After loading my trunk, I drove to Petaluma and picked up an old stoplight that some guy had stolen several decades before. I then delivered that light to a man in Palo Alto who had purchased it on Craigslist for $50.
On this day of random task fulfillment, something changed inside me. For the first time, I felt I had truly become a rabbit.
By now, those familiar with San Francisco’s start-up scene may have picked up what I’m putting down. Yes, techies, I’m a runner for TaskRabbit.com, the website that connects people who need stuff done with people who want to get stuff done.
To understand how I ended up as a fluffer and a stoplight delivery gal, we must rewind to 2008 in Boston, where a woman named Leah Busque realized her golden retriever, Kobe, was out of food. Leah would normally just run out to get it, but she had dinner plans. That brought on a flash of inspiration: what if she could pay somebody nice from the Internets to run her errand?
On June 19 of last year, Leah opened a TaskRabbit’s second office in San Francisco (the first was in Boston). “The burrow,” as one employee calls it, is now a virtual home to 700-plus rabbit runners. The start-up has brought in multiple millions in investments, and has garnered attention from the Today Show , USA Today , and the Wall Street Journal . Google hired task rabbits for its employees. So did YouTube.
Tens of thousands of errands have been completed: examples include doing laundry, covering an office in cellophane as a prank, and helping a young man write a poem to win back his girlfriend.
Leah has been spotted around San Francisco performing odd jobs from her green scooter. She says everyone at her company is encouraged to take on tasks. “That’s a really important part of our company culture,” she adds.
You’d think that inappropriate gigs like assassinations or drug deliveries would have popped up by now, or that a runner would’ve stolen someone’s identity, but Leah says that’s not the case. “We background-check the runner base, and people generally stick to normal stuff,” she explains.
When my boyfriend suggested I become a rabbit to rehabilitate my ailing bank account (I’m a freelance journalist), he was joking. But I liked the idea. It sounded like an interesting way to stay a little busier.
Ten minutes later I was filling out my application. Three days later I had left my interview message on TaskRabbit’s voicemail, passed a background check, and transformed into a runner, “Ashley H.” In the rabbit world, everybody goes by a first name and last initial.
I didn’t know what odd jobs would come my way, but I knew that as somebody who is not so handy, not so prompt, and a total procrastinator about my own tasks, this job was going to be a challenge.
As it turned out, getting my first job was the hardest part. On TaskRabbit.com, jobs don’t just fly into inboxes. Runners have to bid, and the learning curve is steep as an attentive bunny’s ear.
Anxious to take on my first gig, I watched the site for a couple of days to figure out the process and to get a sense of what jobs were available. Some sounded cool: “help me shoot a commercial,” “write a creative thank-you note to my parents for everything.” Some, not so much: “get me coffee,” “do my laundry and clean my house.” Finally, a task appeared that seemed easy enough: “pick up cupcakes.”
I figured this would take about an hour and would cost me a couple of bucks of gas. I threw down what I thought was a reasonable bid — $20 — and waited. Eventually an e-mail arrived informing me that Jennifer O. had rejected my offer. I clicked on the task to see what had happened, and I saw that her job had expired. Hmm.
In my second attempt, I submitted another $20 bid — which seemed more than fair — to edit a paper for somebody’s psychology class. When I checked in again, I saw that Laura H. had won the gig. Laura H. is a five-star runner with a long, friendly profile and more than 20 tasks under her belt. I had no stars and no tasks.
I needed to talk to somebody about how to break the cycle of tasklessness. Joshua L., they said, was a wonder bunny.
When Joshua L. showed up for our 2 p.m. meeting at Café Reverie in Cole Valley, he had already completed two tasks — waiting in line for an iPad (he woke up at 4 a.m. to do this) and building Ikea furniture. He has his own tools for Ikea stuff, and no longer needs the instructions.
Joshua L. was wearing a blue TaskRabbit hat, and he handed me one of his TaskRabbit cards.
In all, he’s completed more than 100 jobs. Every “sender” (that’s what TaskRabbit calls those who post errands) who has rated him has given him five stars. Did I mention that Joshua L. is a 23-year-old on a break from college who doesn’t even own a car?
I explained my difficulty in getting assigned a job, and he had answers.
“Bid fast, bid low,” he said matter-of-factly. Then he let me in on a secret. If you are the first rabbit to bid below the price that the sender is willing to pay, you are automatically assigned the job.
The same day, I bid $9 to pick up somebody’s birthday present from Chronicle Books and deliver it to Annie L. I was hired instantly, and it was easy. Just like that, I was on the board with my first five-star review.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve delivered a small envelope from Cole Valley to the Intercontinental Hotel downtown and driven an AOL employee to the airport. I’ve served divorce papers in Pacific Heights, written a woman’s bio for TaskRabbit’s website, and dropped four Airbnb.com employees and one golden retriever at Dolores Park. I am proud to say that thus far, I am still a five-star runner. Turns out it’s much easier to do other people’s tasks than to do my own — and it’s way more fun. But my favorite gig, of course, was the day I became a fluffer.
After I delivered that old stoplight to Palo Alto, I headed back to San Francisco for fluffer time. I arrived at the modern SOMA apartment building that houses Paper N Plastic, and was greeted by Dixie. He and his partner, Eric, live in a loft where all the fake flower magic happens. Their space is brimming with paper hydrangeas, orchids, apple blossoms (constructed out of Post-It notes) and other impressive feats of design. For example, against the back wall stands a mini apartment building where two dozen Japanese beta fish reside, each in its own unit. They are backlit with rotating fluorescent light.
Dixie desperately needed my help. He had a big order for a wedding in Okeechobee, Florida, that was due in two days and he was far behind. The only way he’d be able to finish on time was to employ rabbits, and he’d posted tasks for no fewer than five of us. I sat down on the bright orange couch next to Amy L. and began folding flowers, thinking about how random my life had become — and how awesome. Then Dixie and Eric treated us to some wine and pizza and we just sat around, pinning and folding and gluing and laughing late into the night.
I made less than $300 in my first two weeks as a rabbit. Sadly, my bank account was in no way rescued. But I had a great time, and I’ll continue to run strange errands for strangers. When I eventually go looking for another job, I’ll proudly add “fluffer” to my resume.