TORONTO – When brothers and Toronto university students Muneeb and Nabeel Mushtaq tried to find a plumber to fix their mom’s broken faucet, it took them hours to look through Craigslist and Kijiji listings without getting a clear answer on whom they’d be hiring or at what price.
So Muneeb, 23, said they decided to create a more efficient and trustworthy way to find a professional.
“That’s why we’re like: Hey, let’s just rework the engine—the whole process—and actually get people who want to get the task done to post the job, and then write the price for it.”
The brothers also saw scarce opportunities for employment among their peers, so they decided to create AskForTask—a platform for freelance work as a way to help people find jobs.
And that’s exactly how 23-year-old Samuel Devon sees the website.
“I’m a fairly recent graduate from university, so I tried to make my profile to find more professional tasks,” said Devon.
“I think it’s a great way to connect people who would otherwise have no way of meeting each other or matching up services that they could provide otherwise.”
AskForTask lets you post jobs and prices as an “asker” or sign up to complete these jobs as a “tasker.” AskForTask keeps 15 per cent of the taskers’ fee when they get assigned to a job. It’s similar to America’s TaskRabbit, which takes 20 per cent of your fee, but available in Canadian cities.
Currently seeking employment, Devon uses the site as a tasker; he’s so far completed some “quick bookkeeping” tasks.
“It was a good way to stay active and mentally engaged professionally.”
Devon said he’s since built a professional relationship with his tasker, Sofia Stefou, who has suggested him to colleagues as he looks for full-time work.
“I was a bit hesitant at first because I had never heard of the website … but it all worked out just great. Samuel was a dream to work with,” Stefou wrote in an email to Global News. “Compared to other companies it is fast, relatively inexpensive, with the ability to choose locally qualified people.”
The model represents “a movement towards more one-off jobs and that, where people are verified through some kind of reputation system seems to be afoot,” said University of Toronto Rotman School of Management professor of marketing Avi Goldfarb, noting it’s not possible to predict whether this particular company will succeed.
“But we’ve seen it in Airbnb, we’ve seen it in these online labour market companies like oDesk—so those have taken off.”
He said there are two other risks to a job-focused sharing economy site: Trusting the taskers and being able to adequately describe tasks in words so that people understand expectations.
Ironically, Goldfarb says having freelancers build professional relationships outside AskForTask doesn’t actually help the company, since the asker/tasker employment relationship will happen outside the site.
The company checks email addresses, Facebook or social media accounts, phone numbers and PayPal account to verify users are who they say they are. (The four verification steps are optional, but make you a more desirable “tasker,” said Mushtaq).
“To ensure more security the new website and app will include the option to be a ‘certified’ tasker – this will include government background checks and a video interview with AskForTask to be considered ‘certified,’” wrote AskForTask head of communications Nicolina Savelli in an email to Global News.
You can also read ratings and reviews of taskers before assigning a task, similar to the peer review process on sites like eBay.
Since the site launched in May 2013, the company says more than 100,000 Canadians have joined and more than $3 million in tasks have been posted. Most active users are in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton.
AskForTask is launching an iPhone app next week, and has been selected as the only Canadian company among 30 semi-finalists in a global conference of 150 of the “world’s top startups” called Collision 2014 in Las Vegas May 13-14.
McMaster University marketing and entrepreneurship assistant professor Marvin Ryder compares the model to a “high tech tackboard” –like the small ads you’d see at a church or a grocery store.
Ryder acknowledges one advantage is if you’re a stranger or alone in a community, such a website would give you access to resources you might not otherwise have. But he believes most of such odd-job activity is “uncompensated by volunteers who make our cities better places to live.”
“The two biggest challenges to making these sites successful are: 1) consumer need – do people really need the service that this site provides; and 2) awareness – if you had a need, would you think of looking online for a site like this and which one would you use.”
What do you think? Would you use a site like AskForTask to post or apply for a task or errand? Share your answers in the comments below.
© Shaw Media, 2014