The Sharing Economy

TaskRabbit Adds Insurance to Make Trusting Strangers Easier


TaskRabbit has always been aware that using its service requires users to suspend a bit of disbelief. The online marketplace invites people to post odd jobs and perfect strangers to bid against one another for the assignment. If all goes well, this is a potentially significant convenience for people with money and smartphones, and a nice way to make a few bucks for those with extra time. But what if things don’t go well?

Starting on Thursday, the company will be offering $1 million in insurance for property damage or bodily injury for people who post tasks or carry them out, if it’s the result of negligence by, for example, the person performing a task. It is also insuring losses due to theft up to $10,000. TaskRabbit itself covers the premiums and deductible of the insurance.

TaskRabbit says this is a big step toward convincing people who haven’t used the service that it is safe—while also insisting that everything has been perfectly safe all along. “People said they wanted a more robust and systematic way to know that every task is covered,” says Jamie Viggiano, the company’s head of marketing.

One by one, every darling of the so-called sharing economy has had to confront some question about insurance. TaskRabbit is in the midst of a broader rethink, though, because it hasn’t enjoyed the vertiginous success of Uber and Airbnb. Originally it prided itself on being completely casual, then last year tried to become more of an online temp agency, and eventually had to lay off employees while changing the way it does things. Adding insurance is part of a broader overhaul that also goes live on Thursday.

The biggest change is getting rid of the auction format. Instead of posting tasks and waiting for people to bid on them, clients will now post a task and let the algorithms match them up with people willing to carry it out. Essentially, TaskRabbit learned what EBay figured out several years earlier: People get sick of auctions and just want their stuff quicker. TaskRabbit also found that people looking to do tasks had to spend hours each week scrolling through jobs looking for a good fit.

The company is also making another notable change. Until now it has called the people who offer to put together Ikea furniture or carry donations to the Salvation Army “taskrabbits.” Now they’re going for the potentially less demeaning phrase “taskers.”

“We actually heard from our old taskrabbits, currently taskers, that they didn’t necessarily like the word ‘taskrabbit’ as a reigning word for them, as people,” says Viggiano. “Out of respect for them, we changed it.”

Brustein is a writer for Businessweek.com in New York.

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