While popular online marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist provide opportunities to peruse and purchase other people’s stuff, one local entrepreneur hopes perusing people for hire will become just as trendy. Hoboken resident Mike Podhorzer came up with the idea of Pal Locale in 2010 after he noticed web sites like AirBnB where people can book a room in a stranger’s home or TaskRabbit where people can book other people to perform tasks like chores or shopping.
“I thought this was a great idea,” said Podhorzer. “I thought of a way to combine several different sites in one in a way where it is not anonymous.”
On Podhorzer’s site, people may “rent” other people for $10 to $50 per hour, just for companionship to attend an event, if they so desire. The site’s blog advertises hiring a friend to “offer advice that is as personal as you would like it to be,” or even “discussing whether aliens exist or debating how the Earth came to be.” Another advertisement suggests renting a buddy to go to a Mets game because all of your friends are Yankees fans.
Pals can be rented for conversation, hanging out, or even kickball.
More than companionship
To some the site may seem just steps away from looking like an escort service, but Podhorzer dismissed that notion because he said that only a fraction of it is meant for companionship. He said that individuals can perform a service like giving a guitar lesson or tutoring. He also suggested that someone may need a tour guide upon landing in a new city or someone to run errands for them. Other examples from the web site include finding a man for rent to do the heavy lifting for a big move or to be a spotter at the gym.
“We are simply the venue that connects two people.” – Mike Podhorzer
Who wants to be a pal?
“It is really open to everyone,” said Podhorzer. He said that the tech-savvy crowd will understand the site concept. “Someone less tech-savvy will take more convincing.”
So far, the Pal Locale online community consists of approximately 100 subscribers who range in age from 18 to 50. Twenty nine percent of that audience is female and 71 percent is male.
Any adult can either be a pal or rent a pal without any criteria. The pal can indicate on the web site which activities they are available for and the renter can post that they are looking to rent someone for a specific type of activity. When a rental is made, the exchange of money takes place in person when the pal meets the renter.
Pals can be rated once a rental is made. Visitors can also see who has been rented the most often and who has the most comments.
Podhorzer makes money on the exchange by requiring that one person in the exchange is a subscriber. He charges different subscriber rates based on the length of the subscription.
The fact that someone doesn’t have any friends to accompany them to a sports venue may seem a bit sad, especially in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Meetup.
“It might be sad, but there are definitely people out there who would want to use a service like this to find a friend to go to dinner with or a movie with, and those people deserve the right to be able to do that,” said Podhorzer. “The site gives them something that helps them out in that respect.”
Who’s on the site
The site has attracted a variety of people advertising their services. A 70-year-old man in Kansas, who did not post a photo, is advertising for $10 an hour. He said in his profile, “I am free to go anywhere; as an ‘escort,’ travel companion, or someone to go over an idea, plan, or some other project. Experienced in various phases of trucking industry, with a background in Basic Law. Home teacher for anyone who wants to expand their learning abilities. Animal ’sitting’ or baby sitting!”
Meanwhile, a 21-year-old woman from Brooklyn is available for $40 for hour. She lists many possible activities, from being a prom or wedding date, to biking, swimming, and theater.
Two men are listed from Hoboken: a 27-year-old for $30 per hour, and a 35-year-old for $10. They both list sporting events they are available for, as well as a few other activities.
Rating the pal experience
So what happens if you aren’t happy with your pal? Podhorzer said that he anticipates most encounters will be informal. If someone wants their money back because of an unsatisfactory meeting he said that he would facilitate the refund or give them a free month’s subscription.
“You can have a problem with anybody that you meet,” said Podhorzer. “We are simply the venue that connects two people.”
Podhorzer said that his company is not liable if anything goes amiss on a connection.
“We are merely a venue that lists people and connects them with each other,” said Podhorzer. “We are not technically liable.”
While the idea of hiring “friends” is not new, with competitor sites such as RentaFriend and people hiring people for tasks on Craigslist, Podhorzer is hopeful.
However, so far, no one has rented anyone else via the site. Podhorzer said he is going to increase his marketing, including via social media.
Podhorzer launched Pal Locale in his spare time. He works full-time for Merrill Lynch.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.