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Hunting Task Wabbits

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Everybody’s crazy mad with TaskRabbit—but the startup that launched the sharing economy really doesn’t want to talk about its troubles.

Stashed in: Airbnb, Awesome, economics, Uber, Medium

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We really SHOULD call it the renting economy.

Founded in 2008, TaskRabbit was one of the pioneers of the peer-to-peer marketplace — the same basic idea that powers companies like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and the rest of the renting economy. (Please, let’s stop calling it the “sharing economy”: Sharing doesn’t involve money.) It heralded a techtopian dream of a friction-free world where workers and employers operated under ideal conditions: Find a job when you need it, find a worker when you desire one, all at the right price. And with investors pumping in more than $37 million to get it going, TaskRabbit seemed like it might be getting somewhere. In 2011Wired called it “revolutionary”; last year Bloomberg Businessweekdeclared that “in the future, we’ll all be TaskRabbits.”

So why is TaskRabbit troubled? 

I chatted with Andrey Fradkin of the National Bureau of Economics Research, who studies how digitization alters the job market. Ideally, he points out, the peer-to-peer economy functions like an online dating site: “There’s a limited supply on both sides of the market, and each option is different from the next.” But he thinks TaskRabbit is betting in the other direction — that it can build a platform so big enough that the lack of nuance becomes irrelevant.


And if that wasn’t hard enough, there’s also the problem of keeping people on board. Because even if TaskRabbit acts as the middleman for the first job you book, it’s tricky to keep people using the platform the second time. After all, if you’re searching for a housecleaner or a handyman and find one you like, why go through TaskRabbit the next time you need help? Just call the person back and cut the site’s commission out of the equation. It’s against the rules, of course, and TaskRabbit makes it harder by closing down your online conversation with any taskers once the job is completed. But that’s not because it’s better for anyone using the site: It’s because, to be a functioning business—and despite the vision it sells — TaskRabbit needs to be the friction.

Other peer-to-peer firms don’t have to worry about these things. Uber users want a ride, not a driver (as long as the driver isn’t insane). Few Airbnb users return to the same city and stay in the same place multiple times —so they need the full marketplace of rentals during each new search.

Imagine if TaskRabbit was a dating app. Previously you could say “loves 18th-century historical fiction, backcountry skiing, and anything by Scott Joplin.” Now you have to say “loves books, sports, and music.” And when the app finally got lucky and paired you with someone good, it would levy a 20 percent tax on whoever proposes the date.

so they had a good thing and instead tried to make more money? 

It sounds like it. Also they had something unique -- eBay for jobs -- but turned it into a temps marketplace.

would be interested to hear from leadership or board on this pivot. it seems to go against the mantra of build something useful and liked and grow and make customers happy then figure out the money.

thoughts on the ceo's letter?

I'm reading between the lines but it appears that many former Clients and Taskers were left behind when they adopted the new model.

The majority of the feedback we’ve received has been positive and both Taskers and Clients are excited about the new product. We’re hearing that Clients are enjoying the new seamless posting flow – knowing who will complete their task, when it will get done and how much they’ll pay within minutes – and that Taskers are able to stack their days with tasks like never before. In fact, a look at the data in general shows that the opportunity for work among our most active Taskers has increased by 400 percent. And specifically, as an example, one of our Elite Taskers in Boston was hired 19 times in one day.

As with any change, we’re also hearing there is some confusion. For example, some Clients are having difficulty finding Taskers who are available for tasks that must be completed at a specific day and time. On the flip side, we’re hearing some Taskers are confused about the matching algorithm, and are concerned that they won’t make the same amount of money with the new product.

They seem focused on listening to the people for whom the new system is working, which benefits new people while abandoning others who were loyal to the company previously.

The new TaskRabbit seems flawed in the ways the a Medium article suggests: it constrains away all but the most regular of tasks, and there's no good reason to use TaskRabbit the second time a Client wants to employ the same Tasker.

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