Tag Archives: technology

Peer-to-Peer Job Sites Inspire Micro-Entrepreneurs

12 Feb

By Darren Dahl

Thu Feb 9, 2012 2:32pm EST

(Reuters) – Chris Mok, like many Americans over the past few years, lost his job in the wake of the Great Recession.

While Wok, 46, diligently sent out resumes trying to replace his Macy’s marketing job he lost in 2009, he also kicked in to help his wife, Isha, run Hi’iaka, her Hawaiian-themed florist shop in San Francisco.

It was early last summer, when many florist businesses see a bump in business from graduations, that Wok first heard about a site called Task Rabbit, where people can post jobs of any just about any kind – such as helping with a move, painting a room or even running an errand – or bid to work on a job posted by someone else via computer or on the go with a GPS-enabled smartphone. Mok suggested that his wife try the site out as a way to hire on a few extra hands for the busy season.

His wife’s experience with Task Rabbit went so well that Wok, who hadn’t worked outside of his wife’s business in about nine months, came to a realization: why couldn’t he earn some extra money bidding on jobs himself?

“I hit the ground running and have been working almost seven days a week since July,” says Mok, who now makes about $3,500 a month tackling everything from handyman repairs to hanging whiteboards and assembling Ikea furniture for the burgeoning number of startup companies in his area.

“It feels great to be your own boss and to pick and choose the jobs you take on.”

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the hot button political issue these days is the nation’s unemployment rate. In January, the U.S. jobless rate was 8.3 percent, on its way down from last summer’s rate of 9.1 percent.

That’s why the rise of online marketplaces, so-called peer-to-peer job sites like Task Rabbit are so exciting. They promise to generate new employment opportunities, or let just about anyone earn some extra income.

“We’re enabling people to invest in and engage with folks in their community in a way that I think we’ve forgotten,” says Leah Brusque, a former programmer with IBM who founded Task Rabbit in 2008, just as the recession was unfolding. “And we’ve done that by turning them into micro-entrepreneurs.”

Online job sites have been around a while, of course, and even sites like e-lance and oDesk have become viable markets to outsource highly-skilled jobs such as programming, design and writing tasks.

But what makes Task Rabbit and the growing number of others like it such as Coffee & Power and Zaarly different is that their jobs vary widely and often involve face-to-face interactions in the real world. Skillshare, for instance, is a site based in New York City that enables people to teach or attend a class on just about anything. A recent search revealed classes ranging from how to eat healthy or how to crochet an Alpaca rug – not online, but in person.

“We are changing the way people think about doing business with the people around them,” says Bo Fishback, formerly the vice president of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, who founded Zaarly in March 2011. “We’re making it possible to ask for and get anything, in real time, from the people around you.

Mechanically, most of these sites work in similar fashion. People can post jobs, or bid on them, while the site handles the payment process – usually taking a small percentage fee of the transaction for itself. Both parties involved in a transaction can then rate each other after the job has been completed. At Task Rabbit, which has some 3,000 registered bidders, some $4 million of activity is reported every month, which, while impressive, is still a sliver of the estimated $473 billion earned by freelancers in 2010.

Those kinds of numbers have given high-profile investors reasons to take notice. Zaarly, for instance, reeled in $1 million from a group of investors that included Ashton Kutcher (while also adding Meg Whitman as a board member). Similarly, Coffee & Power, which was founded by Philip Rosedale, the creator of the virtual online world game SecondLife, recently raised about $1 million from investors like Jeff Bezos.

“Our mission has been to find out how you get people who are interested in working for each other to cluster and find each other in the real world,” says Rosedale, whose business plan combines an online market with currently three physical locations – upscale coffee shops in San Francisco, Santa Monica and, soon, Portland, Oregon – where people can meet and make a deal.

There are, of course, critics who point to the fact that it can be difficult if not impossible for someone to earn a living bidding on $100 jobs. But, if the number of people flocking to these sites to not just bid on jobs but also post them continues, we might just see a change in the concept of what a job is.

“We’re still early in the game, but we think we’re reinventing the concept of how we all go about working,” says Rosedale.

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Tech Mogul Pays Bright Minds Not to Go to College

17 Jun

(While we promote higher education here at Insiders Group Inc, it really isn’t for everyone (Bill Gates was a college dropout, keep in mind).  What’s more important is doing what works best for you and promotes a strong mindset and future.   So read on…)

By MARCUS WOHLSEN, Associated Press Sun May 29, 3:41 pm ET

SAN FRANCISCO – Instead of paying attention in high school, Nick Cammarata preferred to read books on whatever interested him. He also has a gift for coding that got him into Carnegie Mellon University’s esteemed computer science program despite his grades.

But the 18-year-old programmer won’t be going to college this fall. Or maybe ever.

Cammarata is one of two dozen winners of a scholarship just awarded by San Francisco tech tycoon Peter Thiel that comes with a unique catch: The recipients are being paid not to go to college.

Instead, these teenagers and 20-year-olds are getting $100,000 each to chase their entrepreneurial dreams for the next two years.

“It seems like the perfect point in our lives to pursue this kind of project,” says Cammarata of Newburyport, Mass., who along with 17-year-old David Merfield will be working on software to upend the standard approach to teaching in high school classrooms.

Merfield, the valedictorian of his Princeton, N.J., high school class, is turning down a chance to go to Princeton University to take the fellowship.

Thiel himself hand-picked the winners based on the potential of their proposed projects to change the world.

All the proposals have a high technology angle but otherwise span many disciplines.

One winner wants to create a mobile banking system for the developing world. Another is working to create cheaper biofuels. One wants to build robots that can help out around the house.

The prizes come at a time when debate in the U.S. over the value of higher education has become heated. New graduates mired in student loan debt are encountering one of the toughest job markets in decades. Rising tuitions and diminishing prospects have led many to ask whether college is actually worth the time and money.

“Turning people into debt slaves when they’re college students is really not how we end up building a better society,” Thiel says.

Thiel made his fortune as a co-founder of online payment service PayPal shortly after graduating from Stanford Law School. He then became the first major investor in Facebook. In conversation and as a philanthropist, Thiel pushes his strong belief that innovation has stagnated in the U.S. and that radical solutions are needed to push civilization forward.

The “20 Under 20” fellowship is one such effort. Thiel believes that the best young minds can contribute more to society by skipping college and bringing their ideas straight to the real world.

And he has the shining example of Facebook to back up his claim. Thiel’s faith in the world-changing potential of Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg’s idea led him to invest $500,000 in the company, a stake that is now worth billions.

Still, the Zuckerbergs of the tech industry are famous because they are the exceptions. Silicon Valley is littered with decades-worth of failed tech startups.

Vivek Wadhwa, director of research at Duke University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and a writer for TechCrunch and Bloomberg Businessweek, has assailed Thiel’s program for sending what he sees as the message that anyone can be Mark Zuckerberg.

“Silicon Valley lives in its own bubble. It sees the world through its own prism. It’s got a distorted view,” Wadhwa says.

“All the people who are making a fuss are highly educated. They’re rich themselves. They’ve achieved success because of their education. There’s no way in hell we would have heard about Peter Thiel if he hadn’t graduated from Stanford,” he says.

Thiel says the “20 Under 20” program shouldn’t be judged on the basis of his own educational background or even the merits of his critique of higher education. He urges his critics to wait and see what the fellows achieve over the next two years.

According to data compiled by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, workers with college degrees were laid off during the Great Recession at a much lower rate than workers without degrees. College graduates were also more likely to be rehired.

But for fellowship recipients like John Burnham, 18, such concerns pale next to the idealism of youth. At his prep school in western Massachusetts, Burnham started an alternative newspaper to compete with the school’s official publication.

The entrepreneurial experience of creating something out of nothing captured his imagination. Now his ambitions have grown.

Burnham believes that the world’s growing population will put an unsustainable strain on the planet’s natural resources. That’s why he’s looking to other worlds to meet humanity’s needs.

Specifically, he believes that mining operations on asteroids could hold the key. For the next two years, he’ll be studying rocket propulsion technology and puzzling through the economics of interplanetary resource extraction.

“This fellowship is so much of a better fit for my personality than I think college would be,” Burnham says. “When you get an opportunity of the magnitude of this fellowship, I couldn’t see myself being able to wait.”