Interview: Lucas London, general manager of Airtasker

Airtasker is taking on the likes of TaskRabbit with its online noticeboard platform.

Lucas London, general manager for Airtasker explains what methods of marketing that the software firm is using to stay ahead of the competition.

Tell us more about Airtasker. When was it founded and why?

Airtasker is a marketplace that connects people and businesses with members of the local community who are able to complete tasks to earn additional money. We’re an evolution of your local noticeboard, leveraging technology to help members of the community come together in a trusted environment to create working opportunities.

The idea for Airtasker came about in 2011 when our co-founder, Tim Fung, was moving apartments in Sydney and asked his mate Ivan (who runs a chicken and chips factory and owns a small truck used to make deliveries) to help with all of those everyday jobs that needed to be done when moving – like cleaning, packing boxes, moving, assembling IKEA furniture and setting up the wifi router. After helping out with all of these jobs, Ivan turned to Tim and said: “Did you know this is the fourth time I’ve been asked to help someone move apartments? And it’s all because of this truck!” This is what got Fung thinking and then Airtasker was born.

Fung’s own background includes several entrepreneurial stints. Originally planning to become a hotelier, Fung instead got into investment banking at Macquarie Bank for five years, before becoming a celebrity manager for Chic, a management company based in Sydney.

The main goal of the business is to empower people to realise the value of their skills and earn more money.

How much initial investment did the company need to start and where did it come from? What was the money used for/how was the product developed?

Airtasker is an established business in Australia which launched in 2012 and is now responsible for over $100 million in Tasker earnings per year. The team were able to raise £26.3 million in funding in March 2018 from VC firms including Skyfield Capital, Exto Partners and Morning Crest Capital to further grow the business in Australia and launch in London.

The funding that has been allocated to the London launch has been used to develop the product for the UK market and build a UK team with the required marketing spend to launch at scale in London.

What marketing did the company employ to maximise exposure?

Digital marketing has been an effective way of building initial marketplace liquidity. We work with our agency Journey Further to execute the strategy, which has a significant focus on PPC.

The business is however focused not to rely solely on paid channels but instead to build a strong brand, which the Australian team successfully executed through PR, multi-channel marketing and the hugely successful ‘Like A Boss’ TV campaign.

The UK team will work hard to grow the brand awareness in London and position the business to demonstrate how the product differentiates from the market. This includes building trust and showcasing the breadth of jobs available to be completed and the advantages of the marketplace model.

At launch we have focused a lot of energy on how a normal startup gains initial traction via growth hacks, events and marketing activations.

Talk about the company’s growth trajectory, from being founded to establishing revenue, to covering costs, to moving into profit.

The UK business can operationally leverage the Sydney office, which is why we have built a team here that is small and experienced. Airtasker is a software business requiring little operational staff so our team in the UK is very marketing focused.

In our current stage in London it’s important to focus on growth to build the marketplace before targeting profitability. The Australian business still continues to grow at a fast rate but is at a different stage to the UK. It has taken investment, time and hard work to get there.

We will be able to reach that point at a faster rate here, although it is important to understand the market opportunity and invest in growth accordingly.

How important is an inspirational figurehead to a scale-up company?

Many early-stage businesses do not provide the structure and stability more established businesses can. Working in a startup requires commitment, hard work and agility. It is extremely important that the team is led by management that inspire, motivate and most importantly empower them.

The team is the most important part of the business. At Airtasker we have focused on a recruitment process that enables us to hire top talent and incentivise them correctly. It is then extremely important for us to give staff the autonomy and ownership to do what they have been hired for.

When tasked with building the UK team I focused on people with specific experience and knowledge in areas that differ from mine. Whilst it is important to have an understanding of those skills, this has been an effective way to build a strong and highly skilled team. It is paramount to then trust in their knowledge and ensure they have the tools and autonomy to deliver.

It is also key that leaders show commitment, hustle and desire to get their hands dirty. Whilst we have recruited experienced staff, the startup environment requires individuals to have a broad role. The leader has to be prepared to do the same that they expect from their team. As an example, my Head of Operations and I spent a Sunday moving a fridge across London to ensure an early Task on the platform was completed.

As the business moves at speed and grows, a leader also needs to be able to adapt. When I joined the business nine months ago I worked alone in my kitchen, now I am leading a team of seven in London. As the business goes through the different stages of growth your role changes so it’s important to have a strong network of peers and advisors that you can turn to for advice. There is a strong network of Australian startups such as SafetyCulture and CultureAmp in London that have been a useful source, and we have a very experienced management team and board in Airtasker that I am able to turn to.

What specific advice would you give to scale-up companies looking to build their company to exit?

Invest in the “machine” that is your company and make sure your job isn’t critical to the day-to-day operations of the company. This usually means building an amazing team of people around you – especially a really strong leadership team. Acquirers and investors are looking for a company that will keep growing without the founder needing to be there pushing it every day. Whilst it might feel great to be involved in every decision and have people wanting your input all the time – it’s not a great way to build value in the company!

Further reading on entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur interview, Michelle Kennedy, CEO of Peanut

Michael Somerville

Michael Somerville

Michael was senior reporter for from 2018 to 2019.

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