Aussie firm asks, why DIY?

Air­tasker has big am­bi­tions for over­seas growth, writes So­phie Christie

The New Zealand Herald - - WORLD -

‘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.

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