Aussie firm asks, why DIY?
Airtasker has big ambitions for overseas growth, writes Sophie Christie
‘We have a 14ft t rampoline that requires assembly. Still in box, instructions included,” reads one post, which is offering A$50 ($54) for whichever handyman is up to the task. Another says: “I’d like someone to pick up two couches from a home in Dural (Sydney) and drop them off in Canberra ACT (city centre). One three-seater and one two-seater. Both very light. A$250.”
The Sydney-based online marketplace Airtasker has almost 1.6 million users who outsource everyday tasks they are either unable, or unwilling, to carry out themselves, such as assembling Ikea flat-pack furniture, or designing a website for a freelance writer. The user who posts the ad will pay a pre-agreed sum to the person who carries out the task.
Tim Fung, who co- founded Airtasker with Jonathan Lui in 2011, is confident that the Australian company will be as popular in Britain.
It will be the firm’s first overseas expansion, and will launch initially in London before moving to other parts of the UK towards the end of the year. “Through customer research we found that consumer behaviour patterns in the UK are similar to Australia, so it was the perfect next step for the business,” he says. The company hopes to tackle the rest of Europe over the next year or two, and “then the world”.
The 34-year-old entrepreneur and former property investment banker came up with the idea for the business after enlisting a friend to help him move house. The friend owned a large truck as part of his business running a chicken nugget factory, and so was able to transport large pieces of Fung’s furniture.
“After I thanked him and gave him a box of beer, he told me that I was the fourth person to ask him to help them move house because of his large truck. That made me think that there must be people all over the country who would gladly carry out similar tasks for money.”
Mr Fung now runs his 120-strong company without Lui, who stepped back from his role as chief executive for personal reasons, but who remains on the board as a director.
About 125,000 tasks are posted on the marketplace each month, ranging from the mundane (“can someone paint my bathroom this weekend”) to the elaborate. “One man wanted to be flown to Texas to pick up an engagement ring, and then be flown back to Australia,” Fung says. “Another wanted someone to decorate his whole house for a Game of Thrones surprise date night.”
Romantic tasks have cropped up frequently on the site recently because of Valentine’s Day, with members wanting to hire singers to serenade their partners, or chefs to cook them three-course meals at home.
There are restrictions on what people can post, with strict guidelines on ads involving escort and adult services, weapons or drugs.
The ability to make a bit of extra cash is why Airtasker has proven so popular with Aussies; the 50 top Airtasker members earn a median monthly income of A$2900, the firm claims. Members who post an ad that is completed will pay a 15 per cent commission. Last year the company turned over A$100 million, double its 2016 revenue, propelling Fung and Lui, onto the annual Australian Financial Review 2017 Young Rich List. It claims the pair have a combined wealth of A$41m.
The launch of Airtasker in Britain comes amid a growing crackdown on the so-called “gig economy”, which has led to both food delivery business Deliveroo and Uber facing strikes and lawsuits from employees who want better employment rights including the minimum wage, sick pay and holidays.
New legislation announced last week will give millions of flexible workers more rights in regards to sick and holiday pay.
Critics say the gig economy exploits workers by treating them like full-time employees without extending them the same rights.
Fung says Airtasker is different to other companies operating in the gig economy because workers opt in to do jobs advertised on the marketplace. “A person doesn’t get told what to do, or how much to do it for, or when to do it,” he says.
When Airtasker launches in Britain, it will be a direct rival to San Francisco-based TaskRabbit, which launched in London at the end of 2013 and has around 60,000 freelance workers, or “taskers”.
In September it was announced that Ikea had bought the platform. In Australia, Airtasker also has partnerships with Ikea and the Coles supermarket chain.
Like Airtasker, TaskRabbit’s inception came about when founder Leah Busque had an important chore to carry out. Upon realising she was out of dog food, and already running late for a dinner engagement, she had the idea of connecting with someone local to run the errand for her.
Fung isn’t concerned about the competition, however. The chores posted on TaskRabbit — which takes a 30 per cent commission from each job — tend to focus on home cleaning, DIY, moving house and large deliveries, while Airtasker lists jobs that are far more varied.
“Airtasker is more of an open community where members can reach a wider breadth of skills. TaskRabbit has greater control of the overall transaction, whereas we’re more hands-off,” he says.
Companies such as Airtasker and TaskRabbit are facilitating a growing community of freelancers who are turning their back on the traditional workplace.
The number of self-employed workers in Britain rose from 3.3 million people in 2001 to 4.8 million last year.
The chore of moving house inspired Airtasker’s co-founder Tim Fung.