Keeping the “Human” in the “Human Cloud”

Caption: TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot gets me thinking about the human cloud and the micro-entrepreneur loop. Photo credit: Khaled Sayed

If software is eating the world, it’s using the marketplace model as the fresh cracked pepper to flavor its meal. Services from Uber to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk promise to layer clean, systematic APIs on top of messy human interactions for greater efficiency. Yet while economics papers might model human beings as Homo Economicus — a hyper-rational utility maximzer — in the real world, the operative half of the “human cloud” is the “human.” TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot used the human side of the equation to transform the company’s human cloud from a commodity into a community, boosting the business along the way.

In this week’s episode of Masters of Scale, Stacy explains how TaskRabbit’s original model of competitive bidding — while theoretically efficient — was actually killing the business. By treating Taskers (the people who carry out the gigs on TaskRabbit) as a community of learners — rather than a pool of homogeneous labor — the company drastically improved revenue and satisfaction, for both Taskers and their customers.

You’ll learn how Stacy’s childhood in Detroit helped her appreciate both the power of community and the importance of giving people the chance to work, how Sheryl Sandberg helped launch Stacy down the path of organizing powerful communities, and how Stacy’s time in India helped her become a better manager and leader.

You’ll also hear Stacy tell the inside story of TaskRabbit’s transformation, including how an avoidable mistake in team communication nearly derailed the shift to an objectively better business model.

We’ll be joined by special guest Whitney Johnson of Harvard Business School, who explains why it’s important to help every member of your team become a learning machine, by Delashea Strawder and Detroit’s Mosaic Youth Theater for a special musical performance, and by Tasker Davette See, who describes the most outrageous task she was ever hired to complete on the TaskRabbit platform.

As always, I’d like to hear your thoughts and reactions to this episode. How can your business tap into the power of the human cloud — especially its ability to learn? And what are some ways you can help turn competition into community?

Tweet me @ReidHoffman using the hashtag #mastersofscale. And please join us for future episodes, as more great entrepreneurs — from Silicon Valley and beyond — share the most valuable lessons they’ve learned from their start-up experiences.



Entrepreneur. Investor. Strategist.

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