When Sam Burke, 32, decided to quit her job last January and launch her dog-care business Pugs of Anarchy, from her Toronto home, she went through the same process many budding entrepreneurs do.
"I made my website," she said, "and publicized my business with flyers, on Craigslist, Kijiji, a Facebook page and through a lot of word of mouth."
She also, however, maintained her presence on DogVacay.com, an online pet-care service based in Santa Monica, Calif. Clients of DogVacay can peruse a list of people offering doggie daycare or daily walks, chose one of them, and book and pay for a session. Ms. Burke had already been earning extra money boarding and walking other people's dogs through the on-demand site.
While Ms. Burke reckons she could have successfully started her small business without DogVacay, the site has been helpful. For one thing, she was covered by their insurance until she could afford her own. It also helped her find new clients and draw them to her website, where she has posted positive reviews from satisfied customers.
In some cases, she said, "clients will subscribe with me on DogVacay and then go off on their own with me."
From Uber and Lyft to AskforTask and TaskRabbit, on-demand Web platforms are offering a risk-free method of generating business and revenue and attracting a growing number of people who want to be their own boss.
Indeed, they are fostering a new class of entrepreneur. Since Muneeb Mushtaq started the beta-version of his errand-running platform AskforTask in 2012, business has doubled year over year, he said, and continues to expand.
His platform brings together anyone needing to "get stuff done," as the website announces, and so-called taskers – painters, plumbers, cleaners and handy people. If you don't want to rake your leaves yourself, or are hopeless at electrics, AskforTask will provide a list of workers who are happy to come to your home and solve your problem.
"The main idea behind this is to empower individuals," said Mr. Mushtaq, who is chief executive officer and co-founder of the Toronto-based service. "Entrepreneurs who are looking to set up their own shop get access to the kind of demand that they would otherwise have to spend a lot of money on finding."
For Chakameh Shafii, the on-demand economy is also empowering consumers. She co-founded TranQool, a website that offers cognitive behavioural therapy via the Internet, eight months ago. Not only are its rates lower than the usual per-hour cost of seeing a therapist, she said, but users can take advantage of therapy sessions at home on weekends, or before or after their workday.
"It's comfort, and it's accessibility," she said. "So you no longer need to wait months to see a counsellor at a community health centre or a hospital." The service is available only in Ontario so far, but Ms. Shafii said she will expand throughout Canada in the next 12 months.
But would-be entrepreneurs face challenges when they rely on on-demand platforms to help them set up a viable, independent business, said Marvin Ryder, professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business
"Here in Hamilton, but also in Toronto, you would meet dozens if not hundreds of entrepreneurs who have created businesses in the space," said Prof. Ryder. "But what they are discovering is that while they can get some business, it is not the gold mine they were hoping for.
"I think we have begun to see some people sour on it."
In smaller urban centres especially, there is simply not enough demand for on-demand.
To bring enough revenue, small business owners need to be on as many platforms as they can, he added, "because consumers are novelty seekers. They will shift from platform to platform and check them out."
That means entrepreneurs have to be extremely well organized. If they double-book, for example, and need to cancel a job, they could face a fine from the platform.
The booking site also takes a cut of the tasker's earnings, anywhere from 15 to 30 per cent.
The entrepreneur's goal should be to transform on-demand jobs to a reliable network of their own customers through word of mouth and other means, he said.
"Then you can actually withdraw from some of these platforms," said Mr. Ryder. "Instead of sharing the wealth with them, you keep more of the wealth for yourself. You have to treat it with the same rigour as you would running your own business: I am in this for myself – how do I maximize my revenue stream?"
Mr. Mushtaq, however, said AskforTask offers three tiers of hourly rates for its taskers, and rewards those who take on more hours with its top rate of pay. "Plus, on the higher tier, jobs come up to those people before everyone else."
These workers also get greater access to customers looking for fixed weekly or monthly arrangements, "and that increases their odds of making more and more money," he said.
"What a lot of people who are outside the on-demand economy don't realize is that the people who are really serious about making money and who are really passionate about being empowered by these platforms are the people who get rewarded the most."
For Ms. Burke, meanwhile, her relationship with DogVacay is simply part of her public relations strategy. She likes the site, but she hopes to see a time when Pugs of Anarchy will be busy enough and big enough to allow her to withdraw from it.
"This is my business so I would love to see my business grow," she said.
Listen to the real-life dramas of Canadian entrepreneurs in the new Globe and Mail podcast The Risk Takers.