Jessica Jones is a stay-at-home mother of two in New Orleans. Her six-year-old daughter and two-and-a-half year-old special needs son keep her busy, yet she has managed to make over $600 in the past year — without ever interrupting her daily routine with her kids.
Justin Neville is a senior at Weber State University. A business administration major with a concentration in resource management, he’s considers himself unemployed — yet has earned nearly $600 in a little over two months.
Chris Mok was laid off from his advertising job in 2009, and has been job searching ever since. He’s been able to support himself and his family since mid-2011, though, and has recently been too busy to even job search the way he wants to.
Jones, Neville and Mok aren’t doing anything illegal. Instead, they represent a growing number of people who are doing what has traditionally been defined as temp work, but who are finding the work in a decidedly nontraditional way: through apps on their smart phones.
“We realized that there were tons of apps out there with coins and badges but no one was paying cash,” said Rick West, co-founder one such app named Field Agent – a market research app. A Proctor & Gamble alum, he and his partners created the service in 2009 as a means of getting better information from the minds of shoppers into the hands of businesses developing consumer products. “Instead of paying people badges and points, we used PayPal to give them cash.”
Field Agent, along with Gigwalk, Task Rabbit and Lyft, are just four of over 775,000 mobile apps saturating the market at this moment. In the shadow of flashier apps like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, they might be easy to overlook. Instead, they’re standing out for their ability to put people to work.
Each app works slightly differently — Field Agent and Gigwalk focus on market research for large companies; Task Rabbit sends users on personal errands ranging from grocery shopping to paperwork filing while Lyft turns regular people into taxi drivers. However, the general premise is the same for all four: users download the app, create an account (which may include a background check and/or training to use the app and do the work), and start claiming jobs. Payments come after the job is complete, usually via a PayPal account. In Field Agent and Gigwalk, these jobs may include going to a local Walgreens and taking pictures of the way certain products are displayed or administering consumer surveys. The price of the jobs vary depending on what duties they entail, and sometimes start as low as a few bucks. But users say the payments quickly add up.
“It’s absolutely plausible that you could make $20 to $30 an hour,” said Neville, the college senior who has been using Gigwalk. “Really, it’s been a godsend for me. $600 goes a long way when you’re living on a college budget.”
While the founders of each app expected college students like Neville to be their primary workers, all four apps have users that run the gamut from stay-at-home moms to full-time real estate agents and contractors looking to supplement an inconsistent income.
Diane Hohen, a 48-year-old subcontractor in the Boston suburbs, falls into the latter category. She has been using Task Rabbit to supplement her contract work for nearly three years, and estimates the app has garnered her $10,000 to $15,000 per year. She noted that it was especially helpful the year her daughter got married – she netted $6000 delivering cupcakes, doing yard work, manning the coat-check at a club and even flying out to Houston to act as a courier for a company in Boston.
The work may not always be glamorous, but the idea is certainly catching on. Task Rabbit has a wait-list filled with more than 10,000 people; Gigwalk employs 220,000 workers across 6,000 cities; Field Agent sees 20,000 to 30,000 downloads a week. Lyft, the ride-sharing service, is newer and only available to people living in the San Francisco area at the moment, but is setting its sights on other cities across the U.S and hopes to announce expansion plans soon.
“We took a gamble that people would be into doing some of this stuff. That turned out to be absolutely true,” said Matt Crampton, founder of Gigwalk. “They loved being able to plan work around their day.”
For all the high-tech modernity of this particular way of doing business, Logan Green, founder of Lyft, takes a more nostalgic view of the service they’re providing. “In a way, we’re relying on neighbors for services, instead of strictly companies,” he said. “It’s kind of allowing us to go back to the basics.”