Airtasker – taking on the world one job at a time

I’ve been thinking about Airtasker for a while now. I first noticed them when they paid someone to queue for the new iPad as a publicity stunt, but they have a business model that’s more interesting than that might suggest. They’ve now been around for 90 days and written an interesting article about their experience as a new local start-up.

The idea behind Airtasker is to provide an online marketplace for small tasks. You can post up a task you want done and people bid to do it. Airtakser sits in the middle joining the dots between people with a small job and others willing to undertake getting it done. When someone successfully bids on a job Airtasker charges them $2 + 5% of the task fee.

By their nature the tasks appear to be pretty self-contained: this isn’t about finding on-going employment, it is about getting a specific job completed. So the sort of tasks currently up for grabs include:

  • Move a sofa in Redfern for $40
  • Drive someone to the airport from Strathfield for $20
  • Sell an iPhone for $20
  • Get 50-200 Facebook likes for a Handbag website for $20
  • Dispose of some garden waste in Dennison for $300

It’s quite an eclectic mix of tasks on offer; although there are a disturbingly large number involving getting Facebook likes for web pages, which comes across as a bit shady. Others are hard to understand why the poster can’t just do the job themselves, selling their iPhone for example looks like it’s a complicated task to get someone to do for you. Airtasker say the top three categories of tasks by category are: housework and cleaning, delivery and moving, and computer and IT help. Interestingly the top three areas that people want to perfrom taks in don’t match up, being: data entry or filing, buying or delivering groceries, and walking a neighbour’s dog.

Overall the pricing is hard to pick but most of the tasks seem to involve less money than you might otherwise expect – which is probably why they get posted up on Airtasker as opposed to getting them done in another way. It would be interesting to know how many users feel they got value for money from this approach. For example there are a lot of cleaning tasks available but what sort of quality do you get for $20 or 30 for one task when the going rate for a professional is probably closer to that per hour? Ultimately a market like this finds its own level I guess from both the seller’s and the buyer’s perspective. In economic terms it is a very low-friction environment and so the free-market should determine value in reality it may determine a price but value for money is harder to pick.

So Airtasker launched about three months ago. They’ve recently written an article with a pretty infographic summarising their first 90 days.  They say they have 12,000 people registered and $100,000 of tasks posted, which sounds like a reasonable start.  But of course the real measures of success are more about how many people complete tasks so Airtasker can take their cut and how many people come back and post new tasks. The company is going to need a lot more tasks being successfully let to start making real money – even 5% of $100,000 over the three months is going to need some serious multiplying.

Airtasker got $1.5 million in funding not long after its launch and so it is well-positioned. But to get a return on even that investment it’s going to have to grow very quickly across a range of cities and countries. They started in Sydney and recently extended to Melbourne and Brisbane. On it’s face the model is very extensible the database must run itself and the fees are automatically deducted from the bidder’s credit card when they win the job. But ensuring quality control and some sort of vetting process and dealing with disputes seem like they could become limiting factors as time goes by.  They also have to work to prevent people circumventing the payment to Airtasker – even on a quick browse there are numerous instances when people are trying to take the ocnversation offline to negotiate a higher fee without Airtasker in the middle.

More generally, whether it is possible to globally scale the provision of inherently low-cost and localised tasks remains a mystery. And if the tasks are more professional or less localised Airtasker runs into competition with other organisations like Freelancer.com. So the company faces some interesting challenges.

It’s fascinating to see a local startup with enormous potential and a willingness to share its experience along the way. I certainly wish them luck and thank them for providing an insight into a local start-up. Airtasker is worth watching and, if you have a task, is worth trying out. Now, would anyone like to bid on writing a blog post for me?

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