Tim Fung is the co-founder and CEO of Airtasker, a trusted community marketplace for people to find local services or complete tasks to earn money – online or via mobile. He is also one of the founders of co-working space Tank Stream Labs and a director at online custom shirting startup, Joe Button.
A simple definition but one that couldn’t be more important or relevant for a business like Airtasker, where trust is what unifies a marketplace and social network. Trust is at the core of each and every one of the 40,000 tasks completed each month. Trust is what gives the business, and the community it has created, its own momentum and propels it forward through the principle of mutual benefit.
“The way trust manifests in our marketplace is what we call the reputation passport. The ratings, reviews and third party verified date allows you to be able to trust other people in the marketplace.”
Unlike an agency or centralised model, the platform invites the community to make decisions and suggestions. “It’s not our opinion of who the highest ranked plumber in Parana is, it’s the collective wisdom, the community’s opinion.”
Trust manifests more frequently when people are empowered, according to Tim. But to achieve this you need accountability and transparency. This is transparency with full visibility, where everyone can see exactly what’s happening in the marketplace.
Airtasker completed a successful IPO in March 2021 to raise funds to invest in further marketing.
The metrics by which they are judged are also decided by the community. Unlike ride sharing or a food delivery service, Airtasker is “infinitely horizontal”. As such, one standard doesn’t make sense, nor does it make sense to profess to be the experts.
“If you're hiring a cleaner, what might be important to you is that it's economical or reliable in terms of timing and punctuality. If you're hiring an architect to design an extension to your home, maybe the creativity is more important than the functionality.”
One of the gripes of freelancers or contractors is chasing unpaid invoices. The longer this takes the more imbalanced the relationship, the more unequal the trust. Airtasker keeps the agreed upon payment between the Tasker and customer in secure escrow, so the Tasker knows that the money is waiting for them as soon as the task is completed satisfactorily. “The mechanism for trust is a contract between the two parties, with a feedback loop to evaluate how the task was done.”
It’s interesting that this end-to-end contract between individuals establishes a sense of goodwill that may not be as forthcoming if the arrangement was between an individual and a large organisation. “There seems very little forgiveness if there is any kind of change or deviation to a service or good sold by a large company,” says Tim, “whereas for us there is a surprising level of flexibility.”
One of the reasons for this and an argument against any early naysayers of Airtasker, is how the platform and many like it have revealed that we are a lot kinder to each other than we think. According to Tim, complaints are rare, just one in a thousand may turn into an escalated issue.
Counter intuitively, or what Tim calls ‘unintuitively’, trust is the norm. Closing the loop helps but so too our human wiring to collaborate and cooperate for the greater good, or in the case of Airtasker, a clean gutter or repaired fence.
Many who criticised the platform early on claimed it would be a race to the bottom. A discount war where the lowest price wins the job. The opposite has proved to be true.
“When customers receive multiple quotes, 70% actually choose a more expensive quote.”
And a feature that allows an increase in the task price after completion is more popular than even Tim first imagined, and again seems ‘unintuitive’. 70% of requests to pay more come through from the customer saying, ‘I want to pay more’ rather than the tasker saying, ‘I need to be paid more’.
Tim attributes this to people interacting with each other and the human quality of wanting to really thank a stranger for helping out and doing a great job. Tim remembers, when he was a boy, that his mother always thanked tradespeople for helping. It was more than just a contract completed. It was a human interaction that built trust.
A business that created a framework of empowerment for Taskers and those seeking a task has applied the same principle to the teams within Airtasker.
“In order to really scale, you need to empower people to be able to do their job well. That requires you to start with faith but ideally over time, build trust rather than just rely on faith. And again, it comes through providing people with principles and context and then transparency and accountability.”
This was tested when Tim sent an email asking staff to work from 9am to 6pm. On reflection, he admits the message could have been better worded, but he stands by the principle of accountability.
Taskers complete over 40,000 jobs per month.
"Our mission statement is to empower people to realise the full value of their skills. What we really care about is support between teammates. That doesn't mean you need to be in the office past six, but it does mean you need to be accountable to your teammates because we're all working on our mission together.”
From 10 taskers including himself, fellow founder ‘Jono’ Liu and the small team in 2011, to 250,0000 taskers today, Tim reflects on the tangible value the business brings on a day-to-day basis, the thousands of moments of trust and the ultimate trade off that first inspired the business. That is giving people the freedom and empowerment of flexibility that may come with certain risks. Like driving a car on a freeway at one hundred kilometers per hour, if you applied the lens of what could go wrong, you would never build the road to start with.
Trust for Tim is not just part of the DNA of the business, it’s the bridge for people seeking mutual benefit. “If you give people the empowerment to do what they want to do, the outcomes are surprising, people are inherently kinder than you think and more willing to trust each other.” Again, Tim refers to this as ‘unintuitive’ but possibly it is as intuitive as it gets.