How easy is it to move a startup’s digital infrastructure overseas? In November 2013, TaskRabbit, an errand marketplace where people pay other people to complete short tasks, moved into London—its first venture beyond US shores. While this involved logistical challenges, Twilio ensured that handling SMS and phone calls remained headache-free.
TaskRabbit brings the traditional concept of neighbors helping neighbors to the digital age. Through the TaskRabbit website or mobile app, people can hire Taskers to do everyday chores, from putting up flat-pack furniture, to cleaning an oven.
By 2012, TaskRabbit had 25,000 Taskers and millions of users in 18 cities across the US. Armed with mountains of data about what makes a good TaskRabbit city, the company felt ready to test the model overseas, identifying London as a gateway location for European expansion. “London was a very natural choice for TaskRabbit,” said Uma Subramanian, director of marketplace operations, Europe. “It’s a place where people are very busy, and it’s a little bit inconvenient to coordinate your life. London is also very similar to other cities where we have launched and been successful, such as San Francisco and New York.”
Nonetheless, London had subtle differences from TaskRabbit’s US cities. According to Subramanian, the team found that they had to adjust their communication style. This ranged from making small language tweaks on the website (changing “cool” to “brilliant,” for example) to toning down the marketing language for a less enthusiastic and slightly more skeptical audience.
In the US, TaskRabbit had refined the user experience, part of which involved text messaging and phone calls handled using the Twilio API.
“When we started TaskRabbit, we knew that the on-demand capabilities of the Taskers was going to be a big deal,” said CTO Brian Leonard. “Someone needs something right now—there should be a Bat-Signal in the sky. We aren’t able to get a Bat-Signal, so the best we could come up with was text messaging the Taskers."
When someone requests a task, TaskRabbit sends an SMS to a Tasker, who can accept the task directly via text message, or through the site or mobile app. “The ability to make an API call and send a text message seemed like a magical thing at the time, but we probably take it for granted now,” said Leonard.
Someone needs something right now—there should be a Bat-Signal in the sky. We aren’t able to get a Bat-Signal, so the best we could come up with was text messaging the Taskers.
After a positive experience with Twilio in the US, the company wanted to transfer the approach to the UK, which turned out to be more straightforward than expected with Twilio. “As we looked into all the things we had to do to make [TaskRabbit] feel like it was coming from London and not San Francisco, Twilio turned out to be the easy part,” said Leonard. “It worked in London exactly like it worked in San Francisco.”
Twilio helped TaskRabbit to solve other London-specific challenges. For example, according to Leonard, UK users are more sensitive to privacy issues than their American counterparts. So in the UK, TaskRabbit uses Twilio to connect calls between Taskers and users without revealing their phone numbers.
Twilio can also filter calls by geographic location, meaning that UK users automatically connect to a recording with a London accent, while San Francisco residents hear a familiar West Coast twang. In short, Twilio not only worked the same way as it did in the US, it also made it easy to adapt the service to suit the needs of Londoners.