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Issue Date: February 1, 2008, Posted On: 2/1/2008


With AskSunday, help is on the way

NY upstart sources personal assistants to India, Philippines

By Paul Imbesi

   
 

Steve Ludmer, left, and Avinash Samudrala, right, co-founded AskSunday, which provides outsourced personal assistant services through e-mail and mobile phones. Photo courtesy of AskSunday

NEW YORK – Steve Ludmer and Avinash Samudrala have started a company that enables everyone to have a personal assistant to help them with everyday tasks like travel plans, restaurant reservations, and even wake-up calls.

However, these personal assistants are farther away than most: They are located in facilities in India and the Philippines.

Ludmer and Samudrala’s company, AskSunday, has put a new twist on an old idea by making personal assistants available via phone and e-mail. Essentially, Ask­Sunday has taken Web 2.0 to another level.

“[With] Web 2.0 you can research and find restaurants in your proximity and find the closest ATM nearby, but who can actually make that reservation? You have to go on, log in, type in all the details and do all that stuff. With us, all you do is you send us an e-mail saying ‘Make me a reservation at Babo Friday night, four people,’ and it’s done,” Samudrala said.

AskSunday – which is under the company name of Sunday LLC – does not designate one employee per client. Instead, Samudrala said, the company uses a pool-based model, which means that a customer may not speak to the same AskSunday representative each time. But the company stores each person’s data, so when a customer sends in a request (most come in via e-mail), AskSunday employees view someone’s request history, which gives them access to frequent flyer numbers, for instance.  

However, Samudrala said AskSunday does not ask for personal information like social security numbers or bank account information. But the company does keep some information like credit card numbers securely stored in its system if customers want AskSunday’s personnel to purchase items.

“You’d be surprised how many times people are out about and they just send us an e-mail saying, ‘Buy me this book off Amazon,’” Samudrala said.

Although AskSunday does not target any particular consumer group, Samudrala said the service could be helpful to mid-level professionals who cannot afford a dedicated personal assistant, but still desire a service to help them accomplish menial tasks.

However, Samudrala said AskSunday does not target one group because its price is palatable to a large group of people. The company offers two plans: the silver plan, which costs $29 per month for 30 requests, and its gold plan, which costs $49 for 50 requests. The gold plan also enables AskSunday employees to make international calls for its customers. 

Samudrala said companies have approached AskSunday about using its services. Although he could not disclose details, Samudrala said AskSunday makes sense from a corporate standpoint because employees become more efficient since they no longer have to work on personal tasks during work hours. The companies that AskSunday have gone after are small- to mid-sized ones – about 50 employees – that have the margins to afford this service. AskSunday would not disclose how many customers it has.

Ludmer, 28, and Samudrala, 27, co-founded New York-based AskSunday in November 2006, and the company began offering its service in July 2007. Samudrala said the two came up with the idea for AskSunday because both men were busy professionals and thought it would be a great idea to be able to have a person help to execute smaller tasks.

The use of e-mail and phone would also keep down costs.

Prior to AskSunday, Ludmer was working for The Monitor Group, a global management-strategy-consulting organization; Samudrala was with AEA Investors, a private equity firm. Both men were living in New York City as well.

There was also another dimension to their business partnership: both men went to high school together in St. Louis. Ludmer said that because of their friendship and roots, both men knew they would be there for each other.

“We have a long history together, and we were able to trust each other and build on our friendship,” he said. “When you’re doing a business with someone, trust is clearly a pivotal factor.”

Samudrala, whose parents are originally from India, said he had discussions about outsourcing with contacts and relatives, and he understood the cost of labor in India, the capabilities and the strengths of the Indian population, and the ability to successfully create a business that serves customers in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Ludmer added that one of the advantages to outsourcing is avoiding New York City’s high labor costs, which has helped alleviate some of the company’s costs. In addition they are able to stay in New York City, where both men have established strong business networks.

As for the future of AskSunday, Samudrala said that he wants to see his business in the mass marketplace, where anyone with a phone number or an e-mail address is able to use its service easily and quickly.

“I’d love to see [Ask]Sunday stored in everyone’s speed dial on their phone, and the e-mail address, requestasksunday.com, saved in everybody’s Blackberry,” he said. “That’s where I’d like to see it.”









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