FORTUNE -- After a long day or week, the last thing I want to do is house chores. So plates and laundry stack up. The floors don't get Swiffered. When that happens, I'll spend more time clambering around, pajama-clad, and deliberating -- time I could have used to actually perform these chores -- wondering which I'd prefer: scrubbing the tub or paying someone to do it for me?
Here in Silicon Valley, there's a startup offering to do almost anything. Too lazy to clean the house? Hit up Exec or Homejoy. Too busy for groceries? Instacart's platoon of Bay Area personal shoppers do it for you. Hasty brings healthy, gourmet cooked meals to your door; Prim picks up, does, and drops off laundry; Medicast connects users with doctors who make house calls. And popular smartphone apps like Uber and Lyft mean never having to stand on a rainy street corner hailing a cab ever again. The number of startups in this space of "on-demand" services grows seemingly by the week. Yet the business model remains simple: build a service fulfilling tasks people wish they could outsource, do it swiftly, and charge extra for sheer convenience.
Many Bay Area tech employees don't work 9-to-5 schedules. Marissa Mayer, obviously an outlier, worked 130 hours a week during her first five years with Google (GOOG) -- an incredible average of 18.5 hours a day. And with the exception of early-stage startup founders who routinely pay themselves nil or just enough to get by, many of these same techies make significantly more than the average American: $101,278 in 2012, according to career sites provider Dice Holdings.
Long days, high salaries and the widespread availability of service startups in the Bay Area make for some interesting use cases. That's certainly the case for TaskRabbit, a startup that screens freelancers to do short-term errands and projects including IKEA furniture assembly or store returns. Tasks also verge on the idiosyncratic. One highly paid software engineer admitted he hired a TaskRabbit to stand in line for hours outside the local Apple (AAPL) store to pick up his iPhone 5 on launch day. Roy Bahat, former IGN Entertainment president and head of the $75 million Bloomberg Beta venture fund, admits he hires a TaskRabbit to drive his car from meeting to meeting all day, while he sits in the passenger seat making work calls.
For two years, I've used Uber for work and fun. Being able to summon a car and know exactly how far away it was still makes paying extra worthwhile, especially in a city where cabs can be infuriatingly elusive and I'm rushing to an appointment. (Newer Uber options like Uber X conjure up company-approved citizen drivers in lieu of black cars, but actually charges 10% cheaper than traditional taxis.) I've also used Instacart, which tacks a small variable delivery fee on top of reasonably priced produce. In that case, it saves me the time-suck of hoofing it among Safeway (SWY), Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Costco (COST).
Less familiar with other services, I decided to test several out. I gave up on having Prim, which charges $25 for the first laundry bag and $15 for each one after -- the earliest they could do was almost a week out. The same was true for Homejoy. I had more luck with Exec somewhat, snagging a next-day appointment for a pricey $187, nearly $40 more than Homejoy's estimate. While the maids rendered the place near-spotless, they left an unexpected souvenir: $70 worth of damage to my roommate's turntable. (Exec promises to cover repair costs.) And with TaskRabbit, I hired someone to do my laundry for no less than $50. He did it, but missed my deadline by 2.5 hours. (In return, he knocked $10 off the total cost.)
With these brief flirtations also came persistent guilt. Using Uber to make a meeting and Instacart to bring five bags of groceries to my door felt acceptable, but ponying up $50 for two or three laundry loads? Paying someone $100-plus to stand in line for an iPhone 5? Those crossed a psychological line into inexplicable opulence. I suspect some services will scale better because they're addressing a wide-enough need -- Uber in some cities, Medicast for patients too sick to leave the home, cheaper cleaning services like Homejoy -- but many more others will flounder, serving as reminders that what may fly in places like the Valley, New York, and elsewhere are clearly aimed at those with large disposable incomes to burn.
That may be why it's getting more attention than ever.
FORTUNE -- Uber is raising money again. After several weeks of speculation that the digital taxi-hailing service would raise a round large enough to value the company at well over $1 billion, CEO Travis Kalanick confirmed to the Wall Street Journal July 12 that he was talking to investors. The exact amount is TBD, but I plan to ask him about MOREJessi Hempel, writer - Jul 15, 2013 2:02 PM ET
As the sharing economy expands into transportation, Millennials are growing up with carsharing, a very different spin on car ownership.
By Kurt Wagner, reporter
FORTUNE -- When RelayRides CEO Andre Haddad isn't using his 2006 Porsche 911, he encourages strangers to drive it.
This willingness to share -- even something as valuable as a sports car -- is the premise behind carsharing, a growing industry that connects car owners with renters seeking MOREMar 12, 2013 1:07 PM ET
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