Wash and wax an airplane once a month; assemble an Ikea cabinet; back up a hard drive; teach iPod basics. These are actual jobs posted on HelpAroundTown, an online marketplace dedicated to microjobs — errands and chores that could easily be done by a neighbor or friend.
“So many of us have long to-do lists, and we don’t know where to turn when it comes to small jobs — things that don’t require a contractor or professional service,” said Reem Yared, 47, of Lexington, founder of the “hyperlocal” website.
After 15 years of consulting to startups, Yared launched HelpAroundTown four years ago with the goal of creating work for those hit hardest by the recession: teenagers, retirees, and people working from home.
Obviously the idea of a local job board isn’t new — what makes HelpAroundTown different?
One upside of the recent economic downturn is the rise of the ‘sharing economy,’ where individuals can share their skills, spare time, and personal assets to make extra money or to find available help. While many online marketplaces exist, some have an urban focus, while others act as a middle man and charge for their services. HelpAroundTown is designed to be a neighbor-to-neighbor network that establishes ties in the local community.
Why was your Web-based service launched in response to a growing need for part-time work or volunteer opportunities?
Youth unemployment rates have risen at a staggering pace across the country. It’s become increasingly difficult for high school students to find summer jobs — or any work in general. When I started looking into the data, I began wondering, “How can I create work for these kids?” especially since they can’t go around knocking on doors like they used to. So there could be someone right next door looking for work that you could hire. Even if a teen can’t drive, HelpAroundTown allows a user to customize job alerts based on location, so you can find a job within a mile of your house.
What sort of jobs are most in demand?
The three big categories are moving things, yard work, and snow removal, and caregiving of pets, seniors, and kids. But we also get requests such as categorizing a 3,000 book library or a finding a DJ to play music for a nonprofit fund-raiser. One woman had a small bookcase that she needed taken down the stairs. It’s a perfect example of a small job that she couldn’t hire a moving company for but she still needed help. And both the person doing the hiring and the person taking the job are able to rate each other, as a reputation-building mechanism. You want to know who you are dealing with.
Some say women make the best entrepreneurs — would you agree?
I would say that I’m way more cautious about the money I use than male entrepreneurs might be. I need to look my investors in the eyes and know I’m using their resources in the most efficient way possible. Also the ability to multitask and manage not only this endeavor but also family and social obligations.
You have two teenage sons. Have they used HelpAroundTown to find jobs?
One of my sons got a paid summer job as a historical tour guide on Lexington Green, thanks to HelpAroundTown.
It was a great experience for him: He got to learn and teach history while meeting new people every day and earning money – a big deal as a teenager.
Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.