Growing a Task Marketplace in Australia to over $2 Million in Transactions with Tim Fung, Co-Founder & CEO of Airtasker

Tim, please introduce yourself…

Hey, my name is Tim Fung and I’m one of the co-founders of Airtasker – a trusted community marketplace for people to outsource tasks, find local services or complete flexible jobs to earn money – online or via mobile.

Together with my co-founder Jono Lui and one of our investors, we also started a co-working space called Tank Stream Labs and before this, we were both founding team members and an investor in Australia’s first low cost mobile provider, amaysim.

I’m also involved with a number of other startups including Joe Button and Circuit Club.

Before that I spent five years in M&A at Macquarie Bank and also worked as an agent at Chic Management, one of Australia’s largest talent representation agencies.

When I’m not working I love watching old American TV shows on Netflix with my partner and I am obsessed with driving cars and Formula 1.

What’s the story behind creating Airtasker?

Jono Lui and I came across the idea for Airtasker in 2011 when I was moving apartments and had so many tasks that needed to be done like packing and moving boxes, assembling our new flat pack furniture and then cleaning up the house that we were leaving.

At the time, we were working at amaysim (which was a small startup at the time) and had seen the massive potential in the local online economies being built.

That got us thinking that there had to be a more trusted place where people could find other people to help them with all of these types of tasks – especially since there are so many people looking around for jobs to earn extra money (over 600,000 people across Australia earn their income by doing more than one job).

After a few months working from Jono’s living room after hours, we finally launched and although it feels like an achievement to launch a company, it’s really only then that the “real fun” begins.

Since then, every day has been a really fun and educational journey, but not without it’s extremely stressful moments!

What does a typical work day look like for you?

So the one thing that’s really cool (but sometimes stressful) about running a startup is that everyday is totally different. Here’s what I aim for in terms of a good, productive day:

– Wake up at 6am sharp

– Do some exercise. It may sound like a cliché but I’ve found that staying fit and sweating a little will make you a lot more efficient at work – and it only costs you 45 mins or so. Embarrassingly, I’m currently doing Shaun T’s Insanity workout.

– Get into the office by 8 and before getting distracted by news, emails etc, write a list of 5 tasks that need to be ticked off that day – in order. This will make sure that you are disciplined and get just what you need done.

– At 8.30 I try to schedule most of my external meetings. Appointments in the middle of the morning or afternoon tend to break the flow and end up using up more time.

– During the day, I’m in the thick of things – setting up business development meetings, analysing marketing metrics and working with the product team on new features and optimisation.

– Sometimes I have a late external meeting or go to an industry event but I’m usually out the door by 8 – ready for bed and another day at the coal face!

How’s traction working out so far? Any big milestones?

As everyone warned us, there’s nothing harder in business than starting a two-sided marketplace and it turns out that it’s true!

We had a lot of sleepless nights in the first 6 months, but once we started to see solid traction and statistical upwards growth, there’s nothing more fun than growing a marketplace.

In terms of metrics we’ve now processed more than $2 million in Australian jobs have facilitated some awesome tasks, like picking up an engagement ring in Texas, lining up for the first iPhone 5 in the world and running jobs for some pretty high profile celebrities.

What challenges did you face when launching, and how did you overcome them?

Again, without wanting to use another cliché I think one of the biggest challenges is making sure that you (the founder) are efficient/productive and at the same time, putting together a team of people that you can trust and that are genuinely passionate about the vision and the business.

What are you doing to foster company culture?

Creating a good company culture is another one of those things that sounds easy and for the very logical type of people, probably seems like something that is secondary to nailing a product design or raising capital.

What I’ve learnt over the past years is that it’s super critical to create a good working environment for the team and to put that in terms of numbers, if you have a team of 5 people and you can create a workplace that makes them say 10% more efficient, then you’ve just created half an FTE.

That said, I think it’s the small, inexpensive things that create a good company culture:

– Fostering random, non-work related conversation: Simple stuff like eating together a few times per week (not fancy lunches or anything)

– Getting the right office space: Find a place where people will like to work and don’t mind staying back or putting in the extra hours. eg. We found that our design and engineering staff really needed an office where they could find some quiet time.

– Creating passion: Hand over genuine responsibility for tasks and let people make mistakes, rather than trying to prevent every little mistake yourself which eventually leads to people not caring about what they work on.

You’ve raised a round of financing. What advice can you share with entrepreneurs looking for funding?

The first advice I would give is that if you’re serious about your idea and you really believe that you can build a company then try to take money out of the equation in terms of downside risk.

You so often hear of entrepreneurs who start out but can’t get traction or scale because they don’t have resources which is probably one of the biggest differentiators between tech startups and traditional business – you need to give your startup a shot at being successful and this usually means that you need money.

In terms of funding for seed stage startups in Sydney, the scene has improved and there are quite a few VC funds coming up like our fund, Tank Stream Ventures as well as quite a few successful angel investors.

My advice on getting started with raising fund:

– Get an expert supporter involved early – good sanity check on the business model and a positive signal for potential investors.

– Don’t spend weeks building financial models – most people who are deep diving into individual line items in the month-by-month financials are probably wasting your time. Careful money management is critical, but you need to have the flexibility to follow your instincts.

– Fail fast and get collect learnings – After you raise, use funds to make controlled tests based on your hypotheses. It’s critical to learn and document each test as the IP and knowledge is what investors and potential acquirers value.

What strategies are you using to market Airtasker?

1. Sales funnel optimisation – for early stage concepts, it’s critical to get your product and UX right so that you’re not throwing lots of traffic at something that is inefficient.

We realised early on that product development was where we could make the biggest gains, although this is probably a little less relevant for established business models, like ecommerce because you can benefit from previously successful companies’ learnings.

2. Creating quality content – You can’t really trick Google anymore with short cuts, back links or content farms so it’s important to generate quality content that is genuinely useful.

We’re working mainly on expert guides and suggestions for how users can get the most out of the Airtasker marketplace.

3. Becoming searchable – In our industry, you really need to be there for your customers when they have a need for a specific task or service and the most obvious way to capture this demand is through Google marketing, combined with a slick sales funnel.

How does being based in Sydney impact the business?

As a local city-network business, Sydney represents a fairly big opportunity and a quality audience.

The startup scene is also really improving in terms of availability of funding, awareness, adoption and government support such as tax concessions.

It’s also possible to “fly under the radar” in Sydney. In the US, although the market opportunity might be 10x bigger, the competition is 20x more aggressively funded which means you need to move extremely hard and fast to have a chance – often well ahead of the speeds that would be efficient in terms of meeting market demand.

That said, being based in Sydney is probably quite disadvantageous for companies who need to reach a global audience in order to get meaningful scale as most of the large-scale global internet giants are all based in the US and their support / adoption / partnership is pretty key.

Overall though, I think the progress and the scene in Australia is as good as anywhere to get started and when you start out, you should be focused on just getting the micro-level of your business right, not focusing on how you’re going to do a partnership with Google or IPO on the NASDAQ!

How do you see the startup (and investment) ecosystem developing in Sydney?

Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen huge change – mainly due to the network effects of communities that are building up, like Tank Stream Labs, Fishburners and great startup programs like Startmate and Founders Institute.

Funding opportunities as well as institutional / corporate involvement is also on the up, and with successful case studies like Big Commerce and Freelancer proving that great companies can be built in Australia, I can only see us moving forward.

That said, we aren’t going to create a mini Silicon Valley – Australian companies will be uniquely different and will require a different approach.

With the depth of funding available, Australian startups will likely need to focus a little more on the business model and revenue and as such, will be less likely to achieve the 10,000x multiples like Facebook but will also have a lot less spectacular failures like the Color app and a lot more sustainable businesses.

What’s next for Airtasker?

The online outsourcing industry is tipped to grow by more than 400% in the next 4 years to $5 billion and that’s before you look at the opportunity to take even more jobs online via hyperlocal networks and marketplaces, exemplified by Uber.

Last year we two-folded our engineering team and at the beginning of 2014, we launched our brand new website platform which was our biggest investment in 2013 but now positions us really well to build out new features and take advantage of the mobile commerce opportunity.

In terms of products, we’re building an Airtasker “store” feature so that people can “sell their skills” online (intentionally vague description!) and also scaling the scope of Airtasker geographically.

We see huge potential to create opportunities for people to make a living outside of traditional 9 to 5 jobs and contributing to the evolution of the employment sector is really exciting. Bring it on.

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