On-demand massage service launches in Boston

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Tired of hearing the term “Uber for fill-in-the-blank”? Well, here’s another service entering the on-demand sector in Boston.

Zeel, an on-demand massage app that has raised more than $5 million from investors, is launching in Boston on Friday. It is live on the app now and will be available on the website at noon.

Zeel brings the massage to the home or office, 365 days a year, from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. The massage can be scheduled as little in advance as one hour, or up to a month ahead of time. The app for iOS and Android includes Swedish, deep tissue, prenatal, sports, and couples massages for three different time increments. The masseuse brings the table and supplies.

Samer Hamadeh founded Zeel Networks Inc. in 2010 as a health and wellness website where individuals could request doctors, trainers, and massage therapists. He realized the most frequent request was for massages. More than  60 percent of those requesting a massage wanted the service within four hours.

So in December 2012, Hamadeh revamped Zeel as a massage-only business in New York City.

Hamadeh faced two problems when starting his service: First, massage tables are heavy. He made a deal with a massage manufacturing company which makes a 20-pound table that the massage therapists can purchase for a discount. Zeel also offers a membership program; members receive a free table so masseuses don’t have to bring the table each time.

Second, and more difficult, was the issue of clients who might be seeking sexual favors.

In order to request a massage, users must enter their name, birthday, mobile phone nmber, and last four digits of their Social Security number or a photo of a driver’s license. The information is checked via Experian to ensure Zeel’s contracted employees are not put in danger.

“This weeds out the creepy guys because they realize Zeel is a legitimate website, and makes our female therapists much more comfortable,” he said.

Dealing with sexual harassment is taught at massage schools, and Zeel covers the material again during its customer-service training. The 4,500 massage therapists in six markets – New York City, Chicago, South Florida, Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Boston – wear company shirts, must have clipped nails, and remove their shoes to avoid tracking in dirt.

“It’s what you expect when you go to a high quality hotel like the Four Seasons,” Hamadeh said of the Zeel service. A 60-minute deep tissue massage in Boston costs $116.82, including tip.

Samer Hamadeh, founder and chief executive of Zeel, is launching his on-demand massage business in Boston.
Samer Hamadeh, founder and chief executive of Zeel, is launching his on-demand massage business in Boston.
Thirty-five to 50-year-olds use the service most, but Hamadeh said more 20-year-olds are beginning to use the service as they become conscious of sitting around all day, and “they are the app generation.”

Zeel employees spent the last two months interviewing, hiring, and beta testing for the Boston launch, which Hamadeh said is the sixth-largest massage market in the United States.

“Boston is a tech-savvy city,” he said in reference to offering the service here. “They are stressed out as anybody and health conscious.”