Altruism app seeks to bring out the best in users

Angels Nearby provides a platform that brings together those needing favors with those willing to help

Volunteers sort produce at the warehouse of Leket Israel, the country's largest food-rescue organization. (Ben Sales/JTA)
Volunteers sort produce at the warehouse of Leket Israel, the country's largest food-rescue organization. (Ben Sales/JTA)

Enough with the “likes” and random expressions of support. When it comes down to it, would you help a social media “friend” or a stranger if you could? Would you ask for help?

An Israeli team is betting you would, and has created Angels Nearby, an app that lets those who seek or would perform a favor find each other – and turns favor-seeking and doing into a sustainable business model.

“There are other online methods for people to get help from others, but none of them do what we do,” said Angels Nearby CEO Charly Setbon, a 25-year veteran of the Israeli tech scene who decided to “give back” by developing an app that would enable people to connect in order to give or get help. “Some people use Facebook to ask for assistance, but that’s a very public forum and not everyone is comfortable revealing information in that manner.”

“There are apps that target specific groups, like pet owners or moms with kids in kindergarten,” said Setbon. “And there are apps that facilitate providing assistance virtually, like sending information to people who need it. But Angels Nearby is the first app specifically designed for general ‘favor sharing’ within a local community, connecting both those seeking help and those who want to help.”

Angels Nearby is indeed currently the only app on the market that does this, but it is not the first; several such apps have come and gone in recent years. Perhaps that’s because previous apps did not have the tools Angels Nearby does, as well as the business plan developed by Setbon and his partner, Yoash Dvir.

“Even with a proliferation of social media apps at their fingertips, many people still report feeling isolated, cut off from their communities, unsure of where to turn for something as simple as a cup of sugar or someone to bring their mail in when they’re out of town,” Setbon said. “In our increasingly fragmented, isolated world, you can live in the same neighborhood for years and never know your neighbors.”

Angels Nearby helps users living near each other bridge this gap by giving them an excuse to get to know their neighbors, as they connect to help each other out.

Charly Setbon (Courtesy)
Charly Setbon (Courtesy)

Among the tools Angels Nearby employs is a search engine that connects people based on the type of help needed (lifts, loans, housing or feeding newcomers to town, etc.), “trust level” (everyone, Facebook friends only, friends of friends), and location (within 15 minutes travel time, etc.). Users seeking assistance type in the kind of help they need – home, kids, travel, pets, etc., and then their specific need.

Favor recipients can connect with the appropriate people offering assistance, choosing them based on trust level (for example, helpers with higher point ratings are assumed to be more competent and trustworthy; users are expected to use common sense before handing over their address to a helper).

In order for the system to work, volunteers to help out are needed. Since there’s no pay or fee involved (it’s a favor), how does Setbon motivate helpers?

“Surprisingly, people don’t need motivation,” he said. “We find that as soon as a new request is made and someone feels they can contribute, they spontaneously answer. Some are actually able to help, some just propose ideas, some just want to chat. The system is built on a point reward so each time someone provides help, they are granted points, enhancing the reputation of the helper and presenting them as more reliable and helpful to the community.”

Helping people isn’t just nice, Angels Nearby believes; it’s also a good business model.

“Harnessing the best technology that the 21st century digital media has to offer and combining it with an innovative and highly positive social purpose, Angels Nearby is positioned to become a revolutionary presence in the social mobile sector on a global scale in the years to come,” says the company. “In other words, Angels Nearby is positioned to become the go-to resource for community assistance and connection in the years to come.”

The company plans to accomplish that by pursuing deals for targeted advertising for specific “favor groups” (like pet food ads for people seeking help with their pets), brand sponsorship, integrating banner or video ads into the Angels Nearby app, and producing and licensing white label versions of the app for organizations, religious groups, etc.

Angels Nearby is just a few months old and already has several thousand users.

“We’ve had some nice stories of how the app helps people,” said Setbon. “In one case, someone used the app to alert people that a woman who had broken her leg and was feeling very lonely and needed someone to talk to, to make her some tea, etc. Four people answered her and one actually helped her. In another case, someone from Hadera found volunteers to organize a youth soccer team in Hadera, and several new immigrant families have gotten Shabbat hospitality in their first weeks in Israel.”

Setbon believes that, despite the seeming paradox, facilitating a platform to help do good will help investors in Angels Nearby do well.

“Social media users are growing disillusioned with the social media giants, and with the superficial interactions that they facilitate,” according to Setbon. “They are looking for ways to transcend the boundaries of their digital worlds and connect with their community and the people around them in more authentic, more personal ways, and that’s exactly what Angels Nearby is setting out to provide.”

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