and focused on technology support, and can provide expert answers on MacBook and iMac, iPhone and iPad, Windows and other operating systems, as well as support for Gmail and Google apps, social media/blogging platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr and more. Answers are archived so anyone can search the site for free, or the site will list a query and tell you how long it will take to answer. Although the service is Web-based, a mobile app is on the way.
“Technology is the hub, the horizontal that includes publishers, writers, small businesses,” he said. And in an era of self-publishing, Nano said a lot of questions are in three areas: production (“help me with e-book production, walk me through EPub”); marketing (social media: “is Pinterest best?”); and community management (starting, enlarging, and monitoring online conversations).
“Google is great for answers, but time is important and people will pay for high-quality facts. We deliver answers right away,” Nano said. And users get their answers before they pay. “We have the AnswerQi guarantee,” Nano said. “You pay only if satisfied.” One of AnswerQi’s advantages is its ability to quickly provide live bodies—they’re called technology experts—to answer questions individually and its ability to scale the numbers of consultants up or down quickly based on demand. AnswerQi also has a relationship with the New York Institute of Technology to provide IT personnel to answer questions.
Once users sign on, they can “AsQ” their first question for free. Urgent questions will be answered immediately by online chat as this reporter found out while testing the service. But AnswerQi will also talk directly to you over the phone, use screen-share to walk you through a problem, or e-mail detailed answers and screen shots for big questions that need more time and visual information. Prices vary based on time and the complexity of the question.
The service is currently run remotely, but Nano said the company is looking for office space in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. “Our mission is to help people with painful, real-time needs solve problems with the help of real, skilled experts on the Web,” Nano said, “anytime, from anywhere.”