What is Airtasker?
Airtasker is an Australian social networking service, which utilises the emerging ‘sharing economy’ for its peer-to-peer, online jobs outsourcing platform. The company defines itself as “a trusted community marketplace for people and businesses to outsource tasks, find local services or hire flexible staff in minutes…online or via mobile” (Airtasker, 2019c), employing a bidding system that connects both skilled and unskilled workers with individuals wanting to get a task done.
Video demonstrating how Airtasker works. Source: © Airtasker, YouTube, Some Rights Reserved.
Airtasker seeks to harness the under-utilised skills of local communities and match them with ‘time poor’ consumers. Using innovative ‘crowdsourcing” to connect demand and supply of contractual labour (AI Group, 2016).
Airtasker’s Historical Background
Airtasker is a recent start-up, co-founded by Tim Fung and Jonathan Lui in 2012 from their living room floor. It is based on the simple assumption that “busy people will pay someone else to run their errands” (Fung, 2018). Airtasker was inspired by the owners own need to have their belongings packed and moved and their apartment cleaned, responding to a need in the market for ‘micro-sourcing’. “This is a new wave of outsourcing micro tasks when you don’t need to hire someone for a day, you just need them for an hour” (Botsman as cited within Waters, 2016). They identified the need to establish the ‘supply’ side of the marketplace first and recruited college students who had flexible work hours. They then built a group of ‘buyers, which included Influencers in technology marketing firms to help promote the service. They relied upon feedback loops and customer service optimisation, founded on a belief that ‘word of mouth’ was the most effective means of growing the platform.
Airtasker expanded Internationally into Britain in October 2017 and has just entered its second International market, commencing in Ireland in April, 2019.
Airtasker’s Business Model
Airtasker operates through an open two-sided marketplace, which employs a simple business model that connects individuals, small businesses and enterprises with members of the local community who need to get tasks done. The market is not defined, but rather is driven by demand. It can range from dog walking and grocery shopping to furniture removal or secretarial services. Airtasker currently has over 1.7 million community members and has a gross marketplace volume (the amount being paid out to users of the Airtasker platform annually) of $140 million in Australia.
Users access the service through a website and mobile application at www.airtasker.com.au. Upon registering with the platform, users known as ‘Posters’ upload a task, based upon a skill set, which is posted online for free. The person posting the job specifies details and assigns a pay rate. Individuals and Businesses who sign up as ‘Taskers’ then respond by offering a bid. Users select the Airtasker of their choosing and communicate together via private messenger. Once an offer is accepted, funds are transferred via Airtasker Pay and held in an account until the task is satisfactorily completed and funds are released to the Airtask worker.
No fees are charged to individuals outsourcing tasks, and the online marketplace determines the price of the labour. However, a 15% flat fee is paid by Airtaskers who complete jobs. Rather than seeking to outsource work more cheaply, instead Airtasker seeks to make its point of differentiation its ability to source locally and quickly. Whilst taskers work independently, Airtasker has developed a range of innovative employee benefits and protections, such as insurance cover to avoid exploitation of workers rights, whilst also enabling the job seeker to propose their own rate of pay, by bidding for tasks.
Airtasker is currently embarking on an International expansion and believes that “The local services marketplace is an underdeveloped economy. There’s still a lot of inefficiency in the way local services have previously been transacted which meant people weren’t able to share their skills” (Fung as cited within Redrup, 2019). This two-sided model does have inherent risks, as it relies upon successful relationships between the company, external taskers and the customer.
Airtasker’s Internet Ecology
Airtasker has sought to revolutionise how Australian’s find work, and in the process, has established a broad network of partnerships and investors, along with working closely with regulators to create a sustainable ecology. Airtasker’s integration of mobile technology apps into the daily workplace illustrates how they are using technology to “weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it” (Weiser as cited within Parsons, 2005: p.1). This is evident through the strategic partnerships Airtasker has established with major corporations such as eBay, Amazon, The Good Guys, Ikea and Coles. Best illustrated through the “Ecosystem Partnership Program” established with the Good Guys in 2016, in which Airtasker created a new installation platform, matching Good Guy customers with their Airtaskers, and paving the way of establishing new ways of offering after care, post-purpose customer experiences across companies. This has been further replicated by the Coles/Airtasker partnership, whereby time-poor consumers have Airtaskers do a personalised shop and deliver the items at a specified time, with these partnerships supporting one another in carrying out their operations and demonstrating the power of mobile technologies over social practices.
Airtasker has already established itself as one of the leading online job outsourcing platforms in Australia. Uptake in services on the user side has predominantly come from ‘time poor’ professionals and small businesses, whilst millennials along with the grey market retirees are unexpectedly supplying much of the labour market. Airtasker surveys reveal that “47% of millennials are currently performing freelance work in some capacity and a significant advantage of working outside a traditional office was having a flexible schedule” (Airtasker, 2019i). Airtasker has a direct competitor in Freelancer, and an indirect competitor in Seek, Linkedin, Uber and Gumtree. However, these do not offer the same niche small tasks-orientated jobs. Airtasker’s international expansion on the other hand, will mean that it is now competing with the long established USA based Task Rabbit and to a lesser extend Handy and Zaarly.
Airtasker has relied upon extensive capital raising in 2019 to raise $33m to finance its International expansion into the UK and Ireland. Original investor Exto Partners has been joined by new investors, Seven West Media, Skyfield Capital, Morning Crest Capital and Black Sheep capital. Airtasker is currently regulated by the ACCC, Australian Taxation Office and the NSW Trade Union. Airtasker’s desire to be an innovate leader in upholding greater protection for its users has also seen new relationships established with Australia Post digital iD, Commonwealth Bank third-party verification and Roobyx – Income Protection Service.
Airtasker Ecology Map
The Transformative Effects of Airtasker.
Utilising new digital technologies allows companies to “organise people into new networked and affective publics” (Bonini et al., 2015: p. 2) that shape and influence how society functions. As an agent of internetworked change, Airtasker is seeking to revolutionise how people think about employment, building on the growing popularity of the ‘sharing economy’ and the growth of outsourcing via local networks and marketplaces by taking more jobs online. Airtasker cites their desire to empower people to realise the value of their skills and highlights how they recently found full time employment for an individual who had been on Centrelink for the past 20 years, but is now able to gain permanent employment, due to their platform. This highlights how Airtasker, as part of the ‘sharing economy’, has sought to associate itself with “positive connotations of equality, selflessness and giving” (John, 2017: 63) by presenting itself as a public service that benefits society through its emphasis upon community and collaboration, and enacting social change by empowering individuals and readdressing social inequities by opening up new online opportunities that were restricted in the offline world.
Whilst traditionally the ‘gig economy’; which pairs workers with tasks in online marketplaces, has sought to use digital platforms to bypass regulatory responsibilities such as labour standards, sham contract arrangements and exploitation of workers, Airtasker in 2017 embraced revolutionary protections for their workers. This occurred when they entered an agreement with NSW Unions, offering above award conditions, and extending their insurance protection, acknowledging that “it’s important to work with regulators, industry stakeholders and government in order to create a sustainable company in the long term” (Fung as cited within Dias 2017). This is a world first for the gig economy, setting new standards of protection for those participating in the online labour market and creating a sustainable ecosystem, by offering employees the same protection and standards as traditional workplaces.
Despite these initiatives, when Airtasker decided in 2017 to embark upon international expansion, it quickly discovered major gaps in its governance and oversight of the platform existed. This required a significant upgrade of the current platform, in order to meet the more stringent UK legal and regulatory controls over internet governance. Airtasker discovered that their moderation guidelines were inadequate to fully protect their users and carried out an upgrade to the way their users connected. This included introducing new smart filters on the browse page and investing in a new software bot ‘Alan’ who “detects and disposes of any tasks which do not comply with Community guidelines” (Fung, 2019a). Gillespie (2018) highlights the complexities of private governance, warning that “too little curation, and users may leave to avoid the toxic environment that has taken hold; too much moderations and users may still go, rejecting the platform as too intrusive”. With this in mind, Airtasker is distinguishing itself as a leader in transparency and regularly posts updates to its blog, acknowledging the company’s shortfalls and limitations, whilst outlining measures to protect personal data and inappropriate content. Airtasker’s recent partnership with Australia Post and the Commonwealth Bank to use third party badges to institute greater verification and protection for users has many benefits. Yet, with any form of data licencing, this has its limitations and may be combined with the vast amount of personal data that is revealed through task job postings, such as personal addresses, lifestyle choices i.e. records of where users are shopping, what pets they own etc. to create a form of social commodification through which users’ personal identity may be “aggregated, profiled and commodified” (Martin, 2019, p. 21), revealing the high duty of care Airtasker has to protect their users’ personal data.
The rapid expansion and uptake of technology in Australia, and the shift to a mobile marketplace due to “the ubiquity of smartphones with integrated location, communication and payment capabilities” (Moon as cited within Healy et al., 2017, p. 11) introduced through platforms such as Airtasker, is having a significant transformative effect on the labour market. Airtasker effectively demonstrates how “technological advancements have been responsible for bringing the service providers and service receivers closer” (McKinsey & Company, 2016). In Australia this is likely, according to the Future of Work in Australia Analytical Report, to “have a significantly disruptive effect on the job market, workforce and skill requirements, globally over the coming decades” and result in the end of work as we currently know it. Airtasker is facilitating this transformative effect by responding to a societal shift towards greater autonomy, freedom and flexibility in the workplace. By capitalising on changes in market demands, Airtasker is offering an alternate opportunity for individuals to use their skills beyond the confines of traditional workplaces, highlighting how consumer behaviour and social values are changing.
Sigala (as cited within Lydon, 2018) cautions, “without regulation, the sharing economy has the potential to drive a wedge into the economic and social divide – the rich will become richer and the poor will be called micro-entrepreneurs”. We must hope that Airtasker’s desire for accountability and transparency continues to ensure that with the restructuring of the labour markets, comes continued protection for all stakeholders, and therefore new standards for the ‘gig economy’ into the future.
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