TaskRabbit: Putting Americans Back to Work, One Odd Job at a Time

VIDEO: With hiring down and steady work hard to find, some turn to paid tasks.
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One young woman, an experienced advertising director, stands in her kitchen preparing dinner for some college students.

Meanwhile, a young man, who works as a professional construction worker, is hanging pictures on a wall for someone who is disabled.

Another woman, who works in sales and merchandising for major sporting events, is zipping across town to deliver four dozen cupcakes to a birthday party.

They could be anybody: lawyers, doctors, police officers. What do they all have in common? They're all TaskRabbits.

TaskRabbit, based in San Francisco, is a sort of a eBay for odd jobs. Here's how it works: You have an errand you need to run but you don't have time to do it, so you go on TaskRabbit.com, post the task and post the amount you'd be willing to pay for it. Once it's up there, a band of carefully vetted TaskRabbits bid on the task.

Generally, the lowest bidder wins. TaskRabbit gets a cut of the transaction, but the bidder gets that extra bit of cash in his or her pocket. And, in this economy, that little bit goes quite a long way.

Since its inception in 2008, at the start of the recession, there have been more than 2,000 TaskRabbit "runners." Since then they have expanded to six different cities: New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago and Orange County in California.

At the height of the recession, 70 percent of the runners were mostly unemployed or underemployed. By the company's estimates,TaskRabbits have altogether earned $10.5 million in the past three years. No drop in the bucket for folks struggling to make ends meet.

"I had lawyers coming to the site and applying to be a TaskRabbit because they were in between work," CEO and founder Leah Busque said. "Really amazing, highly skilled, quality people that had just been laid off."

People such as Michele Ahouse, who got laid off from her high-powered advertising job and found she was pregnant all in the same week.

"It was definitely a little overwhelming," she said. "My company was great in terms of how they handled the whole thing but it was still, you know, what was I going to do?"

She signed up to be a TaskRabbit.

"It was partially for the money," Ahouse said. "It was for my own peace of mind, too, knowing that I was earning some money."

The company makes people undergo a rigorous process to become a TaskRabbit, including a video interview, federal background check, Social Security number trace and, lastly, a test to see if applicants have what it takes.

"We'd really like to think that you know more about your TaskRabbit runner than you do about your pizza delivery guy," Busque said.

ABC News' Chris Cuomo met up with Diane Hohen, a 47-year-old single mother from Billerica, Mass., to see first-hand how the concept works.

Hohen has been a self-employed subcontractor selling T-shirts at football games and concert venues. She started noticing in 2009 that fewer and fewer people were buying T-shirts.

"Well, the economy kind of tanked, and I worked solely on commission," she said. "Because people don't really have money, they don't buy T-shirts or merchandise or trinkets at either football games or concerts."

Before 2009, her earnings added up to about $40,000.

"When the economy went downhill, I think I made about 25 grand," she said.

Hohen started getting worried. To top it all off, her daughter announced she was getting married.

"I basically needed a way to make more money to pay my mortgage and to let my daughter have a beautiful wedding," she said.

"Right, and a part of my thing is, I don't want to have to sit in an office and work nine-to-five. That's not me. I'd like to be out doing things. And this lets me do that," Hohen said.

One of the tasks Hohen is looking at on the website is a cupcake delivery by a patron named James.

"Yes, so this is, 'I have ordered and paid for four dozen cupcakes. I need you to pick them up and deliver them to my son-in-law as a surprise for his birthday. His office is located on the south end of Boston.'"

Hohen decided to bid $40 for that particular job, because "it's two stops and it is in Boston, so you might have a little traffic," she said.

She said her goal is to make $200 a day. If she makes that three days a week, plus her other job, it pays the bills.

Hohen won the bid and went on her way to Boston to pick up the cupcakes and deliver them to the surprise birthday party.

While Hohen was completing her task, another was underway across town in Lincoln, Mass.

Marc Hedges, who lost his job in construction in 2008, said, "It's terrible, I mean, I had a smiling face while I was working, everything was great, you know, you get weekends off, you didn't have to worry about money.

"All of a sudden, all your bills are on the back burner. You start worrying, you start freaking out."

Hedges was looking for another job when he found TaskRabbit.

"If I didn't have an income like TaskRabbit, I'd probably, well, be collecting cans or something crazy," he said.

Hedges is able to branch out using his skills as a construction worker to try out new things, be his own boss, and get paid for it.

Back in Billerica, Hohen said that with TaskRabbit, the sky's the limit.

"It gives you a good feeling knowing that people appreciate what you do with the everyday work that you do," she said. "You can make as much or as little as you want. Even when I see the guys with the cardboard signs, I give them a card and tell them, you really need work, go through them, they're hiring."

CEO Busque said, "We have folks who are making this their full-time jobs, almost their second career. We have people that cash out up to almost $5,000 a month, just from doing TaskRabbit tasks."

No one company can rescue America from its economic woes, but TaskRabbit aims to help people take back their lives, be their own boss, help people out, make some money and just feel good again.

"I know how to make them happy, and I like making them happy," TaskRabbit Hohen said. "It's a win-win situation."

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