"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
- Leonardo da Vinci
I attended an Exchange 2010 training course last year conducted entirely via remote access. The instructor was in the Midwest and class members participated from all parts of the country using phones and computers. This fit the definition of "classroom-led training" since an instructor presented the content online and was available for questions and advice while students worked on labs using virtual machines.
A model like this makes sense in the same manner as work-from-home opportunities: more flexibility and cheaper costs. The training company was able to attract a broader base of customers and the students had better educational opportunities to choose from - in some cases they had no local opportunities at all. One student, for example, told us he was participating in the training class from his boat, moored at a marina in a small town on the Gulf of Mexico!
Video conferencing is branching out into many business avenues, and along with it comes an opportunity to officially track and bill for time spent conducting these conferences. Enter HangPay by Curious Minds (located in West Hollywood, CA), a new service just out of beta.
What is HangPay?
HangPay lets you set up a paid Hangout so you can charge for time spent interacting with customers. Whether you are a lawyer, a consultant, an educator, a language tutor or a computer support technician, HangPay can simplify the process of getting paid for your work.
How does HangPay function?
HangPay presenters set up free accounts on hangpay.com which are linked with their Google+ accounts.
HangPay provides the presenter with a custom link (e.g. https://www.hangpay.com/15odr) to access the paid hangout session. Presenters can email the link to clients, post it via social media or attach it to their website via a widget to help promote their services.
Once the client accesses the link, the hangout is created. The presenter receives an email notification that the customer is waiting and can join the hangout.
The presenter can start charging for their time via a single mouse click.
Conducting a walkthrough
I recently participated in a HangPay demo with David Hoover at Curious Minds. I accessed www.hangpay.com.
I clicked "Sign in with Google+" and logged in with my Google account. This was a direct logon to Google which did not pass my credentials through HangPay's server.
I then had a toolbar at the top with links to edit my profile, use Widgets or access my Payment information.
I clicked the "Widgets" button.
This created my personal HangPay link. Scrolling down the page presented the options to post my custom link to social media or email it to recipients.
I clicked "Send Link." David got an email with my link which he then clicked. I received an email.
I clicked the link in the email and the Hangout session launched.
As you can see, this is a standard Hangout with the addition of the "Start charging" button and the option to "Select your rate to charge the user." I left the rate at $1 per minute and simply clicked "Start charging" to start the clock on the paid session.
This is how the screen looked from David's side.
Ending the call was as easy as clicking "End call."
How does the billing work?
The customer makes payments via Google Wallet. 2% goes to Google, 2% goes to HangPay, and the rest goes to the presenter.
The presenter can set rates as desired, such as $1 or higher per minute. This can be changed during the conference as desired.
The HangPay toolbar, shown when you log into the site, gives you a "Payments" link which allows you to keep tabs on your current HangPay financial status.
HangPay pays out account balances every week.
Talking with Curious Minds
HangPay provided me with a press release which contained further information about their service. An excerpt states:
"The best part about HangPay is that we built it on the Google+ API, which means our users can utilize all the features of Hangouts like Google Doc collaboration, screensharing, and countless other applications," says Matthew Van Veenendaal, HangPay's Chief Technology Officer. "We've seen a keen interest in HangPay's solution from multiple verticals, some popular ones include attorneys, accountants, and language tutors who were searching for a no hassle way to bill clients for their time."
I chatted with Van Veenendaal via email to ask a few follow-up questions.Scott Matteson (SM): You stated HangPay was built on top of the Google+ API, but can you elaborate further? Did you have to get permission from Google to edit or modify the Hangout structure or was this an add-on that allows for customization? Matthew Van Veenendaal (MV): Google provides external developers access to the API through their add-on system. Our team utilized that API to build HangPay. SM: How long did it take to build HangPay? MV: HangPay had a 3-4 month initial development process. SM: Who conceived the idea of HangPay? MV: David and Jonathan Gonen, the co-founders of Curious Minds, came up with the idea. SM: How did the idea come about? MV: The team at Curious Minds were fairly early adopters of Google+ Hangouts. We began using it as our default meeting software and had a very positive experience from the beginning. It was much smoother and easier to setup than Skype or alternative video conferencing offerings.
As we took a closer look at Hangouts we saw Google's activity around promoting the Hangouts API, something that most other video conferencing solutions don't offer or don't promote.
Our belief in the strength of the Hangout product and the strength of the API, as well as our knowledge of the difficulties of creating technology for a hangouts type product (as we had done with several of our incubated companies such as Ringadoc) made it a natural progression to focus on finding a way Hangouts could be used in a business context.
Almost Ready to Launch
As of late March, 2013 HangPay is a little less than a month away from going into production. I can see it carving out a strong niche in the consulting realm since it can appeal to techies and laypersons alike. I appreciated the simplicity and ease of use which the product demonstrated during the demo. The feature set is comprehensive but easy to use, and HangPay tells me more options will be added down the road, something I look forward to exploring. Another benefit to this automated billing arrangement is the ability to prevent client disputes regarding billable time, since an independent third party is running the clock.
I've already got some ideas on how I can use HangPay to charge (or dissuade) certain family members for repetitive IT support tasks involving spyware removal and finding lost files (Mom, if you're reading this I was, uh, referring to OTHER family members).
I wish Curious Minds the best of luck with their product launch, and would like to thank Robert George, David Hoover, Erik Batres and Matthew Van Veenendaal for their assistance in writing this post.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.