Airtasker founder and chief executive Tim Fung says being a startup founder based in Australia over the past 10 years has been one of the best jobs in the world.
“For me personally, as a founder, it definitely feels like every year you get a different job, you know, that you better grow into and learn from,” Fung tells SmartCompany.
After a decade of growth including expansion into the UK and US, the platform that began as a website to hire students to assemble Ikea furniture has expanded to become a platform for anyone from freelancers to qualified sole traders to find new business within the growing gig economy.
Fung has always argued Airtasker sits apart from other global gig companies, such as food delivery and ridesharing services in the way it manages the payment of ‘taskers’ and how they are engaged in work on the platform.
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But it’s undeniable the startup has benefited from the growth of the gig economy.
The Australian outsourcing platform said in 2021 it saw skyrocketing demand for those with skills sets able to help small businesses pivot toward digital services and communications during lockdowns.
Airtasker saw a jump in demand for copywriting and graphic design skills, along with web and app development, along with marketing and social media support, financial and legal advice, and data entry.
Business-related freelance work also spiked in the past two years, with a 24.8% increase in finance and business tasks over the past 18 months, along with a massive 48% increase in general business and administration tasks overall.
“I think that’s a really, really, really powerful thing. And a huge change over the 10 years,” Fung says of the growth of the ecosystem of sole traders and freelancers — and small businesses looking to access digital and other skills.
“About 7.2% of Australians use a platform like Airtasker to earn an income each year,” he says.
Growth of startup ecosystem
Fung also says his vantage point a decade in has helped him recognise how government policy has helped and hindered the startup sector’s growth.
The 2022 budget failed to improve the current Research & Development Tax Incentive that tech leaders say is unclear and slow to pay out.
But Fung says the R&D Tax Incentive was “super powerful” for the company and was responsible for significant growth in the tech sector in recent years.
“The incentive was an incredible turbocharger enabling people to survive through periods when it is harder to raise cash, for example, in Australia, because that infrastructure is not there,” Fung says.
However he also accepted the program had an outsize benefit for software companies over others in the sector.
Looking forward, Fung says he wants government policy to combine with a more holistic approach to “celebrating Australia and marketing it as a place where folks from potentially more experienced startup ecosystems want to lend their expertise, their capital and their talent to Australia”.
Australia’s multigenerational domain knowledge was still growing, evidenced in the explosion of startups founded by the ex-employees of tech giants like Atlassian.
In the meantime the government needed to make Australia an attractive place to grow a company.
“I think that that’s a role the government needs to play in celebrating and making people come to Australia to bring what they’ve got and inject that into our ecosystem,” Fung says.
Lessons to young founders
Fung says while it sounds obvious, building a culture from the top that celebrates wins as a team has been foundational to the success of Airtasker.
“One of the lessons that I think I’ve learned over the years, and one of the pointers I often share with younger founders is that it’s really important to ‘try to catch people doing the right thing’,” he says.
This means looking out for people doing work well on a day-to-day basis rather than spotlighting mistakes and areas of improvement.
“I call it like catching people doing the right thing, as opposed to catching them doing the wrong thing,” he says.
“If you can do that I think it’s really powerful because it lets people know what their contribution is that helps motivate and inspire them towards the future.”