TaskRabbit is a hot startup that everyone is buzzing about. Like Zaarly, it is a local network that allows users to post and complete tasks in their neighborhoods. Think Craigslist and Twitter mushed together.
TaskRabbit was founded by Leah Busque in 2008. It raised $5 million last spring and was featured on the ABC Nightly News as a solution for America’s job crisis. Every month, $4 million worth of tasks are posted on the network.
Like any startup, TaskRabbit is not without flaws.
A few weeks ago, we received a troubling email from one of the TaskRabbits (people who are hired as contractors to run all the errands).
We were told TaskRabbit has a number of fundamental flaws. Particularly, while becoming a TaskRabbit is a highly vetted process, the TaskRabbits themselves are guaranteed no protection. They have no insurance. They walk into unknown situations and often get paid less than minimum wage to do unthinkable tasks.
This person found themselves knee deep in cat diarrhoea.
In addition, the TaskRabbit we spoke with thinks the startup actually takes closer to 70% of high transactions, which is much more than the 15% it says it takes on average.
Here’s our Q&A with the disgruntled TaskRabbit:
(We spoke with TaskRabbit about all of the issues mentioned. The company’s response is at the end of this post)
Business Insider: What were you doing to generate income before TaskRabbit?
TaskRabbit: I do massage work, and I still do it, and that is part of what I support myself with. I’ve picked up about $3,000 in three months from TaskRabbit, so TaskRabbit is paying my rent. It has made a big difference. The rest of my money comes from massage work. Before that I worked in technology.
BI: How many hours would you say generated the $3,000?
I actually keep a list of my tasks but I haven’t been detailed in documenting the number of hours. I can spend anywhere from 10 to 30 hours a week on TaskRabbit stuff. And you definitely, if you’re going to do this work, have to have healthy boundaries. You have to be able to say no to people and know what your limits are because it goes 24 hours.
BI: What do you think is the demographic for the average TaskRabbit?
Me…I’m 41, I’m single, I’ve never been married, I have no children, I’m college educated. I’m working on getting into grad school to go find something else to do with my life As far as the other TR’s, I think most of them are at least mid-20’s or older, and there are quite a few of us who are middle aged who are either doing this on the side or have other things going on.
BI: How does one become a TaskRabbit or a task poster?
TaskRabbits go through a screening process. I guess it’s like most job interviews these days, and it’s a video interview, not an in person interview.
Obviously they don’t screen the people posting the tasks, and indeed, people posting tasks are not required to be familiar with the rules and regulations of TaskRabbit at all, all you need is a credit card number. You don’t even have to supply a phone number. All you need is an email address.
BI: What has your experience as a TaskRabbit been like?
First of all, my experience with TaskRabbit has been overwhelmingly positive. But even from the beginning I could see potential problems and I had concerns. If you’re supposed to go to someone’s house, you really don’t know what you’re walking into. It could be a sketchy situation. There could be weird people there.
Luckily none of that has happened to me. If anything, I think a more common complaint would be, you have a prescribed task, you go to the house to do it, and they want you to do more work than what they’re paying for. Certainly there is no safety net; we’re independent contractors, not employees. It’s up to us to take care of ourselves, it’s up to us to decide what we will and will not do. You can review a task poster but the thing is, nobody sees the review. It just goes into some back end database. It’s not visible to you, it’s not visible to any of the other TaskRabbits. So if you are a real pill to deal with, even if I put that in my review, no one sees my review presumably. It’s not visible to you or any of the other rabbits. Why are you a TaskRabbit then?
I do definitely need the cash. But I’ve been reading the press about TaskRabbit and there’s some real conflict of interests here. For one thing, the image and the verbiage they use — it’s neighbours helping neighbours — as if I’m doing this out of the goodness of my heart. As if I don’t care about the money — and I do care about the money. I want to get paid and I want to get paid properly.
Certainly TaskRabbit cares about the money, it’s a startup. When they go looking for funding, do you think they portray themselves as the company who doesn’t care about money? I think they probably bend over backwards to show themselves as a profitable venture and to show they have good sales profiles. Well, where do you think that money comes from? Someone actually described TaskRabbit as revolutionary, and I’m like, which revolution? The French Revolution? Where Marie Antoinette was beheaded? Because it’s very much people wanting peasants, anonymous elves to come in during the night and do the dirty work, and they don’t want to pay very much, and the markup on the task is actually much higher than what they claim it to be. They claim the markup is 15%. It’s actually more like 70%.
BI: TaskRabbit doesn’t have to require minimum wage payments?
No one is obligated to pay minimum wage, and that happens again and again and again. I have worked 12 and 15 hour days doing really strenuous physical labour and had $80 to show for it.
BI: Did you know that going in or was it posted at a different price?
Yes and no. You’re always aware of the fact that a task could be more difficult and more cumbersome than what you’re imagining. And you’re always aware of the fact that a task poster may indeed downplay what’s involved to get a cheaper price.
I had a client a couple of months ago who wanted me to do his laundry. I did it and there was something kind of nasty on his stuff. You shove the stuff in the washer and you forget it. Just put it in the washer and don’t think about it. He really liked the way I did his laundry and he wanted me to do it again. So I did it again and I realised this nasty stuff was actually cat diarrhoea all over his laundry.
First of all, he wads it up. He thinks you can’t see it or you’re not going to notice, and it’s all over his clothes. He always posts that it’s four loads of laundry and every time I did his laundry it filled 10 or 15 double loading washers. It was a mountain of laundry and it was all covered in cat diarrhoea.
The third time this happened, I actually called TaskRabbit and I said, “Look this is what’s happening. Plus I’m allergic to cats and it actually says that in my profile.” I said, “I think I should get paid more than $25 for doing this.”
TaskRabbit was actually very polite and said “Yes, yes that sounds horrible. Thanks for letting us know, we’ll have a word with him.”
Needless to say a few days ago he asked me to do his quote-unquote “4 loads of laundry.” I was under the impression they had a word with him and that he needed to be honest about what was in his laundry. Of course he made no changes to his task. This time when I bid, I bid $300 just to send a message. He sent me a note through the system, “Oh, I’m assuming that’s a typo.”
I sent a note back and I said, “It’s not four loads of laundry, it’s at least 10, it’s covered in your cat’s diarrhoea, there was no typo in my bid.”
I got an email from TaskRabbit shortly thereafter that I was unprofessional. They said if I did that again, I was fired.
They threatened to fire you for complaining? It sounds like the biggest issue is that TaskRabbit’s aren’t protected at all.
The whole thing about TaskRabbit, again it’s “neighbours helping neighbours,” as if my health and safety don’t matter, as if I’m willing to put up with whatever you dish out no matter what. And it’s required that TaskRabbits always have a smile on their faces. You know what, I’m not going to smile at you while you lie. It’s a health factor, it’s a safety risk. I don’t want to get covered in cat shit and if I do, I should know about it and get paid for it.
There really is an element of disregard for the Rabbits. Then the email I got from TaskRabbit about being unprofessional — my answer to that is, if you actively suppress what you actually foster, it is abuse. Then people will figure out that they can lie and manipulate the TaskRabbits to get what they want.
Do you think these problems are fundamental flaws, or are they just the growing pains of being a startup?
I think there’s some larger issues at hand. I’m not sure how this will work out.
Some of the people who are posting tasks have middle class incomes. Some of the people posting tasks are really wealthy and they want the invisible elves to come in the night and do the dirty work. This idea that I’m supposed to do it out of the goodness of my heart and I’m not supposed to get paid properly and I’m not supposed to care about my welfare is a real issue.
BI: Do TaskRabbits ever meet?
Not so much. I’ve met a couple of them because either I’ve posted tasks myself or I was assigned a task that involved another TaskRabbit. That’s part of the strategy of TaskRabbit — to keep us apart from one another. We can’t message each other on the website. The only way you get to meet another TaskRabbit is if you post a task, and I think they do this to keep us apart because they don’t want us fixing the process. They don’t want us unionizing. They don’t want us to get together and say an Ikea run is $50 minimum.
But the thing is, I think TaskRabbit could really benefit from a union. They could really benefit from some organisation because we really are out there. We could face any number of uncertainties or dangers, or hazardous conditions, and we have no recourse.
BI: Does TaskRabbit have an insurance policy in place? Like if something were to happen to you on the job?
No. No. We’re all independent contractors. I can’t imagine that there is.
BI: Do you think TaskRabbit is taking advantage of the fact that a lot of people are unemployed?
Absolutely. They know people are unemployed and underemployed … people desperately need the money. There will always be someone to replace you, and this attitude of, “Well you should just be grateful that you have this opportunity,” isn’t really right. I should not be grateful for the opportunity to be hocked on, abused or have my rights transgressed.
TaskRabbit is getting a lot of positive press as being sort of this bright spot in a bad economy — that it’s finding a way to redistribute funds to people who really need it. They’re more than happy to take those props but they don’t actually want us to get paid. They want the money. They take a huge cut of what the TaskRabbits do. They’re taking plenty of money from us.
If it’s a $25 job, how much will TaskRabbit take?
Here’s how it works. I wish I had access to their back end numbers. Certainly a task that costs, let’s say, $30 or more, the markup is actually about 70%. At a lower price point the markup is smaller and it could be as low as 15%. For example, if I bid $20 on a grocery run, the poster will probably pay a price of $23. So that is fair.
But as the price goes up, so does the cut. And I know once you hit about $30 for the task, the markup is 70%. Just to be clear, this is how I figured this out …I’ve actually had quite a few clients very sort of aggressively and proactively ask me about the money, about how much they’re paying for the task and that’s how I was able to figure it out. If there’s a task and I bid $50, the task poster pays $85.
So from my $50 bid, $35 is added on, which is is 70%. But to be fair, out of the $85 that you’re paying, $35 of $85 is only 40%.
The markup is huge, and I think most people don’t realise how big the markup is. They don’t know how big it is or they think I’m getting all the money or they think the markup is 15%, but it’s not, it’s much bigger than that.
BI: That would encourage people who are posting the jobs to pay someone less money because they’re going to be charged almost double by TaskRabbit…
Correct. It also creates the dynamic where the person posting the task wants you to do as much as humanly possible. While I have you here, can you do this as well, can you do this, can you do this, can you do this?
But again, the majority of my experience has been positive. And there are times it does feel really good to help somebody out. I did a simple grocery run once. He was this guy with a wife and two kids who was just getting back from vacation …an empty house with no food. You could hear two children crying in the background and you’re like … OK you’re having a real bad day, I’m going to run over there with your groceries. So there are times when it just feels really good to help somebody out like that.
BI: Have you had any other GOOD experiences as a TaskRabbit?
Some of the people who have posted tasks and who I’ve worked with, they’ve been phenomenal. They’ve been wonderful people.
They’ve tipped me generously and they’ve treated me well. They’ve been very appreciative of the work that I did for them. One guy I worked with, I’ve even hung out and had a drink with him. He’s a lot of fun.
Most of my experiences have been fantastic, but there certainly is the opportunity for people to behave badly.
Here is TaskRabbit’s response to the allegations, from founder Leah Busque:
About the threat of firing: “We regret that this particular TaskRabbit is dissatisfied with an isolated incident on the site. As she stated, she has had a very positive experience working with our service overall. We looked into her account and of the more than 80 tasks she has completed, she has reported only one incident to our members services team – which is the one she alluded to below. After the incident, our team reached out to her proactively and instructed her not to work with this particular TaskPoster in the future for her own safety and protection. Please note that our TaskRabbit manual (which all TaskRabbits review and agree to prior to being invited into the community) specifically provides clear guidelines on safety/security and the TaskRabbit’s right to question/refuse unreasonable requests or task misrepresentations. In this instance, we did, however, warn her that she had violated TaskRabbit policies and guidelines (which are in place to maintain the integrity and professionalism of the community) by being rude to the TaskPoster.
About everything else:
“A few things we would like to highlight.
1. TaskRabbits take on only the jobs they want to complete. TaskRabbit is an open marketplace. As such, TaskRabbits are free to bid on the jobs they find attractive – taking into consideration the amount of time involved, the nature of the work, etc. No TaskRabbit is ever forced into any job or task. One thing to note is one person’s imperfect task is another person’s ideal task. It is not up to us but rather the TaskRabbits themselves to decide which tasks to bid on.
2. As an open marketplace, TaskRabbits consider how much they expect to be paid for a particular task – again taking into consideration the amount of time involved, the nature of the work, what their time is worth, etc. – and set their price and hourly rate. On average, this rate is well above minimum wage.
3. On average TaskRabbit takes a 15 per cent service fee. We strive to get the TaskRabbit their asking bid, and TaskRabbit charges a service fee to “keep the lights on.” In some cases, TaskRabbit takes less than 15 per cent (sometimes even taking a loss on the task) and sometimes we take more than the average. It is important to note that a TaskRabbit keeps 100% of their bid amount, and we add our service on top of that which is paid by the TaskPoster.
4. We currently have a vetting process in place for our TaskPosters, where we validate their identity before they are allowed to post tasks. We have developed a robust reviews/reputation system for the TaskPoster side of the marketplace, which will be launched shortly.
5. That said, we continually monitor our TaskPosters’ activity and look for feedback on them. If there are any issues or concerns raised, we take swift action, which has resulted in the removal of TaskPosters from our community in the past.
6. We deeply value all members of our community – the TaskPosters and TaskRabbits alike. We strive to maintain a community where everyone feels respected and where people’s talents, skills, and time can be shared. We regret that this isolated incident occurred and will reinforce all the processes and procedures outlined above to ensure that all of our members feel respected, safe and secure.”