Spare a thought for British students. For the past two years, their college experience has been more or less marred by Covid restrictions. And now – with some sort of normality returning – they are struggling with a spiraling cost of living that is making it harder than ever to get their maintenance loans and parental benefits.
And that may explain why Unitaskr, a company founded by Joseph Black and Oliver Jacobs, has succeeded in attracting a significant number of students to what is essentially a task platform like Freelancer.com, People per Hour or Fivvr.
It is now a well established market. Customers – often small businesses – have tasks to complete and Unitaskr connects them with people with the necessary skills. What separates Unitaskr from similar platforms is the fact that the providers are all students. As such, it not only provides undergraduates with a way to earn money, it also aims to help them gain experience that can be listed on their resume upon graduation. It might even convey the self-employment/entrepreneurship bug.
But is it an idea that can evolve? Well, when I spoke to Black and Jacobs, they were making plans to expand the Unitaskr model in the US, having also branched out into recruiting graduates and providing student “influencers” for campaigns. brand marketing. I was eager to find out how they went about mobilizing and monetizing a student workforce and why the concept might work in other geographies.
An uncertain start
Launched in 2015, the platform was originally known as Unidosh and Jacobs acknowledges it got off to an uncertain and possibly poorly designed start. “We saw that many of our friends at university were struggling financially. And we also saw that many of them had talents,” he says.
The Unidosh app was created to allow students to work for each other. “But we struggled to gain ground,” adds Jacobs. “The problem was that the students didn’t really have the capacity to buy services. In other words, there was supply – with many students eager to sell services – but little demand.
So the company pivoted and became Unitaskr. “We opened up the buy side to everyone,” says Black. In practice, this meant that students could sell a whole range of services – from dog walking and babysitting to social media management, blogging or logo design – to businesses and the general public. audience.
Business has picked up. Today the company has 200,000 users and around £12m of work was booked last year.
But who buys and why? Looking back at my own student years, I must confess that I had very few skills other than writing lecture notes very quickly and submitting essays more or less on time. Does Unitaskr help all students earn or is it limited to those taking courses where in-demand skills such as design or coding are embedded. Can it, for example, help undergraduate students in English or history to monetize their skills?
According to Black, the answer to this question is yes. “There is such a range of work on the platform that academic discipline is not an issue,” he says. For example, an English graduate might take up a blogging job. Likewise, students today tend to be highly literate when it comes to social media. Thus, they can take on social media marketing roles.
This last factor prompted Black and Jacobs to branch out into the influencer market. Essentially, students on social media have the opportunity to become “nano influencers”, participating in campaigns for brands such as Audio Technica and Spotify. The idea here is that individual student social media accounts may only have a few thousand followers, but those who do subscribe tend to be loyal, enthusiastic and engaged. Uniaskr’s Shout service can group individual students into small armies of influencers who can collectively spread the brand’s message to their followers.
The buy side
But what about buyers? Black and Jacobs say that most of these shopping tasks – logo design, blogging, etc. – are small businesses. So the question is why do they trust students to do jobs that could be important. There is a certain degree of altruism and pay-forward. “Companies know they’re supporting the next generation,” says Black.
But as with more general platforms, sellers need to build a reputation. They are reviewed and graded. Those with good grades are more likely to get more work.
Will this evolve?
So how scalable is this model? Well, last year Unitaskr raised £1.25m in seed funding and in addition to expanding its team and hiring developers, Jacobs and Black have their sites in the US market. “We are currently in the US App Store and are planning a full US launch,” says Black. At the same time, backed by a community of attentive students, the company is also entering the market for recruiting graduates, with the aim of breaking down the barriers between employers and candidates.
Whether Unitaskr manages to gain traction in the UK while expanding into the North American market remains to be seen. What it has already achieved is the creation of a student community that can be monetized and also deployed through influencer campaigns. This same community could well help the company position itself in a highly competitive graduate recruitment market. Arguably, with students facing the same challenges around the world, there is scope for international expansion.