One of the significant trends in the local/SMB segment — part of the larger blurring of online and offline — is the arrival of e-commerce for service businesses. It takes two main forms: scheduling/booking and online/mobile payments.
In one sense this isn’t new at all; think about online travel booking, which has been going on since virtually the dawn of the internet. Beyond this, OpenTable has been around since 1998. Later Groupon (et al) helped bring e-commerce to a wider range of offline service businesses.
Separate from these more visible companies and initiatives, a number of booking startups have been toiling in relative obscurity for years to bring online scheduling to an array of local service categories, convinced that a breakthrough was right around the corner.
However the market has stubbornly resisted and online scheduling remains far from mainstream for most local service businesses. For example, Genbook was involved in several trials a few years ago with directory publishers that never materialized into rollouts.
Now startup Pingup thinks it may be in a position to crack the market open. The company aggregates booking engines, such as those listed above, and thus their small business customers. Then through an API Pingup syndicates and standardizes their booking services for a network of larger publishers. Pingup is still building the distribution side of the business but it will include directories and local search providers.
Pingup is focused on mobile and mobile apps, though it equally works on the PC. The business model hasn’t been firmly established. Right now, like OpenTable, Pingup can collect a fee for new customer bookings. It can also use a subscription model. I believe the company is flexible in how it works with SMB booking providers but in all cases it shares revenues.
Accordingly there’s a three way rev-split here: Pingup, distribution point/publisher and underlying booking provider (sales channel). Booking occurs within the look and feel of the publisher partner, although there’s a fair amount going on in the background.
Pingup also has the ability to provide online booking directly to SMBs. This is how Pingup started, quickly realizing the challenges of selling directly to local businesses. Pingup can also provide white label booking capabilities to publishers.
Pingup’s approach brings a potential critical mass of scheduling inventory to publishers, which have been reluctant to work with individual tools or “platforms” because they haven’t offered enough coverage across categories. Pingup’s aggregation approach is the answer to that problem.
It’s not clear to me how the booking vendors (e.g., Genbook, agendize) feel about the relationship. I’m sure they would prefer not to have to rely on a middle man such as Pingup. By the same token Pingup may accomplish something they’ve been unable to do: bring local online scheduling to the mass market.