Assured Labor Launches Trust-Driven Job Marketplace
If you’re a busy, Web-savvy professional and you need a dog walker, a house cleaner, or someone to plow your driveway, your first thought is probably to search Craigslist. And indeed, there are thousands of people offering such services on the 14-year-old free classifieds site. But the problem with Craigslist, according to David Reich, a recent MBA graduate of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, is that there’s no way to tell whether someone you find there is going to be trustworthy.
Reich is the president of a Boston-based Web startup called Assured Labor that believes it has a solution to that problem. Launched publicly last week after 15 months of private beta testing, Assured Labor is an online marketplace where service providers can post references along with information about their skills and rates, and employers can leave reviews of the providers they’ve hired in the past.
Service providers can’t even place listings on Assured Labor unless they’ve provided a minimum of two references, Reich explained to me on Thursday. “Those references rate that service provider on at least five measures and can leave comments on how they’ve performed in the past,” he says. Beyond that, the site also identifies the affiliations of its referrers, such as their companies or alma maters. “If you’re an MIT graduate and the referrer is an MIT graduate, you’re much more likely to trust someone referred by them,” says Reich. After all, “One reference from someone you know is worth way more than multiple references from people you don’t know.”
Down the road, Assured Labor plans to connect its network of referrers to online communities like Facebook or LinkedIn, so that users can search specifically for workers recommended by people within their online social networks.
And there’s another interesting twist on Assured Labor’s system—it’s mobile-friendly. Service providers are notified about job inquiries instantly via text message or e-mail, so they can respond right away about their availability.
“Say you’re looking for a dog walker,” says Reich. “We recommend that you select more than one person, so that you can be sure to find one who is available. You select, say, three people and hit enter. We send a text message out to those people immediately, so that you don’t have to make a bunch of phone calls. Maybe only two of those three are interested; they call you to work something out.” And after a job is finished, Assured Labor contacts users to encourage them to rate workers, which can also be done via text message.
For now, the whole thing is free to both service providers and potential employers. “We want to let workers who need work so badly to have every opportunity to find it, and let employers who need to save money find trusted workers,” says Reich.
But eventually, he says, the company will ask service providers for a slice of their fee. “From our talks with customers and users, a lot of service providers are happy to pay a fair fee for the opportunity to be found.”
For its labor pool, the company is drawing first on Boston-area college students, since they “have all sorts of skills and have flexible schedules and are always in need of cash,” as Reich puts it.
Reich and three other members of Assured Labor’s founding team (Matt Albrecht, Joseph Bamber, and Siddhartha Goyal) all have MIT connections, and MIT Media Lab professor Alex (Sandy) Pentland is an advisor to the self-funded startup. The original concept for the company was to create a mobile-accessible job exchange that would help workers in developing countries connect with employers. That idea—which helped the company win in the development category of the 2007 MIT $100K Executive Summary Contest, a warm-up round for the famous MIT $100K Business Plan contest, as well as to garner a $5,000 MIT IDEAS Award from the institute’s Office of the Dean for Graduate Education—is still part of Assured Labor’s long-term plan, says Reich. But Reich says the company wanted to launch the service first in Boston, where it can test out the technology by building up a critical mass of job listings and users.
“Our aspirations for this are global in scope,” says Reich. “You can imagine how this mobile job marketplace could really help people when they don’t even have access to computers.”
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