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Up for the task and on the job: Airtasker’s Tim Fung on shaking up the local labour market

Left to right: Airtasker co-founders Tim Fung and Jonathan Lui

Left to right: Airtasker co-founders Tim Fung and Jonathan Lui

Entrepreneurs Tim Fung and Jonathan Lui have spent the last four years disrupting the labour market. Their business, Airtasker, is helping people to think outside the boundaries of traditional job categories, revealing new and exciting ways to earn an income.  

Co-founded in in 2012 by Tim and Jonathan, the CEO and COO respectively, Airtasker is a digital marketplace where people can outsource everyday tasks, access local services or complete flexible jobs to earn money.

The platform, which is available as a mobile app and online, enables registered users to advertise, free-of-charge, any and all tasks they want completed to a growing network of trusted workers. In turn, workers who are happy with the task brief and the ‘going rate’ are free to offer their labour. To help job posters select the right worker, profiles and reviews are on-hand. Once an offer is accepted, funds are held securely via Airtasker Pay until the task is completed. Meanwhile, the private message and call feature enables job posters to remain in communication with workers, who are covered by insurance for the duration of the transaction. Once a task is completed, job posters are free to rate and review workers and workers are sent the funds, minus a 15% service fee.

While handyman work, office admin, gardening, photography and deliveries are ‘par for the course’ on Airtasker, the platform has gained a reputation as a marketplace for odd, atypical and never-before-heard-of jobs. Looking for a Stormtrooper outfit to wear to an upcoming comic convention? Need someone to pose as your girlfriend? Want a graffiti artist to paint a mural in your office? Feeling midnight pangs for KFC but don’t want to leave the house? It’s likely Airtasker holds the answer.

To date, the platform has more than 630,000 users (i.e. job posters and workers) across Australia. Additionally, it generates $40 million in earnings for its workforce per year and has accumulated more than 250,000 community-verified user reviews, which is evidence – according to Tim – of the platform’s growing social fabric: “As more users share their feedback, the value of the platform increases and it becomes easier for job posters to connect with the right workers”.

Dynamic Business recently had the opportunity to speak with Tim about his career leading up to Airtasker; the genesis and evolution of the platform; and his partnership with Jonathan with whom he also co-founded Sydney’s Tank Stream Labs – a co-working space and entrepreneurial community in Sydney.   

The massive potential of local online economies

Following a five-year stint with Macquarie Bank, working as an investment banking executive, Tim joined Chic Management as a consulting talent agent in April 2009. When the company’s co-founder Peter O’Connell asked him to join his new mobile startup amaysim as its first employee and as an investor, he jumped at the opportunity. Tim, whose focus was strategy and capital raising, quickly realised there was a need to bring more people into the fold. The person that immediately sprang to mind was Jonathan Lui. Tim had befriended the telco engineer in the early 2000s, while studying a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing at the University of NSW.

Soon after Jonathan joined amaysim as its second employee, the two friends found themselves brainstorming startup ideas during their coffee breaks. They tested a few potential businesses, but nothing stuck – until Airtasker. As Tim explained, the idea was borne out of his experience moving apartments in 2011.

“As with any move, a lot of work was involved,” Tim said. “I needed to pack and move boxes, assemble flat pack furniture, clean up the house I was leaving and perform other little tasks. I ended up asking my mate Ivan to help out because he had a delivery truck. Afterwards, when I bought him a six-pack of beer as a ‘thank you’, he told me, ‘That’s the fourth move I’ve been involved with in the past six months – everyone asks for my help because of my darn truck’.

“That got Jono and I thinking, ‘Why do we ask our friends and family, who are super busy, to help us with these sorts of tasks when there are thousands of people across Australia who’d love to earn some extra money doing them?’ The answer, we believed, was trust – it’s difficult finding trustworthy people to perform tasks that don’t fit in to a traditional labour category.

“Working for amaysim, Jono and I had seen the massive potential of local online economies. We’d also discovered that hundreds of thousands of Australians – around 600,000 today – earned an income working more than one job. Ultimately, we saw an opportunity to create a trusted online community where people could find others to help them complete traditional and non-traditional tasks. We spent a few months working on the idea from Jono’s living room, after hours, before leaving amaysim in 2012 to pursue it as a business: Airtasker. Jono’s focus was operational execution, which he excels at, while I focused on strategy, marketing and raising capital. We both have good generalist skills, which we relied on in the beginning, but over time we’ve employed people who are stronger than us in key areas including development, UX, UI, design and marketing.”

Building a following, empowering the people

To date, the biggest challenge the co-founders have faced is building what Tim describes as Airtasker’s ‘user liquidity’.

“Jono and I had our work cut out for us introducing people to the platform, educating them about the opportunities and retaining them at a point in time when there weren’t too many people in our marketplace,” he said. “Early on, to build liquidity, Jono and I completed all sort of tasks for job posters, including doing KFC runs at midnight. Fortunately, building liquidity has become easier with time – we now have a large community of people buying and selling services through our platform.”

Airtasker isn’t the only company operating an online and mobile skills marketplace – there’s also TaskRabbit, Upwork and Freelancer, to name just a few. However, Tim isn’t too fazed. To him, the concept is still new enough that there’s room for competition. Critically, he is confident in the platform’s USP and the quality of the user experience, which he and Jonathan continue to refine.

“Imagine the space in which we operate is a huge parcel of land,” he said. “We’re in our corner, building our farm and in other parts of the land, there are other people building their own farms. We can all build really huge farms and find success. It’s been important for us not to get too pre-occupied with what other businesses are doing.

“Our advantage is that some of our competitors operate like agencies, whereas are core focus is on providing an open and transparent marketplace for jobs – we don’t decide who should and shouldn’t be a worker, or how much labour should cost, or whether jobs should be performed in a particular way. These are matters for job posters and Airtasker workers to decide amongst themselves, independently of us. We don’t want to impose draconian rules on our community, we want to empower them to do what they want.

“Four years on, our philosophies and values haven’t changed, nor has our core platform: we’re still a marketplace where people can outsource tasks to the right person at the right time and place. Of course, Jono and I continue to refine and optimise the platform to sweeten the experience for job posters and workers. For instance, Job posters can now reschedule jobs, assign multiple workers to a single task, and filter for workers with police verification.”

New jobs, new ways to earn an income 

While overseas expansion is a tempting proposition, it’s not a priority for Tim and Jonathan just yet. Instead, they’re focused on strengthening Airtasker’s position in the Australian market. This means continuing to build social density and forming strategic partnerships. Just recently, Tim and Jonathan partnered with The Good Guys, which is using the Airtasker platform to streamline its home installation service and improve the customer experience. They’re also continuing to work with Seven West Media, their media partner, to cement Airtasker as a household name.

Reflecting on his journey with Airtasker to date, Tim said it has been incredibly rewarding creating something new with Jonathan, hitting milestones and growing a team of passionate people who share his and Jonathan’s vision. On a deeper level, Tim has been touched by the ‘profound effect’ Airtasker is having on users – many are earning $5,000 per month, while some are even earning north of $10,000 per month.

“Through Airtasker, users are discovering jobs that don’t fit into arbitrary categories and that didn’t exist in the traditional labour market,” Tim said. “In that regard, we’re creating new ways for people in Australia to earn an income. That’s the real power of the platform.”

Classic tales from the Airtasker vault

Asked by Dynamic Business about the creativity of the Airtasker community, Tim shared some of the quirkier tasks posted on platform and completed by its workforce:

  • City2Surf medal pick-up: “A community member really wanted a City2Surf medallion but wasn’t willing to run the 14km race, so they hired an Airtasker to collect an extra one. This is good example of efficiency – the worker was going to run the race anyway!”
  • Ice-cream fanaticism: “When the Golden Gaytime tubs hit the market, one user was so desperate to secure this popular but scarce resource that he appealed to the community. Fortunately, an Airtasker was able to get 3 tubs delivered to his office.”
  • The Simpsons: “We get tons of wedding tasks at this time of the year. People usually want help with fancy proposals, wedding preparation and anniversary gifts. One particularly creative user hired an Airtasker to carve a custom wedding cake figurines inspired by Marge and Homer Simpson.”
  • The Houston Ring: “A neurosurgeon from Sydney decided to propose to his wife but the engagement ring he’d chosen was located in Houston, Texas. As he wanted to pop the question in just 5 days, he needed someone trustworthy to fly to Texas and bring the (very, very expensive) ring back to Sydney. Alexa, a mother-of-two was selected to run the task (she is trusted, with 200 five-star reviews) and made the most of her time in the States by catching up with and old friend who lived in nearby Dallas.”
  • iPhone and GoT line up: “Last year we had over 400 people lining up at Apple stores around Australia to be the first to get an iPhone 6. We also had tons of people help others get into a highly popular Game of Thrones exhibition which had an eight-hour line up!”
  • Photoshop me: “One of our users had recently split with her boyfriend and wanted a “pick-me-up” via having an image of her photo-shopped to “improve her look”. The response from the community was actually really heartwarming – quite a few users pitched in and told her that she really didn’t need the photoshopping to be beautiful, which we agreed with.”