Startups tackle specialized tasks
Dozens of companies compete to take on small businesses’ holiday headaches.
Small-business owners are like Swiss Army knives: expected to handle dozens of specialized tasks without falling apart. But even the sharpest entrepreneurs have it tough this time of year — inevitably, some will outsource part of their workload to other enterprising people. And dozens of startups are competing to take on small businesses’ holiday headaches.
Here are three time-gobbling situations and the young companies vying to eliminate them:
CHALLENGE: Your to-do list is crammed with tiny tasks. How can you delegate them cheaply?
ONE SOLUTION: For $5 you could drink a large latte and work through the night. Or you could hire a minion at Fiverr, which bills itself as “the world’s largest marketplace for small services.” Starting at $5 apiece, tasks include designing business cards and letterheads, sending out handwritten cards, editing newsletters, making short commercial videos and throwing darts at a picture of your rival.
“Pretty much anything you imagine can be found on Fiverr,” said the company’s chief executive, Micha Kaufman, who set out in 2010 with Shai Wininger to build what Kaufman calls “an eBay for services.”
Fiverr, with headquarters in Tel Aviv and offices in New York and Amsterdam, has more than 1 million active buyers and sellers across 200 countries, Kaufman said. He would not disclose revenue or the number of sales his site has brokered. Fiverr has raised $20 million in financing and has 60 full-time staff members. The company collects a 20 percent commission on each sale.
THE COMPETITION: Fiverr’s success has inspired an army of imitators, including Gig Me 5, Gigbucks, TenBux and Zeerk. Building and selling Fiverr copycat sites has also become a cottage industry for online software developers.
CHALLENGE: You want to delegate complex, highly specialized tasks, but it’s hard to find people whose expertise matches your needs.
ONE SOLUTION: SkillPages connects skilled workers with those who want to hire them. The site showcases an array of specialists — beekeepers, tree surgeons, witches, clog dancers — along with professionals with more conventional business skills, like payroll administrators, social media marketers and typists.
Iain Mac Donald decided to start SkillPages after seeking a tree cutter online to do work in his yard. “This guy arrives with a huge truck, and he could have taken down a forest,” Mac Donald said. “He was going to charge me $3,000. It just wasn’t right.”
Mac Donald figured there had to be a way to help make better matches. To that end, SkillPages identifies special- ists whom users’ families and friends may already know through social networks. Users can also view work samples online and contact members directly.
Based in Ireland, SkillPages went live in 2011 and opened an office in Palo Alto, Calif., this year. The company’s 35 employees handle traffic from more than 9 million users worldwide, 1.5 million of them in North America. The company has received $18.5 million in financing, said Mac Donald, the chief executive.
SkillPages’ basic services are free. To make money, it sells advertising space and offers premium memberships with stand-alone Web sites for
those offering services. Next year, Mac Donald plans to offer a paid matchmaking service for talent-seeking companies.
THE COMPETITION: Guru, oDesk and Elance also focus on skilled work. LinkedIn added a “skills” component to its profiles last year.
CHALLENGE: You are overwhelmed by errands and other location-specific jobs. You need an affordable gofer: competent, trustworthy, local.
ONE SOLUTION: TaskRabbit is an on-demand service for handling quick jobs: assembling Ikea furniture, packing boxes, wrapping gifts, mailing invitations or even carrying awkward objects like Christmas trees.
The company sends requests to a network of “rabbits” — errand-runners screened through video interviews and background checks — who bid for the work. Last month, 80 were hired to wait on Black Friday lines.
Leah Busque got the idea for TaskRabbit one night in 2008, when she was going out to dinner and realized she had no food in the house for Kobe, her yellow Labrador. Envisioning an online service for dispatching errand-runners, she quit her job as an IBM software engineer to build it.
A year later, she won a slot in Facebook’s now defunct incubator program and later moved her company, then called RunMyErrand, to San Francisco from Boston.
Now TaskRabbit has 60 workers at its headquarters and more than 4,000 freelancers wrangling tasks for customers in the Bay Area and Austin, along with Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Ore., and San Antonio.
TaskRabbit has raised almost $40 million in financing, and revenue nearly quintupled this year, Busque said. She said the company typically charges users 18 percent on top of its freelancers’ fees. Small businesses, she said, are her fastest-growing group of customers.
THE COMPETITION: Agent Anything, Exec., Fancy Hands, PAForADay and Zaarly.
Leah Busque (right), founder of TaskRabbit, works with marketing manager Lauren Sherman at company offices in San Francisco. TaskRabbit is an on-demand service for handling quick jobs — such as assembling Ikea furniture, packing boxes and wrapping gifts.