Airtasker, Online Community Marketplace: Start-up Profiles
By Michelle Hammond
After completing a $1.5 million seed funding round, Airtasker is hoping to make itself known in its hometown of Sydney and then right across the country.
Founded by Jonathan Lui and Tim Fung, Airtasker is an online community marketplace that allows users to outsource everyday tasks to people in their local community.
“Collaborative online communities like Airtasker are growing massively around the world for the simple reason that they combine the marketplace appeal of popular online auction sites with the social media community ethos of the leading social networks,” Fung says.
“Put this together with Australia’s huge uptake of smartphones and social commerce, we think Airtasker is really going to hit a sweet spot.”
Fung and Lui talk to StartupSmart about raising $1.5 million and cashing in on “Airtasker moments”.
What inspired the idea for Airtasker? What gap did you see in the market?
I had my first Airtasker moment about 12 months ago while I was moving apartments and building a ton of flat-pack furniture.
I was short on time and struggling to get it right, but a mate popped around and had me set up in a few minutes. It was then I realised there had to be a marketplace to find people who can help with all these types of tasks.
We also looked at sites like Freelancer and 99designs, and saw that whilst they work on a global level, we saw a gap in the market to create a product that uses mobile and location-based technology to harness the power of outsourcing in the local community and to help people find local service providers more easily.
How did you fund the business?
When we first started with the idea, we spent hours every night working in Jono’s living room putting together our plans, processes and website/app wireframes.
At the time, we paid for everything from our own pockets but we knew that we would eventually need additional funding.
You recently closed a $1.5 million funding round. What process did you go through?
Our aim was to put together a team of investors who believed in our vision and who could not only provide financial support, but could also help us build the business from the ground up.
At the beginning, we used our own money and some funding from our close network to start building the product as far as we could, with the aim of creating something tangible that people could get excited about.
We then started pitching to investors and received quite a positive response from the start.
We reached our target funding and then ended up accepting a bit more investment than we had initially planned as we saw that a number of the people that we met could provide tons of experience and advice to the business.
What will the funds be used for?
Airtasker is all about building a community. To do this, the two most important things for us are to build a great web/app product and to educate as many people as we can about how they can benefit from using Airtasker in their everyday lives.
As such, we’re planning on using the funding to build up a great team of product developers and engineers while working on spreading the word across Sydney first and then across the country.
We’re also buying an obligatory start-up ping-pong table!
How do you promote the business?
Airtasker is a web business but it’s also part of our real daily lives, so a lot of the marketing we do is about making sure that when people really need a helping hand with a chore, errand or handyman task, they think of us.
We call this an “Airtasker moment”. We’re planning to do some tactical offline marketing that will get people to notice us while they’re having their Airtasker moment, and supporting this with engaging online content production, a fun social media presence and some targeted ads.
On the other side of the market, we also work a lot on building the “Airtasker movement” by recruiting more runners – whether they be mums, university students, retirees or specialised tradesmen – and then help them spread the word and grow their business at the same time.
How many staff do you have?
At the moment, we’re looking to grow our team with top-notch web and mobile developers as well as marketing experts.
Currently, Jono leads all of our technical operations in conjunction with our technology partner Sentia, while I work on investment, company strategy and marketing with a small team of interns and our great team of advisors.
What are your revenue projections for 2011/12?
Our number one goal at the moment is to let as many people as possible know about Airtasker, and show them how they can improve their lives by outsourcing some of their everyday chores and errands.
Whilst at this stage we’re not disclosing financial projections, I can tell you that we’ve got an awesome team of supporters behind us who believe in our long-term strategy.
What are your points of difference?
Currently, we see that the way a lot of people find a service provider is to look in a phonebook or an online directory.
One of the best things about Airtasker is that your task doesn’t have to fall into one of the traditional categories like plumbing, electrician, window cleaner, etc.
You can post up anything that you need done, whether it’s writing a love poem, cleaning out your garage or helping you assemble some flat-pack furniture.
We’ve also built some features into our web product which are quite unique, like:
Feedback. On Airtasker, you don’t just meet your service provider, you also communicate with them through our secure messaging system, transact with them on our site and then leave feedback for the next person.
All of this helps us build up credibility and trust in the marketplace over time, which a lot of traditional online classifieds don’t do right now.
Facebook Connect. We let you create a real profile on Airtasker and link it with your Facebook account and other social networks so people can make an informed choice about who they are about to work with.
This makes your Airtasker profile a lot more in-depth than a regular ad in a classified newspaper.
Hyper local. We use location-based apps to help you find what you need nearby and as quickly as possible.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
I think that the biggest risk lies within the challenge of showing people how they can use Airtasker as part of their everyday lives to find great local service providers.
We need to focus on spreading the word to make sure that we’re top of mind when someone has their “Airtasker moment” and needs their dog walked, their car washed or any other chore done.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Maybe one thing we would have done differently would be to recruit people into our team a little earlier as we’re all burning the midnight oil, and then some.
As hard as it is to do, we know it’s important to take time out of our everyday schedule to step back and look at the “big blocks” of what needs to be done, like hiring staff and setting up the structure that you need to scale properly.
We’re definitely learning a lot on the way.
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