According to data from the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs, firms with fewer than 20 workers made up 89.0 percent of total employer firms. But if we count those non-employer businesses, then this number increased to 98% of total businesses. As Census Bureau’s definitions for nonemployer business, which is the one that has no paid employees, and is subject to federal income taxes. Nonemployer businesses are generally small, such as real estate agents and independent contractors. I guess most people have not actually realize this number, yes, 98% are small businesses. But for such large number of clients, they are no much tech solutions out there are able to help them managing their customers and businesses.
With the development of AI artificial intelligence and automation, I assume this number will be even increasing. Such a large group of businesses owners, most of them are not tech savvy, many of them even do not have a computer at home, but almost all of them have a smart phone. They cannot afford the license fee for a Salesforce service, and it is also not designed for them anyway. Some of them may have a stable business if they have good human relationships; most of them may not. These are the reasons that I came up with the product/service of Nearal app, targeting at this group of people, and providing business solutions for them by helping them build their own local business network.
1. Location based local business network
The 98% of small businesses, are mostly serving local community. Some people who has a good personality, very open, maybe have many people resources and be able to do a good business and support their family. Some others may not, and they need a good tool for them to broadcast their businesses/services, find local potential partners, manage their local customers and interact with them to build a long term relationship, and they need some simple tech solutions to help their businesses much be easier to run.
Nearal is such a location based local business network app. At Nearal, users can simply browse nearby professionals. For professionals, he/she can also list their services. Users can also do a keyword search. E.g. if it is a Silicon Valley startup, he/she can search investors and reach out; or he/she can search for developers to build his/her team. Of course with more and more professionals start to use Nearal, one should also be able to find nearby plumbers, carpenters, roofers, etc.
Someone may ask what is the difference from Yelp, Yelp is a review based app, and yet many independent nonemployer businesses are still not there. Besides, anyone can write a review and Yelp has no effective way to track if the reviewer is true or false.
2. Group peers/customers or like-minded people
Nearal has a group feature, so users can put his/her peers, customers or like-minded people in a group. For example, many restaurant owners lack of a way to manage their customers, and continually interact with them, so he/she can have good business. With Nearal, he/she can invite restaurant customers to join the group. Time-by-time the owner can broadcast some new dishes, can send out a limited-numbered coupon in the group, by doing that, the owner keeps interacting with his/her customers, and will easily has more returned customers. Further more, Nearal may even provide more customizable widget for customers to order dishes within this group, make a reservation, make payments, and so on.
As image showing, now Nearal has YC startup schoolmates group, Artists group, UIUX designers group and so on. These group gathers people from similar background, and group members can also share industry news, learn from each other, or develop collaboration and business relationships, or give a group member an internal reference for some job opportunities.
3. Plenty of widgets for different business needs
Of course many other social networking apps also have group features, but the widget stores which provides customized widgets to help group owner to manage their group and interact with group members, to fit for different business purpose, that is what makes Nearal unique and useful. A barber shop may like to have appointment, discount coupons, membership cards, payment solutions within his/her customers group; a consultant may like to have paid-2-chat widget, so he/she can provide an online consultancy service; a church may like to have donation widgets and pray widgets and so on.
Some widgets will be subscription based, which will make it quite affordable by small business owners or self-employed people; and that is also part of Nearal’s business model. In the future, Nearal will also open API, and encourage third parties to develop different widgets and sell on our store, and we share profits together.
4. Embrace AI to reduce work load
For many businesses, there is a huge part of job which is customer service. Most questions/inquiries may very similar. Even just to have some people to answer these questions, can be quite a work load that cannot afford. Or there are many small businesses have to hire a receptionist, just to answer the call and arrange appointments. All these type of jobs actually can be handled by artificial intelligent. Nearal will provide chatbot service for many small business owners, to answer questions/inquiries, and to take appointments.
There are so many businesses actually are handling through chat, e.g. when we go to a bank to open account, when we call a travel agent to make a book for a trip, and these services can also be handled by a chatbot. And this brings real life experience to the Nearal app world, so that people do not have to search on a booking site and screening through all the results; an intelligent agent will understand customers’ specific needs, and provide the best fit recommendations.
5. Invoicing and Payment solutions
While WeChat pay and AliPay have been quite popular in China, every small business, even a street food stand will ask customer to scan the QR code with smart phone to make a payment, here in the United States, small businesses are still handling the invoices and payments in an old-fashioned way. Some businesses may use Square, but that requires a hardware connecting to the phone, and it still swiping the credit card to process.
Nearal is also developing the invoice and payment solutions, so small businesses owners and self employed will be much easier to manage their transactions. All the invoices can also be exported hence they can use that for tax filing purposes. Not like WeChat pay or AliPay, Nearal Pay does not require people to scan a QR code, just simply send the invoice or make payment via the chat interface.
6. Event promotion to increase app users
With the coming 2020 presidential election, Nearal is also trying to do an event promotion along with this huge nation wide event. Nearal has launched the president candidates’ Chatbots, so whoever has a question to ask about their policies, but did not have the chance to meet the candidate in person, can now interact with their Chatbot.
We even put different running candidate’s Chatbot into a group, to have a virtual debate, so when voters ask questions within this group, each candidate’s Chatbot will talk on behalf of them, what they will do and why is that. So voters can easily compare the differences between each candidate’s policies. Our Chatbot has a self-improving and learning function, by studying from the candidate’s past interviews, twitter micro-blogs, campaign official websites, the Chatbot can simulate the way how the candidate talk.
7. Bring more fun and educational aspects to professional social
Another way of using the technology and make location based professional social even more fun and educational is that we are starting to bring those famous persons in the history back to life. So now at Nearal, when users browse nearby professional, he/she may encounter a famous person in the history. For example, when you travel to Athens, you may find Socrates still in the People’s Square, and you can start to chat with him about Philosophy.
When Nearal grow, more and more famous person in the history can be brought back to life at Nearal app, so whenever you travel to a new city, besides make friends with local professionals, you can also meet local elites in the history and ask them about local culture, history, and so on. We can learn music with Ludwig van Beethoven and keep communicating with him; we can also discuss science with Albert Einstein by chatting with his Chatbot.
8. Precisely placed advertisement
One problem with online advertisement is that, many people feel that it is annoying, and irrelevant. Part of the reason is that the ads is not place to the right audiences who might be interested. By utilizing machine learning and big data, companies like Google and Facebook seems have improved this issue a lot, so that the ads can be displayed more relevant. But it still has some issues. For example, I may have searched for a briefcase on Google and then have already made purchase on Amazon, but Google and Chrome browser will still keep promote briefcases ads to me, because the system think I may still have this interest.
At Nearal, since we know the location info and users’ professional info, so if we place more business/professional related advertisement to the app user, he/she may feel much comfortable, and the conversion rate from viewing to purchase may be even higher. As the images shows, when we display a prototyping tool ads into a UIUX designers’ group, the group users feel much more acceptable, and may even lead to purchase.
Social needs are what makes people a society, which they need things like things acceptance, appreciation, belonging and companionship. Social needs are a higher stage of human needs if refer to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. For Nearal’s target users, who are the foundation of business activities and have not been really taken care of by the tech industry, they will need such mobile friendly, affordable, and ease to use solutions.