The virtual genie
Philip Ellison 25 February, 2015 at 12:02
A new start-up called Magic is off to a stratospheric start thanks to its popularity on Product Hunt. While the company is only days old, it has already garnered a couple of thousand customers. So what is it that this new outfit actually does?
We’ve got apps for ordering food, for getting fresh linens delivered, for basically doing anything we’re too busy (or lazy) to do ourselves. Magic takes this to the absolute extreme, and offers to do anything that its users feel like requesting via SMS. Their only stipulation is that it must be legal. Magic isn’t quite the all-powerful genie that you might think, though; it’s more of a virtual assistant capable of identifying the best third party to meet your needs.
Given that so many start-ups in the last year have claimed to be the “Uber for [insert noun]”, it is hardly surprising that Magic has come along to take the on-demand economy by storm. But how sustainable is it as a business model, to promise to provide whatever your customer can imagine? It was only up and running a day before receiving an order to deliver a tiger to somebody’s front door. Sadly, however, there are all sorts of rules and regulations surrounding the distribution of rare and dangerous animals, so that’s one wish Magic has yet to grant.
There are, of course, steps Magic has taken to protect itself financially from pranksters. The first time you text Magic, you are required to enter your credit card details into an encrypted portal. Tigers don’t come cheap, after all.
“I had zero idea it would get like this,” co-founder Mike Chen told TechCrunch. “You know people say things happen overnight and I didn’t believe them before and now it’s happening to me.” Magic began as a “what if?” scenario; Chen and his colleagues at Plus Labs simply wanted to see if they could do it. They decided to go with text-based orders, seeing it as simpler than giving customers an app where they would be required to go through several steps to complete their request.
Chen believes that this is where Magic differs from other virtual assistants. They keep back-and-forth with users to an absolute minimum, and endeavour to fulfil all requests as quickly as possible, for instance, getting sushi and flowers to somebody who was on a date on a boat in San Francisco.
Chen and his team are continually working on the back end of the service, although there is no indication of an app coming soon. So it’s worth keeping hold of that number (408-596-5017) for the next time you forget a birthday or anniversary, and need to conjure up something special at the last minute.