A new smartphone app that connects people needing odd jobs done with laborers is now in use locally, and its developer says the app could provide a needed service while helping people make extra money and start businesses.
Pine Bluff native William Jones spoke about his new app late last month at the first town hall meeting of Pine Bluff Rising, a community effort to re-make the city. The app, called JobShare, enables users to send out notices for odd jobs such as yard work, grocery delivery and furniture moving. A push notification is then sent to people who have signed up as laborers on the service, allowing them to send back a bid for the job. Once the bid is accepted, the laborer performs the task and is paid via credit card.
Jones, whose family owns the Sissy’s Log Cabin jewelry stores, said the app launched Nov. 28 in Little Rock. Since then 400 clients and 143 providers, or laborers, have signed up there, he said. Providers must be over the age of 18, have a clean criminal record and be able to pass a background check, he said. Thus far he has completed the vetting process on 43 of the Little Rock providers.
Ryan Watley, the assistant director of development at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, is acting as a kind of regional director and spreading the word in Pine Bluff, Jones said.
Saturday marked the first transaction on the app in Pine Bluff. Alexandra Kotsiris, an attorney and member of the Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Commission, said she downloaded it after hearing Jones speak at the Pine Bluff Rising meeting. Kotsiris was at her parents’ house Saturday when her father asked if she could use the app to get someone to wash their cars. At about 12:15 p.m. she put out a notice: Two cars and one SUV in need of washing.
The message reached the phone of Omar Collins, a 24-year-old Chicago native who studies business management at UAPB. He had learned of the app from Watley at the Social Sports Bar & Lounge, where Collins bartends 30-to-40 hours per week. Collins said he had just passed his background check after paying $40 to sign up for the service when he received the notification from Kotsiris. He submitted a bid of $40, which was accepted.
Collins arrived at about 1 p.m., Kotsiris said, about 45 minutes after the job request went out.
“I did the truck and two cars, washed it for them and everything,” Collins said. “And they actually said I did a great job on both of them.”
Collins was there for roughly three-and-a-half hours, Kotsiris said.
“He spent a very long time washing our cars, and they look great,” she said. “We tipped him, because I thought he deserved more.”
Collins likes the app, and hopes to use it to earn extra money when he is not in school or working his regular job. There are now five or six providers in Pine Bluff and two or three more in White Hall and the area immediately to the north, Jones said. In Little Rock, many of the clients are elderly and on the cusp of a move to assisted living facilities. They use the app for small tasks that have become difficult to perform, he said.
“Installing towel racks and bathroom faucets, car detailing, two hours of outdoor work to move outdoor furniture and flower beds, kitchen cleaning,” he said, listing recent jobs performed through the app in Little Rock. “We had somebody go through and hang pictures; cleaning out their rent house; moved a queen-size bed into another room… grocery pickup, buffet delivery, yard raking.”
Jones, 25, graduated from Watson Chapel High School and earned a finance degree from the University of Central Arkansas in 2012. He works full-time at the Sissy’s Log Cabin store in Little Rock, but he said he always entertained the idea of an app that would enable people to pay for jobs on a phone. When his brother did a project in college for a similar app that allowed people to rent out their trucks, it inspired Jones to expand on the idea. He draws revenue from the app by taking a commission on each transaction up to the first 15 dollars per hour, he said.
He said he’s thought a lot about a college lecturer of his who said many small businesses start out as street stands or food trucks. Thus far providers who have taken part in the app are “entrepreneurial, pretty go-getters” between 25 and 40 years old who want to make extra money, buy houses or start businesses, he said.
“My whole deal [is to help] someone who’s credible, that can pass a background check, can build a business or start a business,” he said. “It’s very hard for people to get out of poverty when they’re in the very low income bracket.”
When asked how the app would affect existing businesses such as landscaping or moving companies, Jones acknowledged the potential for disruption. The app also can help local contractors pick up temporary workers during busy seasons, though, he said.
Anthony Biram, owner of GreenScape Landscaping and Maintenance, said the app could help him find temporary workers when things get really busy. But he did not look forward to the app coming to Pine Bluff.
“I really don’t like it because it’ll just underbid professionals that’ll do a better job,” he said.
Other market-based smartphone apps, such as Thumbtack and Smith Home Model & Repair, do similar things, he said.
There is not much of a market for landscaping in Pine Bluff, Biram said, but lawn maintenance is steady. He said there was more competition in the lawn maintenance business than when he started in the late 1990s. His fee for lawn maintenance varies depending on the size of the yard, but he tries not to charge less than $40 to mow a yard.
On the other hand, J.R. Brown, owner of J.R. Brown’s Home and Office Moving at 2907 S. Camden Rd. and Brown’s Self-Storage, said he looked forward to the app and thought it could help.
“I think it’s really good,” Brown said. “I want to get on there and sign up on the app. I’ve bought some leads from Moving.com, Thumbtack has one like that.”
Brown said that five years ago he sold his old moving company, Brown’s Moving Services, to a group that moved the business to Little Rock. Last March he started another moving company with eight employees, and he’s looking to grow.
“So naturally I’m looking for any avenue to make increased revenue,” Brown said. “So naturally I’m going to download any app to get involved with that.”
He didn’t think competition from independent contractors would squeeze his moving business.
“I think it’s gonna be OK,” he said. “There’s all different types of folks. There’s gonna be odd-jobs guys. There’s gonna be antiques and pianos they’ll need professionals for. I know I’ll fit that bill.”