Every startup has its origin story. Muneeb Mushtaq’s started while he was still studying commerce at the University of Toronto, and his mother tasked him with finding a plumber to repair a leaky kitchen faucet.
He soon found himself trawling around Craigslist and Kijiji for people up to the task, which only complicated itself when it came to back-and-forths over the problem and the rate. Millennial that he is, the thought of just looking up A-1 Plumbers in the Yellow Pages just didn’t occur to him.
“I have hardly been to Yellow Pages in my life,” says the 21-year old. “Besides, 90 per cent of people on Yellow pages also post on Kijiji and Craigslist.”
And so, he thought, there must be a better way.
AskforTask started as a quick proof-of-concept site Mushtaq and his brother launched in 2012. The concept is a simple twist on the Craigslist concept: AskForTask users post a task along with what they’re willing to pay for it.
For instance: You might advertise the task of fixing a faucet for $40. Respondents can accept the offer, or make counter-offers for either less, to undercut others, or even for more, should they either need or are worth it. People who post the tasks pay only the amount that they advertise; the website takes its cut from respondents’ payouts.
Their test proved successful: About 8,000 people signed up and transacted about $90,000 of tasks in the months that followed.
So Mushtaq and his younger brother, Nabeel, also a university student, decided to get serious. They raised about $100,000 in seed money from family in friends, hired a developer and spent months retooling the site from the ground up. The new site launched this past May, and saw about $250,000 of transactions pass through in that month alone.
Sites that farm out work to willing labourers aren’t new: Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is famous for enrolling humans into repetitive tasks, and there’s a thriving market for freelance talent on sites Freelancer.com. But Mushtaq’s site has the benefit of simplicity and focus, aimed as it is at simple, one-off tasks.
Many tasks are seasonal and property-related – we’re into spring cleaning and yardwork now, along with a steady trade in IKEA furniture assembly. But other users have taken the service in unexpected directions. Condo dwellers are willing to pay $10 for someone to make a beer run, and others in the same building have proven willing to take it. At the other extreme, one user put up a $250,000 homebuilding task. (There were several takers, which Mushtaq had to wrangle personally on account of the job’s size.)
The firm has grown to 10 employees, led by Mushtaq, who’s since graduated, and is moving from a small space in Mississauga to downtown Toronto; an app version of the site is in the pipes.
“We weren’t expecting anything like this at all,” says Mushtaq. “I wanted to be an entrepreneur all my life, but I didn’t know that it was going to come so soon.”
He pauses a moment.
“I still think I’m a little late. Nowadays people start when they’re 14 or 15.”
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