Tell us about your business!
I started doing work on TaskRabbit a little over a year ago. After 15 years in academia—I was a history professor at a university in Denver—I decided to leave academia and find something else to do. I became a land surveyor, which is what I'm doing today with my own company. But I found that after I would do a job someplace (I'd be out for a couple of weeks), I'd come home and they wouldn't have something else for me to do for a few weeks. I wanted to find something that I could do in order to fill the time between surveying jobs. I discovered TaskRabbit and started to do tasks in a variety of categories.
What industries or categories do you operate in?
When I first started on TaskRabbit, the majority of what I was doing was moving, and I still do a lot of moving and heavy lifting. Then I started to expand into home repairs. I'm not a tradesman, but I can do a variety of fairly simple home repairs, so I do those. I do furniture construction, IKEA, and whatnot. I’ve been doing a lot of painting, too. I also do other things-- when it snows, I do snow removal. And I have built a pretty sizable clientele at this point of people who have me come out to do a variety of odd jobs around their places. In the summertime and in the fall I do a ton of yard work and gardening. I'm in the process right now of becoming a Master Gardener in Colorado. I'm hoping to continue to expand that part of my business as well.
What has it been like to start in one area, namely moving, and then expand your business into different categories? What type of learning or investment has that taken?
It sort of happened organically; I confess to not really having a plan. I started doing this as a way to fill time in between land surveying jobs. As I've gone on, the learning process has been about bookkeeping and managing my commitments to clients—learning how to meet everybody's needs without over-stretching myself. I think one of the things that people do when they first start off [Tasking] is that they over-commit. I learned the hard way, pretty fast, not to over-commit. Now what I've discovered is that it's important to find the right balance between your life and the work that you do so that you can keep your clients and yourself happy.
With balancing commitments in mind, how do you decide whether to get into a new category and make the investments required to do so?
The things I did at first didn't require a lot of overhead-- moving, for instance. I did invest early on in some straps and a nice dolly. But other than that, it's the vehicle and it's a dolly, that’s all you need. As I started to add more tasks, I obviously needed more stuff. For home repairs, I had to get a variety of hand tools and I was finding that I would go to a job and discover on the job, “I need this to complete this job” and I would add that tool to the collection. I'm at a pretty good place now where it's not very often anymore that I encounter something where I don't have what I need. With painting, obviously, there's a fair number of tools involved. So I've acquired a lot of that stuff, ladders, and whatnot. Of course, you get better at doing these things, because again—I was new to all of this a year ago. And so you just learn by doing, and as you get better at doing, you realize new and improved ways to do things, and so that means acquiring new tools and whatnot for getting the job done.
That’s where the Level Advance that I took a while ago really helped me out. I took an $800 Advance and I used that to buy things like an upgraded power drill and a couple of sets of bits. I used it to buy a number of gardening implements and some snow removal stuff. So that was really, really helpful.
Why did you decide to apply for a Level Advance?
There was a promotion through TaskRabbit saying, “Hey, check out this opportunity. There's this company called Level. You can get an advance to buy equipment and then they have cool terms for paying it back.” So I checked it out and the guy who helped me was really helpful and it was a really simple process. I chose it because it was easy and because I felt like the terms for repaying made sense, as opposed to using a credit card or something like that.
Since it’s almost yard work season, I'd love to talk a bit more about yard work. What have your experiences in yard work been like?
They've been really good. I've done a variety of things. A lot of people want you to come out and do the stuff that they don't want to do, the non-fun parts of gardening like weeding and moving piles of rocks and things like that. I'm an enthusiastic gardener. It's something I enjoy anyway, so once [clients] realize that I have a degree of competency, they start to include me in the more sophisticated aspects of their projects. For example, this spring I'll be helping a couple of clients I pulled weeds for last summer with planting new garden plots. So once you've demonstrated that you've got some ability, people will have you back to do some of the fun stuff.
But, you know, I had to invest early on in a good set of kneepads. And I did some research because being on your knees pulling weeds can really take it out of you. So you start to learn the things that you need to acquire to do a good job. You start to think to yourself while you're down pulling dandelions out of somebody’s yard, “There's gotta be a better way to do this.” So as you investigate those things, you learn new techniques to get things done. So all of that requires investment, of course.
What essentials would a Tasker who's never done yard work need?
They absolutely need a set of knee pads. That's a game-changer. The first few times you're out there crawling around in somebody’s yard without any knee pads and you hurt your back and knees, it makes it impossible to work. But then, of course, it dawned on me that there's gotta be a better way to do it, so I acquired a pair of kneepads and that extended my ability to work by quite a bit. The other essential piece, which might be not something you immediately think of, is you absolutely have to have a pair of earbuds. You can pull weeds all day if you have a pair of earbuds because you can listen to podcasts and music. I listen to books on Audible. I can stay out in somebody’s yard all day long doing that.
Is there any other advice that you would have for business owners that are thinking about getting into the yard work space?
I would advise people to educate themselves about gardening. There's a lot of stuff that isn't intuitive, that you should actually spend some time educating yourself on if you ever want to get beyond doing just the grunt labor, like moving this pile of rocks from here to there, raking out mulch, etc. You need to learn about plants and learn about the zones (the zone that you're in as far as what can be planted and how to plant it). Homeowners will ask you about that stuff— a lot of people go buy a bunch of plants, bring them home, and they don't know what they're doing with them. So if you can bring that expertise, that is valuable to folks and they will have you back to help take care of their garden.