A new start-up describing itself as the "Uber of massage" wants to give massage therapists a happy ending - by tidying up an industry rife with dodgy behaviour.
ZenNow, which launches next week in Sydney and Melbourne on the Apple app store, will connect customers in their home, office or hotel with pre-screened mobile massage professionals in their area.
The company says so far it has more than 80 certified, fully qualified and pre-vetted massage experts signed up to the platform. ZenNow will offer a range of services including sports, Swedish, remedial and relaxation, with three price points: $75 for 45 minutes, $95 for an hour or $135 for 90 minutes.
Co-founder Melissa Rohlfs said the ZenNow business model solved "a lot of problems on both ends" by giving customers more certainty about the kind of service they were ordering, and freeing massage therapists from often unfair industry practices.
"We take a small commission from each completed booking, and we offer our therapists over 75 per cent of the massage cost, which is a lot higher than the industry standard," she said, pointing out that for people working in clinics it was "very uncommon" to even receive 50 per cent.
Ms Rohlfs said a "lot of dodgy stuff" went on in the massage industry. "A lot of places have one therapist that's qualified and registered with a local health fund, and everyone in the shop is using that provider number," she said.
"A lot of people are charging $100 for an hour massage and offering the therapist $20.
"For mobile massage customers, a lot of places online they're not really sure what they're getting when they're booking, what sort of service they're getting. We're not offering any under-the-table behaviours or happy endings. For us it's about bringing quality to the industry."
Ms Rohlfs said it was that uncertainty that made many people shy away from mobile massage services. "It's something that's a bit taboo now," she said. "There's no really well known, safe, quality, reputable massage business."
Earlier this year, the Fair Work Ombudsman warned underpayment was a systemic problem in the massage industry, which employs a large number of international students and backpackers on working holiday visas.
In March, a Melbourne massage business was fined more than $100,000 for paying young therapists a percentage of each massage they performed, rather than the minimum wage under the Health Professionals and Support Services Award.
The FWO said employees in the industry were typically paid 50 per cent of the cost of the massage, with no remuneration for periods they spend at the business without clients.
ZenNow, which invites massage therapists to "be your own boss", joins a string of on-demand platforms like Airbnb, Airtasker and Uber that connect people for task-based work arrangements. While their success has been undeniable, they are often criticised for feeding the "casualisation" of the work force.
"The model is very flexible for therapists," Ms Rohlfs said. "We've actually had a really overwhelming response. So far we've had well over 100 applications, and approved about 85. We're looking for as many high-quality therapists as possible, we're not looking for just anyone."
Ms Rohlfs and co-founder Matthew Doyle have invested around $500,000 in developing ZenNow, which employs a team of five. The service will extend to the rest of Australia in coming months following next week's launch, and is exploring corporate partnerships.
Ms Rohlfs declined to say how many bookings the platform needed to process to turn a profit. "At the moment we're not really too focused on profit numbers or anything, it's just about delivering that premium client base," she said. "If you're always providing a consistent and quality service, it will be in demand."