I got an average Joe to tackle one of the worst household chores imaginable—cleaning a Mt. Everest size pile of my dirty dishes. Think casserole pans with lasagna baked on and red wine-stained glasses from a dinner party two weeks ago.
“It’s not that bad,” said Northeastern University student Anthony Deng, whom I’d hired for the job. “Plus you get to meet interesting people.”
Deng is one of 1,500 people across the US who works as a personal assistant or "rabbit" for people in his community through a website called TaskRabbit. The start-up connects people who have grocery lists, confusing IKEA instructions or dirty dishes with non-professional grocery shoppers, furniture assemblers and dish washers. Anyone can post an errand or chore online, select the price they’ll pay and a community member will complete the task.
The newest version of the company’s iPhone application launched today and lets users upload photos, leave voice recordings and select from popular tasks while on the go.
The site’s founder, 31-year-old Leah Busque, said she came up with the idea when she and her husband realized that they’d forgotten to get dog food for their Labrador Kobe.
“We thought, wouldn’t it be nice if there were just a place online you could go—say we needed dog food—where we could name the price we wanted to pay [for someone to do the chore]?” Busque said. “We were certain that there was someone in our neighborhood who was willing to help out.”
Busque left her job at IBM four months later to start the site, which was originally called RunMyErrand.com. It launched in Boston in 2008 and moved to Silicon Valley in 2009 after participating in Facebook’s fbFund incubator program.
The company received $5 million in venture capital funding just two months ago and recently expanded to include Los Angeles and Orange County. The service is scheduled to include New York by mid-August.
“The thing that’s most surprising is the wide range of TaskRabbits we have involved,” Busque said. “There are some college students but there are young professionals who are also looking to supplement their income…we also have stay at home moms…and an amazing group of retirees.” Roughly 25% of TaskRabbits are over 60.
Potential runners are on waiting lists in Austin, Chicago, Seattle, Miami and Atlanta, eager to become TaskRabbits when the company launches in these cities within the next year.
“TaskRabbit is so popular because it’s an inexpensive and quick way to get things done,” said the company's marketing director Jamie Viggiano. “We often say that people experience the ‘aha moment’ of being in two places at once—this is when the service becomes addicting.”
For those who are worried about trusting strangers, Busque says that runners are pre-screened before they’re admitted on the site.
“All of our TaskRabbits go through quite the vetting process,” Busque said. This four-stage process involves an online application, a video interview, a background check and a written test.
My TaskRabbit was extremely friendly and I felt like he was a neighbor who’d just dropped by to help out. Before he left, he showed me his website and some of his artwork, since he is also a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. I gave him suggestions for how to raise money for his projects and as he walked down the staircase and clipped on his bike helmet, I waved and said, ‘hope to see you again soon.’
Perhaps the genius behind TaskRabbit is that you feel like the people in your community care about you and genuinely want to help out. They want to bring you a cup of sugar or deliver chicken soup to your sick friend; they just happen to want something in return.