Australian job’s marketplace, Airtasker, has acquired Melbourne-based odd jobs outsourcing business Occasional Butler, cementing its lead as Australia’s leading online platform for outsourcing local services. The service already claims 130,000 community members across Australia and an annual task run rate of over $4 million, with its growth tripling so far in 2014. Airtasker offers an on-demand army of skilled workers being called on to do everything from standing in a six-hour queue for the Game of Thrones exhibition to delivering Gelato Messina cakes to hungry office workers. A Sydney surgeon used an Airtasker to fly to the US and pick up an engagement ring. Occasional Butler was founded in 2012 by Erz and Jodie Imam, who have built a large community of thousands of people helping each other get things done. The pair will now join Airtasker as community development advisers. Tim Fung told StartupSmart the deal is designed to help Airtasker’s mission of becoming Australia’s largest services marketplace. “In 2012, there were three companies operating with slight differences in a similar space – the local services marketplace,” Fung says. “What we saw was there were very slight differences between the services. So, for example, Occasional Butler was based in Melbourne and was focused on building a strong user base there. “A larger marketplace is exponentially better than a smaller one. So a platform with 20 users is not just twice as good as one with 10 users – it’s many, many times better.” Similar logic motivated Airtasker’s earlier takeover of TaskBox in February 2013, which focused on building its user base predominantly in the Northern and eastern Suburbs of Sydney. Alongside the purchase of Occasional Butler, the company plans to expand its services to the United States, and is exploring other opportunities for international expansion. However, the move will potentially see Airtasker compete head-to-head against established services such as TaskRabbit, which claims to have added 1.5 million users in the past year alone. According to Fung, a key difference will be that where TaskRabbit focuses on commodified services, Airtasker will focus on jobs where there’s a degree of subjectivity involved in the person performing the job. “In general, their approach is based on an ‘on-demand’ model – what they call ‘Uberfication’ – where you post a job, they push it out to their base and find someone to do it. It’s a good model for ‘fixed verticals’ such as transport, where a lift is a lift,” Fung says. “In the small jobs marketplace, there’s much more variability. So with something like logo design, for example, many can provide the same service in a different way. People want to choose which one they want.” News of the deal comes as TaskRabbit announced it is abandoning its auction model, in favour of flat rates for different jobs. “When it comes to TaskRabbit, their new approach is something we’ll watch very closely,” Fung says.
Occasional Butler, a peer-to-peer marketplace based in Melbourne, is expanding to Sydney as the first step in its national rollout. Launched in July 2012, the marketplace allows customers to get small jobs done around the home or office by casual workers. Over 500 jobs have been organised through the site. Co-founder Jodie Imam told StartupSmart they had concentrated on Melbourne while they developed their offering and systems. “We wanted to make sure the website was working how our users wanted it to. Now we’ve reached critical mass in Melbourne, we know we can handle the transactions and everything is running smoothly,” Imam says. “We’ve got a bit of a rhythm now, so we know we can handle more jobs.” While Imam and her co-founder and husband, Erz, will manage the Sydney offering from Melbourne, she says they’ll be doing a lot of local work in Sydney and changing their messaging slightly. “The main change will be focusing our advertising efforts towards Sydney. We advertise on a lot of job sites and through Google for people looking for workers, but also those looking to make a bit of extra money.” Imam says they’ve developed a pool of 1400 occasional butlers in Melbourne and they’re recruiting and building a network of 500 launch workers in Sydney. They will also be looking to hire a Sydney-based community manager in the next few months. Imam concedes the peer-to-peer small jobs market is an increasingly competitive one. Last month Airtasker, which also connects people wanting small jobs done with people willing to do them, partnered with online jobs website CareerOne. Imam says they’ll be in Sydney a fair bit as part of their wider marketing strategy. “One of the most successful things we’ve done for marketing has been actually being out in the community handing out fliers and chatting to people. There are so many online businesses, and people can be a bit wary about who is behind these companies, so we try to head out and chat to as many communities as we can,” she says. She adds they’ve developed a softer and more personable brand than other offerings. “We feel that our brand is a strong differentiator. We’re trying to build a loyal community based on us rewarding and recognising our butlers,” Imam says. “We know from feedback that our community has a really soft, personable feel to it.”