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article imageA look at Canada's 'eBay for services' Special

By James Walker     May 3, 2014 in Business aims to be the 'eBay for services' by allowing users to advertise jobs they need doing for completion by others in their neighbourhood for a set fee. The company recently raised $500,000 in seed funding.
The company was founded by brothers Muneeb and Nabeel Mushtaq, aged 23 and 20 respectively. Muneeb, a University of Toronto commerce graduate and CEO of AskForTask, is in charge of the business and marketing side of the service whereas Nabeel, as COO, handles the more specific technicalities regarding the website and infrastructure due to his position studying computer systems at the Seneca@York campus of Seneca College, Toronto, which he postponed graduation from so that he could work on the AskForTask website.
Nabeel Mushtaq  COO of AskForTask
Nabeel Mushtaq, COO of AskForTask
The site operates by allowing people who have jobs for others to perform — dubbed 'askers' by the site — to advertise these jobs on the website for freelancers near their neighbourhood — 'taskers' — to complete. Once the tasker completes the job they receive a previously advertised payment from the asker. Alternatively, if the tasker feels the advertised payment to be too low or unfair, they can suggest an alternative point to set the price for the job at that they would be willing to work for.
Although the company was officially set up in May 2012, they only began claiming the service to be operational since last year. Prior to that the website had been in a period of open beta testing in which anyone could participate and provide feedback on the site's stability. Both of the site's founders feel this to have been a really critical attribute to the site's launch success as they responded directly to user feedback to implement the changes and features that their members wanted. They adopted a policy which deemed it of paramount importance that the voice of the community was heard and responded to. Eventually, so many people had tried the service in its beta form that they realized together what needed to be done to iron out the last few issues. Muneeb tried initially to get the project known in a wider light by informing students at his university in an effort to get them on board. Eventually, more and more people heard about the project and "word started spreading like wildfire."
The original idea for the project came when the brothers' Mum needed a plumber. Looking online through the classified websites, Muneeb found it hard to find somebody suitable as the websites were typically just long lines of contact details for various tradespeople with lines saying 'contact me for rates and charges'. After further investigation on the tradespeople advertising, Muneeb found that none of them could specifically state how much they would charge until they had actually seen the job which in his opinion wasted time and prolonged the period where his mum's plumbing was broken. In the end, he spent nearly $100 more than he wanted to on the job.
This inspired him to create because of the gap in the market he spotted which caused inefficiency whilst hiring tradespeople. Bringing his brother on with his experience in computers and programming to create the website, he realized that they could reverse the traditional process that people go through when finding a tradesperson — what if the tradespeople looked for the customers? With that in mind AskForTask was born — people could advertise jobs at a price they saw fit and tradespeople could decide whether to take them or not.
AskForTask claims to be different from other classified sites operating in Canada such as Kutoto and Kijiji, as well as worldwide sites like Craigslist, "on a few major fronts." These include the 'reversed classified' system that the site is based around but also the site's core values: credibility of clients and trust.
This is what CEO Muneeb Mushtaq said when asked if he could name one thing that made his site unique: it was a trustworthy platform. This idea is what has always powered AskForTask. Every single 'tasker' who works on the site for the 'askers' faces intense scrutiny before being allowed to start work to ensure that they will actually do the job they say they will and to encourage and reassure all involved parties. Similarly, the askers are checked to ensure they will actually pay the money they promised they would to the tasker once the job is complete. After the initial checks are completed and the tasker starts work askers are encouraged to write reviews on the taskers to assure other users of the site as to how good a job the tasker provides. Because of the general critical nature of people, the most successful taskers on the site with the highest ratings are those who consistently "give 110 percent" effort to jobs they take. The site itself also helps protect both askers and taskers by promising help to resolve a situation should an incident affect either party such as a job being completed unsatisfactorily or payment not being received. Another general trend noticed on the site is that taskers with the highest ratings tend to attempt to push the original quoted price of jobs posted by askers up a bit because of their 'experience.'
The most popular kinds of jobs to be posted on the site are those which people do not like to do themselves or those which require specialist equipment to complete. The sites founders noticed that a large majority of the jobs on offer at any time were related to cleaning, deliveries or office work. They realized that people would want to find these jobs quickly as they were the most popular and so updated the site homepage with direct links to jobs in these categories in the centre of the page.
The AskForTask banner image showing the layout of the website and app and highlighting the top three...
The AskForTask banner image showing the layout of the website and app and highlighting the top three categories for jobs on the site - cleaning, delivery and office work.
The average price offered for a job by an asker is generally between $15-$20 but, of course, it depends on the type and complexity of task. The tasker gets a total of 85% of the original quoted price as AskForTask take a 15% cut for themselves. Nothing is charged to the asker and if payment is transacted through PayPal the 15% is deducted automatically before it reaches the tasker. They decided on taking 15 percent for themselves as it proved to be the perfect sweet spot — after consulting with users 20 percent proved too high and 10 percent too low to be profitable. The company currently has no plans to change the amount they take as so many users are now using the site that the company makes more than enough profit as it is.
Whilst trying to get the business going countless challenges were encountered primarily related to the technical side. The website design and infrastructure had to be created and tested by Nabeel and his team. However, they were not getting enough feedback and numerous bugs were constantly being found so the decision to put the site into as stable a state as possible and launch it into an open beta was made. Eventually people found the site and started reported issues. Challenges were taken and addressed individually and one at a time and the fixes were taken slowly despite an urge to get the site completed fast — the thinking was it would be best to take as much time as was required and build a quality product than to throw a buggy service out to the world that would only attract negative feedback.
Nevertheless, some people did, of course, have negative feedback on the service after launch but there again every business will attract some criticism at some point. The company took an understanding stance and examined closely every piece of negative feedback with the belief that "everyone with negative feedback is still being honest to you and that you should follow up their complaint." They sat down and figured out the process and realized that the main issues were a lack of features — specifically, a lack of payment methods as initially PayPal was the only option. A lot of people wanted to be able to pay in cash and, after a lot of thinking, an implementable solution was thought of and built to satisfy the most important people of all - the customers.
The other major request was for a mobile app. The team again listened and responded to this and so an app will be launching very soon to enable users to access the site more comfortably on the go as extensively requested. The app has been in development for a few months and the company is determined to take as long as it takes to make it as bug-free as it can be at launch, as they did for the main website. No features that aren't already available on the website will be implemented at launch but "lots of updates are ahead" and, as with the main site, the company are waiting for user feedback in order to further improve their products.
A screenshot of a beta edition of the forthcoming AskForTask app on iOS
A screenshot of a beta edition of the forthcoming AskForTask app on iOS
Although the site currently operates solely in Canada, they have plans to expand to other territories very soon according to the CEO. This will likely be next year or, if possible, later this year, as they have seen demand in other territories and markets as well as the same gap they originally spotted in Canada. However, as with all of the company's projects, the goal is being taken one step at a time and they are taking as much time as they need. According to Muneeb, they have now figured out the demographics of the people of Canada that use the site to analyse completely what the people want and exactly what product they want to fulfil and facilitate what they want. This is something that they want to do in every market they expand into — the website will be individually tailored to the demographics of the people inhabiting that territory and using the site there as the company has recognised that every part of the world has its own specific requirements for a site such as AskForTask and wants to ensure that those requirements are met.
AskForTask is a company aiming to go back to the roots of classified advertising but through the internet. They want to revive and maintain the idea of friendly, helpful communities with the old idea of neighbours assisting neighbours. According to themselves, they are an entirely community based company who have found an opportunity in a market niche to help people make money by helping others. They have a micro-entrepreneurial spirit and are aiming to expand their own values of credible, trustworthy freelancing workers by partnering with other organisations to help provide food banks for poorer areas and aim to expand to other countries to fill the same market niche there. Although they are growing fast financially, they are taking each new opportunity a stage at a time to ensure that the quality of their service remains and is not destroyed by the lure of expansion and money.
Their main challenge according to CEO Muneeb Mushtaq is what all small start-up businesses should initially aim to ensure that all feedback from users is fully appreciated and acted upon.
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