Leaving a well-paid profession to become an entrepreneur is a tough call, but it may be the right one. Aurore Hochard tells Hot Topics’ David Pringle how she and Rahul Ahuja built Taskhub, a hyper-local business, which is at the vanguard of the sharing economy and collaborative consumption.
Early last year, Aurore Hochard set about searching the web to find someone to help a friend with a new baby. But she found it surprisingly hard to identify reliable people who could help with DIY, cleaning and shopping.
Although Hochard was in the midst of a law degree and her partner, Rahul Ahuja, was an investment banker, the two of them decided to use their savings to create a web site designed specifically for people looking for local help. In their spare time, the London-based couple sketched out what they wanted the site to look like and commissioned an agency.
While the site was under development, Hochard read about Wayra – a new incubator programme being set up by Telefónica Digital. Hochard and Ahuja entered the selection process along with 1,000 or so other entrepreneurs. They developed a business plan, created a demo and pitched their idea to the Wayra assessors. Although Hochard had to miss one of the interviews to do a law exam, the duo made it through to the last stage of the process.
Drawing on advice from the Wayra mentors – seasoned entrepreneurs and Telefónica staffers – Hochard and Ahuja gave a nerve-wracking filmed pitch to nine potential investors and answered their questions. They were invited to join the Wayra programme in June 2012. “We said: I guess it’s serious now,” Hochard recalls.
Employee number one
In exchange for equity, Wayra invested £40,000 in Taskhub and provided temporary office space, enabling the couple to hire their first employee – a web developer. “Then we felt legitimate,” says Hochard, who completed her law exams in August 2012. Ahuja quit his job in November 2012, one month after the Taskhub web site launched as a private-beta, accessible to only 100 specially-invited people.
As members of Wayra, the Taskhub team got to attend classes for start-ups and mingle with other entrepreneurs and Telefónica employees. Crucially, they were also introduced to Telefónica Ventures, which soon invested a six figure sum in Taskhub and secured the start-up a distribution agreement with mobile operator O2 UK. The investment enabled Hochard to start paying herself a salary – enough to cover the couple’s rent – from January 2013. The deal also meant that Taskhub could move into Telefónica’s funky offices near Piccadilly Circus in the beating heart of London.
After a public beta in mid January, Taskhub went into full commercial mode two months later. People can sign up for free, enabling them to browse the tasks on offer and post a task for free. “Only at the end do we charge a 15% commission if the transaction actually happens,” says Hochard. “The one thing we have changed is to get people to enter their payment card details when they post a task, so they are not going to write anything silly.”
With a community-minded ethos, Taskhub doesn’t charge charities and, for now, it doesn’t carry advertising. “The idea is to be clean,” says Hochard
Taskhub now employs two developers – one for the website and one for the mobile app – a marketing specialist and an intern. Although Taskhub has done little in the way of formal PR, Hochard contacted local newspapers and the local authority in east London where the couple live. Major newspapers, such as the Daily Telegraph, the London Evening Standard and London’s Metro, have also cited Taskhub as an example of the sharing economy.
Stephen Fry tweet
Taskhub also benefited from Hochard meeting comedian and actor Stephen Fry at a technology event to discuss how to work with charities. Hochard says Fry offered to tweet about Taskhub to his six million followers on Twitter. “It was amazing, we were all stood at the office and watching the surge on traffic on Google Analytics,” recalls Hochard. “We were shouting in there.”
A former teacher, Hochard also hosts events, such as workshops for students on how to look for part-time jobs. From time-to-time, Hochard even emails Taskhub users personally from her own email account to see if she can help. She sometimes invites regular uses of the site into her office. This personal touch pays off – some users now help the Taskhub team monitor the site, flagging any posts that look weird or inappropriate. “Start-ups often focus too much on the product,” says Hochard. “Even if you have just twenty people on your platform, take care of them.”
A hyper-local business
Taskhub is a hyper-local business, so it is tricky to scale fast. “We prefer to go slowly here with communities in London and really establish ourselves,” says Hochard. “You need two sides to have a critical mass – the people asking for help and the people able to help. …You also need trust, so we reward regular users with badges and encourage people to leave feedback.”
Still, Taskhub’s growth is likely to accelerate when the mobile app is launched in the near future. Then it will begin to benefit from O2’s marketing and distribution networks.
Hochard attributes her new-found entrepreneurial flair partly to her experiences at law school. “Friends were getting work experience through contacts, but I wasn’t from this country, so I didn’t have the contacts.” recalls Hochard, a French national. “I decided I needed to change the way I do things and go connect with people. …I was able to get work experience at law firms by just going and talking to people at events.”
But Hochard does admit to moments of doubt over the past two years. “We have to be patient about our life being a little bit different,” she says. “It was a gamble for the two of us…..but we always wanted to do something that matters…something that makes you happy everyday.”