Ever needed a light fixture repaired or an Ikea couch assembled and didn’t have the time, patience or aptitude? An emerging category of startups, along with an increasing number of smartphone users, are combining to make the cash for task market more viable than in the late 90s with the emergence of web-based services like Craigslist.
Kutoto is a startup based out of Montreal, started in 2012 by former McGill computer science graduates Julien Cassis and Anton Yushin. The duo was studying Distributed Human Computing, the idea of assigning small tasks to a large number of people in order to achieve a greater goal. A third partner, Abi Al- Sweidi, came on in early 2012 to consult on the business and marketing end of things, and in December 2012 the service was unveiled to the public in the form of an iPhone app.
The idea is simple: you need something done, say the aforementioned light fixture repair, and want a licensed electrician to help, preferably one who is willing to meet your budget and lives nearby. Kutoto facilitates this transaction by allowing you to request your need, location and budget inside its growing database. Licensed providers — those who have been vetted through an interview, and submitted certification and references to Kutoto directly — are then given access to this database. They can contact you to negotiate a time, price and specifics, and you’re on your way.
While services like Kutoto exist in the United States and around the world — Taskrabbit is the most well-known of the bunch — nothing like this existed in Canada, and the team foresaw huge potential in the business model. The company raised $350,000 in private funding last October and released the iPhone app in December. Since then, over 20,000 users have signed up to peruse or provide, and Apple recently featured it in its New & Noteworthy section on the App Store.
“We are the first mover in Canada,” Cassis told me in a phone call. Kutoto currently operates in Toronto and its home town of Montreal, and is looking to expand to Vancouver by September and the rest of Canada by February, 2014. In the meantime, they have released their first North American app, Express Cleaning by Kutoto, to address one of the biggest sources of work in the main app: home cleaning.
“Express Cleaning is the first vertical,” said Yushin, who wants to see other verticals such as plumbing and electrician services bring traffic back to the main app. It’s easy to see why: both apps are easy to use, from the Facebook login (which does not auto-post) to the frictionless method of adding a credit card to facilitate payment. Express Cleaning is remarkably simple in its workflow: just enter how many rooms (bed and bath), an address, an available time and how often you want to cleaning, you’re connected to an accredited labourer who has been interviewed and vetted by Kutoto directly.
As with taxi services like Uber and Hailo, users don’t have to worry about tipping, either: the amount is included in the upfront price. Kutoto’s business model lies in taking a fee from the agreed-upon price, as there is no cost to use the service as a user or provider.
Both apps have a concierge service to answer questions or sort out disputes. Cassis and Yushin explained that as with all services where two parties are meeting independently from the facilitators, there is room for something to go wrong. In the rare event that something does happen, representatives will mediate the dispute.
As for whether the team is happy with the startup community in Montreal, all co-founders agree that the environment is certainly more challenging, especially when it comes to raising capital, than Toronto or Vancouver. While there are no plans to relocate the headquarters within Canada, or make a run for San Francisco, Kutoto is continuing to find ways to grow through word-of-mouth and organic marketing. There is an extensive referral program that rewards new users, and those who referred them, a $10 credit towards services within the app.
The team wouldn’t talk about bringing Kutoto or Express Cleaning to more platforms, but you can assume an Android version isn’t too far off.
Download Kutoto for iPhone.