Sharpen 900 pencils for $150?

From left: Mr Garreth Peh, founder of TaskAmigo, Mr Andrew Fam, who takes care of the site’s PR & business development, and Ms Dawn Lee, who is in charge of customer management and development.

Fancy picking out brown M&Ms into a bowl for a fee? Or whipping up a six-course feast for a Father's Day celebration?

More people here are hiring complete strangers through online portals - called service networking sites - to check off their to-do list.

At least five such ventures, all started by locals, have sprung up over the last few months.

They follow in the wake of the extremely popular TaskRabbit site in the US.

The concept is simple: Someone has an errand and puts it up on the site.

People either bid to do the job, or agree to do it for a pre-set fee.

The idea has rapidly gained a following in the US. Dubbed the eBay for odd jobs, TaskRabbit was launched in Boston by software engineer Leah Busque, and now has outposts in cities such as Chicago, New York , Seattle and San Francisco.

Ms Busque told the New York Times (NYT) in a November interview last year that her website had been raking in US$4 million (S$5 million) in bids per month for tasks.

Full-time job

Many are making errand-running a full-time job, with the most active users making up to US$5,000 a month, said the NYT report.

As for the Singapore versions, the five sites have between 50 and 300 users each.

It is a nascent business, their founders admit.

Said Mr George Moh, the 23-year-old founder of service networking site Juubs: "Singapore is a very densely-populated country and there is a good chance there will be someone out there who is able and willing to help you with your tasks and daily errands."

The key is connecting the person willing to do the job and the person needing it done, and that is where they think their sites fulfil a need.

Another errands website, TaskAmigo, was founded by 23-year-old undergraduate Garreth Peh. He said his website has attracted about 300 members since its launch two months ago.

So far, it has completed 17 errands.

The online start-ups here earn by charging members transaction fees once a task has been completed.

While founders of such websites maintain that there is still some way to go in raising awareness, they are convinced that with time, the concept will kick off in a big way.

"There's a latent pool of labour supply; skills and services not being tapped...Technology like ours brings flexibility and speed. With more aggressive marketing, it could definitely take off," Mr Peh said.

Recently, undergraduate Aldrich Ho, 23, took up a job on TaskAmigo to sharpen more than 900 pencils.

For four to five hours, he worked towards completing the task with the help of a few friends, and they were paid about $150 for their efforts.

"The concept of errand-running for a fee is very cool. It gives poor students like me a chance to earn money, although I may not do the same pencil-sharpening task again. It was quite tiring and my wrists hurt," he said with a chuckle.

So what is the main difference between the US and local versions?

From left: Mr Garreth Peh, founder of TaskAmigo, Mr Andrew Fam, who takes care of the site’s PR & business development, and Ms Dawn Lee, who is in charge of customer management and development.

The high unemployment rate in the US - 8.2 per cent last month - has contributed to TaskRabbit's success, said Mr Ken Toh, 28, founder of FlagAHero, another service networking site.

On the other hand, Singapore is experiencing low levels of unemployment, which is now at about 2 per cent.

Accountability

The people running the local versions of the sites say they try to ensure accountability: Both errand-runners and those who post tasks can leave public feedback for each other, which helps to deter errant behaviour, such as accepting a job but not showing up.

Site managers also actively monitor the requests posted on the sites, Mr Toh said.

"Requests involving drugs or prostitution are clearly no-nos,"he added.

Some sites also encourage members to meet with founders for face-to-face interviews.

Once they have been verified, members receive badges which vouch for their reliability. These are displayed on their online profiles.

Founders hope the sites can eventually help to foster a sense of community and a helping spirit among Singaporeans.

benitaay@sph.com.sg

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