There’s a fundamental difference in the way the US sees opportunity and the way India sees it. In India, when there are scores of unemployed with few skills, they are drafted into a government program like NREGA, which promises a minimum wage for a large part of the year, doing menial labour. The single biggest achievement of the program was that it dispensed the money directly into the bank account of the person doing the job since money on such welfare measures is siphoned off by the local politician and his cronies, as soon as it hits the Treasury on fictitious names. In India, we expect the government to come up with solutions. In the US, they come up with new business models – cloaked in new age jargon and Valley Speak.
Task Rabbit is a site where people who need errands to be run post their requirements and get responses from the thousands of ‘Task Rabbits’ or runners to execute. The persons providing the jobs put up the money they are willing to pay and the registered runners bid to execute. The site takes a cut out of the revenue. From plain vanilla courier jobs to helping assemble Ikea furniture, there are the unusual requests as well – a woman hired help to function as a human alarm clock every morning for a week. Or a job requiring office colleagues’ desks to be wrapped in cellophane. Initially released as an iPhone app, Task Rabbit was able to attract a large number of users because it made putting up a job and paying for it extremely easy. Jobs did not have to be described in words – a picture would do. Or you could record a description of the task. Ditto for payment. The credit card number did not need to be entered – just a photo of the card would suffice. The difference in the interface between the web and the iPhone is striking. And on Facebook, the Task Rabbit of the Month is prominently featured. So there are components of the web, mobile and social that have been well integrated and play up facets to leverage strengths according to the platform.
Task Rabbit sees itself as fulfilling local business needs and getting neighbours close to each other since most of the tasks require to be completed in the same neighbourhood. Moving, picking up laundry, setting up furniture and painting are all tasks that cannot be outsourced overseas. So how does this differ from the requests on Craigslist? For one, the site screens each of the people before it allows them to function as runners. Given the problems that a bed and board site – AirBNB faced recently with a guest trashing the host’s flat. Once a service gets popular, other headaches appear. That requires fresh solutions – but in the US, they won’t expect the government to come in and sort out the issue.