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Discount Beef: A New Start-Up Offers Bodyguards for Rent to the Little Guy 

Wednesday, Jan 29 2014

In his three-year career as a bouncer, Nick Negusse has manned the door at strip clubs, broken up bar fights, tamed rowdy customers at City Nights and Ruby Skye, cataloged every downside of binge drinking, and run the whole gamut of hip-hop clubs in Oakland and San Francisco.

Last year, he took a gig guarding the offices at Lyft.

"I'd be in the garage making sure nothing happened," Negusse says of his new gig at the famously peppy, pink-mustached car-hire start-up. "You know, they'd be doing driver interviews, people would come by and want to talk to the people who worked there." He pauses, as though searching for the right words. "It could get a little dicey sometimes."

Negusse recently signed on with a new security start-up called Bannerman, which offers "on-demand" muscle via an online reservation system. The founders say it's a way to apply the OpenTable or Lyft model to an industry that originated around the same time as private property.

"The problem we're solving is that we wanted to make security available to everyone," Bannerman co-founder Jonathan Chin says, indicating that the average person is more likely to want a bodyguard if he can book one with a credit card and an Internet connection. "We'll have people who've said, 'Well, I never thought about hiring a bodyguard because I'm not Usher,'" Chin says. "But maybe I'm having a house party, and I don't want all my stuff stolen."

Indeed, the security industry seems to be enjoying a growth spurt in San Francisco (adding 16 percent more jobs in three years, according to statistics from the state's Employment Development Department), which some ascribe to the arrival of tech companies that require — or perhaps just fetishize — protective infrastructure. Google currently hires private security for its charter buses, and many start-ups employ guards to ward off interlopers. Chin says that Bannerman's client roster — which includes Lyft and the software company Zendesk — breaks down to one-third bars, one-third tech companies, and one-third private events.

Such assignments might seem uninspiring to the Bannerman employees who spent their past lives squiring Hollywood stars (Fifty Cent and Paris Hilton among them). But Chin insists that chaperoning tech workers in San Francisco's Mission District is no less honorable.

"Our mantra is that everyone is important enough to deserve protection," Chin says. "Not just if you're trying to protect yourself from the paparazzi or an over-enthusiastic fan."

His ad pitch — that security can be a status symbol as well as a necessity — appears to be working; in the four months since it began beta-testing, Bannerman has amassed some 1,200 booking hours. Negusse says he hasn't been assigned to shadow a start-up billionaire just yet, although Bannerman happily provides those services. For now, he'd happily case the garage at Lyft.

About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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