Rendevu looks to shift the sex industry by providing an on-demand platform for adult services
Between apps that translate speech, platforms that fundraise for schools, and online services that deliver cars to a buyer’s front door, one wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking that just about every industry niche has been filled by innovative concepts.
One space which has been nearly void of fresh ideas from the mainstream startup world, however, is the sex industry, which most startups have opted to steer clear of.
Jumping in is Rendevu, an online platform looking to change the adult services industry by connecting service providers to clients on-demand.
The Sydney-based startup aims to offer a safe and secure space for escorts and erotic masseurs to organise their availability, pricing and location, while clients are able to discover them and request a service.
Rendevu’s founder, Reuben Coppa, said the platform emerged from him identifying what he saw as a massive gap in the adult services industry while working at Disrupt, an app development company.
“I gained a lot of exposure to what types of apps people were making and where they saw gaps in the market. Anecdotally it led me to gain a little exposure to the adult service industry, where I learned that the customer experience is extremely poor,” said Coppa.
As to whether any startups did exist in the space, Coppa was only able to name two that attempted to work towards an on-demand model, both of which were founded and operating in Germany.
“It was kind of hailed the ‘Uber for escorts’ at the time, but it doesn’t have a lot of the features that makes the platform work well, like live appointment tracking and online payments,” said Coppa.
Discussing why the space was void of technological innovation, Coppa chalked it to up to the stigma around sexual services that causes startups to “shy away”. He also added that considering prostitution is illegal majority of the US, the big startup players there haven’t been able to put the industry on their radar.
“Another reason is that the industry is quite traditional, they don’t really look at tech as something to work with and move forward towards,” Coppa said. (As many have pointed out however, the industry in fact has a long history of being among the first adopters of new technologies; from cams to social media, VR, and more, the sex industry is in fact keen to explore new tech and platforms.)
Kicking off development in 2015, Coppa began developing a two-sided on-demand adult services platform that involved a lot of the “basic stuff” on-demand platforms in other industries offered, where both accountability and transparency was ensured for both the consumer and service provider.
That’s not to say everything was straightforward, however, as Coppa said it was challenging navigating the different legal frameworks regarding sexual services operating in Australian states.
In NSW, for example, prostitution is decriminalised and unregulated, meaning sexual services are legal and service providers don’t have to register themselves on a database. Providers cannot, however, flaunt themselves in the street to market their offerings, nor can a person ‘pimp’ or make a living from taking a cut from service providers.
“Our plan is to map it out state-by-state so we can work around each different legal framework. Rendevu ensures legality by only charging clients a flat booking fee, rather than taking a cut of each transaction from the service provider. We only provide a space for clients to connect,” explained Coppa.
Rendevu can be accessed from mobile devices only, using an internet browser app to bring up an app-style interface. Once logged on, a client is able to view the name and profile picture of all of available service providers on the platform, with the pricing and estimated arrival time detailed below.
Pricing and time is split into two categories: in-call, which involves the customer visiting the service provider, and outcall, where the service provider will travel to the customer’s location.
Users are able to see more details about the provider including additional photos, a basic description, estimated preparation time and the service they provide by tapping their profile.
“To book, we request a mobile number so the service provider can contact them and so we can send a verification text. They also need to provide their credit card to authorise their booking,” said Coppa.
Once at a location, clients have to provide ID to confirm their payment details. They also have the chance to cancel their card payment and use cash instead, before both parties confirm the appointment on the browser app.
At the end of an appointment both parties are able to review each other. At the moment, this is the main function to ensure the safety of a provider; with safety imperative, it will be interesting to see whether the startup implements other screening processes.
For a service provider to join the platform, Coppa said the startup is currently only working with established workers as a way to ensure “quality control”, with a number of established escort agencies and known freelancers on board.
Once a service provider has joined, they’re able to set their pricing and whether they want to offer in-call, out-call or both. A provider will only appear ‘online’ if they choose to on the browser, and if they organise to travel to a location, a client will be able to the estimated travel time which updates with traffic conditions.
Coppa said that although Rendevu is only open to escorts and masseuses at this time, the business will look to expand to other adult services such as strippers in the future.
“It also only offers women at the moment, but we’ve just signed up a few males and we’re looking to expand for every kind of vertical out there,” he added.
As for international expansion, Coppa said it’s an option the business will look towards, with a focus on countries that have the supportive legal framework, such as the UK.
Since launch, Rendevu has raised $250,000 seed funding, with Coppa saying the startup is working towards raising another $1.1 million to help the business expand and navigate each state’s unique legal frameworks.
Image: Reuben Coppa. Source: Supplied.