Startups produce a lot of one-off needs that can be painful to solve. I don’t have the manpower to put someone on them without sacrificing on core product development. I’m always on the lookout for a better way to handle these sorts of needs. To that end, I’ve experimented significantly with distributed workforce services. I’ve tried out all of the obvious candidates: Fiverr, mturk, TaskRabbit & MobileWorks. I have gotten quite good at using these services to fill needs without distracting the team from the most important work. My early experiments with MobileWorks have gone well but the best results I’ve seen have been from TaskRabbit.
Going into these experiments one of my unspoken biases was the assumption that workers on these platforms are not skilled or highly educated. I was wrong - I’ve been consistently surprised at the quality of the distributed workforce taken as a whole. It is not exclusively unskilled labor. There are a lot of highly educated intelligent people who are picking up extra cash by taking on well-defined units of work in their spare time. If anything I’ve found that the TaskRabbits I’ve hired are more motivated than the average employee. This is likely due to the review system. We’ve found people with MBAs and accounting degrees on TaskRabbit. Once I hired an IT manager from a well known software company to help do some technical research.
The lesson here is to not assume that the task is too challenging or specialized before you give it a shot.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the ways I’ve successfully used TaskRabbit:
Data compilation & entry
Machine learning dataset labeling & beta testing
Content creation & Video production
Market sizing research
Here are a few rules that will help you get the best results on TaskRabbit:
Be very explicit in your instruction.
This will save you a bunch of time because anxious TaskRabbits will ask anything you leave out before they place their bid. It also has the nice side benefit of allowing you to easily filter out people who are too lazy to read. If they ask a question you’ve clearly answered, you can just ignore their bid.
Take delivery by Google spreadsheet (if possible).
Create the spreadsheet ahead of time, taking care to label the columns appropriately. Insert sample data so that there is no confusion about exactly what you expect in each field. Done well this significantly reduces the necessary explanation and prevents confusion about deliverables.
Take your time on the hire.
This one is important especially for more complex jobs such as market size research or competitive intelligence research. Frequently you will find by giving it a couple of days you’ll get a dream candidate. Some of the highest quality TaskRabbits actually have day jobs or are full time at school. They may start looking for work on a Thursday or Friday for the weekend. In fact I’d go so far as to say the best offers come later and the immediate offers are just people who are throwing their hat in the ring for anything at all.
Let the TaskRabbits bid for a fixed price
I have yet to name a price on TaskRabbit. I have had such great luck by letting people name their own flat rates I see no reason to try to divine out what the right offering is. I have allowed them to name hourly rates vs fixed rates and I find that it creates an unnecessary tension.
Hire for intelligence & diligence, not price
Use the reviews, ratings and their communication abilities to choose your TaskRabbit – don’t focus so much on price. You may save yourself $20 but make the job twice as difficult on yourself with lower results. Conversely, I’ve found that a cheaper offer is frequently a much better hire. In one market research job I had a high bid of $3,250 (wtf?) and a low bid of $80. I ended up hiring someone for $100 who was an accounting undergrad working on her MBA. I was very pleased with the results.
I’m probably doing myself a disservice by spilling the beans here but I am bullish on the distributed workforce as a whole. I think that in the long run we’ll see these qualified worker marketplaces handling significant chunks of company’s needs – especially in small businesses. Compensation will likely (correctly) trend upward as more businesses catch on to the opportunity for efficiency increases using this distributed workforce. Hopefully the “inventory” of workers will expand rapidly in coming years, as being a worker in this sort of marketplace becomes a viable replacement for full time employment.
The bottom line from my perspective is that *if* you can clearly and coherently explain a one-off task, especially deliverables, there is no good reason NOT to try a site like TaskRabbit.
Leave a comment if you have any other innovative ways you’ve been able to use the distributed workforce!