Gigwalk: Make money on your morning commute

@CNNMoneyTech June 22, 2011: 6:06 AM ET
Gigwalk founders (from left) Matt Crampton, Ariel Seidman and David Watanabe.

Gigwalk founders (from left) Matt Crampton, Ariel Seidman and David Watanabe.

(CNNMoney) -- Most people make a living while they're at work. But what if you could earn a few bucks just walking to the office?

Gigwalk, a startup founded last summer in Mountain View, Calif., takes the phrase "mobile workforce" literally. The company harnesses America's vast army of iPhone users, enlisting them to complete various "gigs" when they're out and about.

Rates for these micro-tasks have included $5 to snap a picture of a restaurant's chalkboard menu for an online restaurant guide, $7 to visit a wireless store and check on product placement for a cell phone manufacturer and $30 to test out a new iPhone app. Users are encouraged to work gigs into their regular routines, picking up pocket cash while they make trips to the gym or run errands.

"It's whatever is convenient," says Ariel Seidman, the co-founder and CEO of Gigwalk. Inspiration for the service came last spring when Seidman, 34, was the director of mobile search for Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500). He watched mapping companies spend exorbitant amounts of time and money dispatching contractors to gather information from far-flung locales. What if they could rely instead on iPhone users who were already there?

Seidman left his job last June. He enlisted two former Yahoo colleagues, Matt Crampton and David Watanabe, to help build the software platform that would bring his idea to life. In December, Gigwalk landed $1.7 million in startup capital from sources including the Greylock Discovery Fund, managed by LinkedIn (LNKD) co-founder Reed Hoffman, and Harrison Metal, founded by Michael Dearing, a former senior vice president of eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) and an early funder of AdMob, which Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) bought for $750 million.

"I thought it was an amazing concept," says Jeff Clavier, a managing partner at SoftTech VC, which also invested in Gigwalk. "After five minutes I thought, 'This is like mobile crowdsourcing.'"

Gigwalk's corporate clients include TomTom, the Dutch maker of portable GPS systems, and MenuPages.com, the New York online restaurant guide. Gigwalk executives would not say how many clients, in total, have signed on so far. They also declined to release their revenues and the number of active "gigwalkers," saying only that thousands of people have completed tasks in seven cities: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

To sign up for the service, iPhone users download an app, then register with Gigwalk and pass a background check. The company plans to launch an app for Android owners later this year.

Gigwalk uses iPhone owners' GPS locations and home addresses to filter and distribute appropriate gigs for them. Once a user accepts a gig, there's a limited time to finish it, usually a couple of days. After a completed task is approved, the user gets paid through PayPal.

To commission Gigwalk for a job, companies specify what tasks they'd like to outsource to smartphone users and pay Gigwalk a lump sum upfront. A percentage of that sum goes directly Gigwalk -- the company would not disclose how much -- and the rest goes to paying "gigwalkers" as they complete their tasks.

Reliable workers -- those who do a good job and don't submit fuzzy menu photos -- are rewarded with the first pick of better-paying gigs.

Gigwalk has become a big time-saver for MenuPages, which maintains 32,000 online listings for restaurants across the country, according to Tom Bohan, the company's director of content operations. One of MenuPages' biggest challenges is keeping track of current information: new food items, hours of operation, whether there's outdoor seating and wheelchair access. In the past, they've mostly used Craigslist to hire hourly contractors who can visit those businesses in person to collect data.

Bohan discovered Gigwalk late last year. Though they cost about the same as his regular contractors, gigwalkers turn assignments around for him much faster, he says -- typically in about two weeks instead of eight.

Gigwalk's biggest challenge? Getting people to take time out of their day for small payouts of just $2 to $15 apiece. Seidman says he doesn't expect anyone to drive 15 minutes to do a $2 or $5 gig. But he hopes they'll be willing to work multiple gigs into their morning commutes, or squeeze in a task that's just two doors down from wherever they happen to be at the moment.

That's worked out well for Andrew Schut, 47, a medical device consultant in New York City who's the top-grossing gigwalker so far, earning $2,173 since March. Schut maps out clusters of gigs whenever he goes for a walk and tries to knock out a couple on the way to his clients' offices.

"It's given me the motivation to see parts of the city I didn't know about," says Schut, who created an online community called gigwalkingtips.com. "The beauty of it is you do it when you have time, and if you have time." To top of page

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