Thumbtack started eight years ago with one goal in mind: to become an Amazon of sorts for home services like plumbers, home inspectors, and house cleaners. Today it moves a little bit closer to that goal with the launch of Instant Match on the service, a new feature that instantly connects customers with service providers who are available to work.
“When you think about it, there are very few things at this point you have to work hard to buy. The internet has made them dramatically more accessible and more convenient and yet the entire local services category, not just plumbers, not just home services, remains an exception to that broad trend,” says Thumbtack CEO Marco Zappacosta.
He thinks that hiring someone to perform a service in your home should be as easy as ordering a book online.
“Over the last eight years, we’ve made an immense amount of progress toward that dream. We’ve helped more than 25 million Americans find pros and have sent cumulatively billions of dollars to our pros from these customers,” he says.
While Zappacosta feels like the company has made great strides toward its goal of becoming an Amazon of home services, he notes that the company still has a bit further to go.
“The reality is if you sort of take me at my word and say we want to make hiring a plumber as easy as buying a book, we have not yet accomplished that,” he says. “But today we’re going to take a big step in that direction.”
The way things used to work on Thumbtack, you would make a request for a plumber, for instance, who would come and unclog your shower drain. That request would get sent to all the available plumbers in your zip code, who would then respond to your request with their price quotes. You’d look through all those bids, and then make your selection.
That made it dramatically easier than looking through a directory and calling all those plumbers one by one, but it also wasn’t perfect.
“The reality is you still had to wait to get options, and nobody wants to wait. We all want things instantly,” Zappacosta says.
With the company’s new Instant Match feature, your wait time is cut down from hours to seconds.
The process starts with the Thumbtack app as a brief 5- to 15-question interview. If you’re looking for a house cleaner, for instance, interview questions might entail asking you how big your home is, how many bedrooms need to be cleaned, and if you have pets.
Once you’re done answering questions, Thumbtack will instantly return a handful of automated quotes from professionals in your area it knows are available to do the job. You can look at all of them, read reviews, and decide which one best fits your needs. When you find a pro you like, you can message them within the app to set up an appointment for the service.
“Really what Thumbtack is doing is interviewing and sort of replacing the conversation that you used to have to have with each and every individual pro to basically tell them ‘Hey, here’s what I need. Can you do it.? And if so how much are you going to charge,'” says Zappacosta.
The instant quote saves plenty of time–previously, a pro would have to look over the survey and decide how much to quote you. Now, It’s instant due to some inputs that Pro has already put in. A housekeeper, for instance, can say they’re available to work 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, and charge $100 for a 1-bedroom apartment, $150 for a 2-bedroom apartment, and $300 for a 3-bedroom. When I put in my request for my two-bedroom apartment to be cleaned on Thursday, I’ll get their quote seconds later, saying it can be done for $150. If I want my cleaning on Friday, then that person won’t be part of my returned quotes since they’re not available.
It streamlines the whole process by eliminating the need to find out if someone is available or how much they’ll charge for your specific job.
It’s also good for professionals. When they set those rates, Thumbtack uses its database of historic prices that’s it’s collected over the past eight years to let them know the average cost for that service in that zip code. For instance, if most housekeepers charge $250 for a 2-bedroom, then the person who is charging $150 knows they can probably charge a little more. If the average cost is $75, then they can know they’re overcharging a bit based on the norm, and that’s probably why they’re not getting much business.
“We can get you quotes that are as intentful, as specific, as the pros doing it themselves but programmatically, Zappacosta says. “This is admittedly straightforward. But this represents I think the biggest step that the service sector has taken in basically its entire existence. It’s about moving it from the 20th century to the 21st century.”
Going back to that Amazon example, he thinks that one of the biggest reasons Amazon is so successful is because you can go to the site and instantly see everything that is available, read reviews, and take action to buy the item you want.
The way they’re able to do that is because they have data on what’s in the warehouse ready to be shipped. In a way, having professionals fill out their availability and pricing within Thumbtack gives it the same power.
Asking for quotes from professionals is free for everyone involved. When you as a customer ask for more information or contact one of the professionals, then that professional is charged for the interaction, regardless of whether or not you ultimately choose them for the job.
It’s a process somewhat like Google AdWords. A plumber, for instance, can say he’s willing to spend $100 a week on getting new customers. The pricing for how much an interaction costs changes a bit depending on how expensive the service is and how many other professionals are on the platform doing the same thing. A house cleaner might pay $12 for a connection, but that might lead to a $200 job every single week.
That’s a bit of a difference from Thumbtack’s previous model, in which it charged professionals each time they gave a quote to a customer. Now the charge happens a little further down the pipeline, so they have a greater chance of success. It’s also a bit cheaper, something Zappacosta says Thumbtack has done because it thinks Instant Match is better, and it wants to incentivize pros to come over.
Currently, Thumbtack has a supply problem. There’s more demand for services on the platform than it’s able to fill. The hope is that Instant Match will help move the process along faster, and make it easier for professionals to find work, and customers to find them. It also makes it so that house cleaner, plumber, or landscaper can focus on what they do best, without having to figure out marketing in the process.
Thumbtack has been trying out Instant Match with roughly 7,600 of the professionals currently on its platform. Tuesday’s announcement opens that program up to all of the professionals using the service in 11 categories nationallly; 65 categories are available in at least certain markets, with more on their way.
“Phase one is all about the supply side, enabling this sort of instant match product by building out this whole inventory system, sort of like the equivalent of our fulfillment center,” Zappacosta says. He says that Phase two, which will likely be announced next year, will take things a step further and make them every more streamlined, allowing you to make that purchase even faster.
“There’s no magic in terms of what customers want. They want things instantly. They want to see prices, they want to see reviews, and they want to take action with confidence. We’re going to do that for the whole service sector.”
[Correction, 9/26/17: An earlier version of this story called the Instant Match feature “Instant Quote” and misstated the number of Thumbtack pros who have been testing it.]