Even experienced masseurs can be uneasy the first time they do a home visit. Ask any masseur and they recall their trepidation when first ringing a stranger’s doorbell while clutching a massage table.
And yet this interaction is at the heart of Urban Massage, a digital platform that lets anyone book a home massage over the internet.
Safety of therapists was a big concern from the off when CEO Jack Tang began exploring the launch of the massage app.
How could Tang ensure therapists would be safe with prospective clients? Would the word ‘massage’ be translated on the internet the way ‘massage parlour’ is on the high street, and attract people simply looking for sex?
Tang says shaping the company’s identity was an important first step. ‘It was crucial we positioned the brand so it didn’t look like something else,’ he says. The language on the website was friendly and professional-looking, as were the masseurs’ uniforms.
Cash bookings are prohibited, so everything is put through a bank card. The company claims to use its in-house, as well as third-party, fraud checks to ensure the bookings are made by people who are who they claim to be.
‘There’s also a psychological thing; you know you’ve put your own name in, your email address and the masseur is GPS tracked,’ says Tang.
Many companies, including transport apps like Uber, have safety checks in place. Tang says that Urban Massage offers an additional level of security.
‘It’s different with Uber,’ says Tang. ‘You could just steal someone’s credit card. With us, the home address has to tally with the credit card address,’ he adds.
In addition, the therapist has the same panic button system used by NHS home workers. It links directly to emergency services and triggers a record button which an operative can listen in on. Tang claims there hasn’t been a single incident where a therapist has been threatened or attacked since it launched in February 2014.
Naturally, he hopes it will stay that way.
Insight: Tang did two critical things in shaping his platform. He heard the concerns of over 100 people on the supply side and kept testing messages that would resonate with the demand side.
In a two-sided marketplace, the platform has to build demand and supply sides simultaneously.
Urban Massage says its most persuasive case to masseurs is the ability to work on their own terms. Tang wanted to hear the therapists’ perspectives before launching the business. He reached out to masseurs on Gumtree: ‘Let me buy you a coffee to hear about your industry.’ Surprising, roughly 100 therapists took up his offer. There was deep animosity towards spas and clinics, claims Tang. Frustrations with stipulations on working for 10 hours a day, including weekends, on £10-£12 per hour was the consistent picture, he adds.
Urban Massage has been a prolific tube advertiser, targeting stressed commuters who hunch over computers all day.
It has tried a variety of marketing messages – with mixed results. It tried some aspirational advertising, depicting massages in a luxurious home. That flopped. Another ad tried a simple message: ‘Massage to your home in 60 minutes.’ Tang thinks that hit the right note for a certain type of London commuter: convenience and instant gratification. ‘Peak hours for when people book are between 7am and 8am. We can see a lot of people are booking over TfL’s [internet] – people on the tube. Then there’s another busy period between 4pm and 5pm.’
2014 The company’s first ever on-demand massage is given to a customer in London.
5 Cities currently covered: London, Manchester, Birmingham, Paris and Vienna.
8,000 Massages per month in 2016
20,000 Massages per month in 2017.
2,500 Therapists on the platform.
4 Investment rounds so far.
27% Urban Massage’s estimated cut of the massage fee.