For $28 you can take Christine Hauer for a walk in the park. For $165 you can bring her to a party and introduce her as your "assistant" or "friend" or "colleague"—"whatever you feel most comfortable with."
She isn’t offering what your dirty mind is imagining, though. She’s "confidence building" in the park and being a "networking sidekick" at the party. They’re micro-services that are usually small parts of the larger job of doing public relations, but now, thanks to the Internet, can be purchased as discrete components.
Over the phone, I asked Hauer exactly what I would get from a "networking sidekick." "I’m like this personal legitimizer, that doesn’t do it awkwardly," she told me. "It’s like I’m a friend." She demonstrated how she would work the room, praising me effusively to other partygoers: "Ahhh! I love Stan! Oh my God, he’s crazy! Look at him! He’s like the best writer, and he’s here! You’ve got to meet him!" She then seamlessly switched back to her conversational voice to explain: "It’s that kind of genuine excitement, like I’m just genuinely pumped up for you to meet this guy."
Hauer sells that genuine excitement on one of the first wave of "storefronts" at online marketplace Zaarly. The website pitches itself as an Etsy for services, letting users’ "side hustles" compete with companies. But as Hauer shows, they’re also creating a platform for services no one has ever offered before. For the right amount of money you can be the guest announcer for a pro wrestler (stagename: Romeo) or get a guided tour of your local grocery store "including nutrition and label reading."
In Hauer’s case, those services are an outgrowth of an existing business: the Hi Five Agency, where she does an array of PR activities for clients like Jet’s defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis and celebrity hair and make-up artist John O. She sees the stand-alone services she offers on Zaarly as an experiment—and as a way to test out a potentially viable business. "You know how they have all these dating sites out there, like eFlirt and The Wingman?" she asked. "It’d be really cool if this [networking sidekick business] was like one of those except for networking."
When I spoke with her, she had yet to do a "networking sidekick" stint for anyone who was not a client. But there had been one significant attempt, from an investor and entrepreneur who didn’t want his name associated with the service. He contacted Hauer about being a "networking sidekick" for a party at the New York Stock Exchange. When she couldn’t get a ticket, he asked if she did personal assistant work. "I was like ‘Yes I do!’ I always say yes," she said. She’s been his personal assistant for the last six months.