How did Gigwalk get so many gigs

The jobs are on the street

Microjob services such as Streetspotr and AppJobber provide companies with manpower for minute jobs. The equivalent of a chocolate bar is paid. Business is booming, also because fun has so far been the focus for users.

Two and a half years ago, Christian Salle not only played the police officer Blocher in Dürrenmatt's Physicist at the Schauspiel Frankfurt, but also took on two other roles in the same play. Pretty exhausting. And so this simple distraction came in handy at the time: taking a picture of the menu for one and fifty wages per photo. Success stories start differently, and Salle doesn't want that to be understood as such. Yes, he really likes this micro job thing, but certainly not just because of the money. “It's a hobby with the side effect of relevant pocket money,” he says. Christian Salle is a full-time and freelance theater actor with engagements in Berlin, Hanover and Frankfurt. And at the same time he is one of 280,000 users of the Streetspotr app, on which companies assign “micro jobs”. Salle is not just someone in the streetspotr cosmos: He is second in the user ranking.

Young tech-savvy users

Nuremberg-based Streetspotr GmbH is the market leader among app providers for micro jobs, the second big name in Germany is AppJobber. Since April 2012 - Christian Salle has been there from the start - there have been such offers in Germany. They combine technical mobility, mostly of young people, with their desire to earn a small, really small amount of money when they get the chance. Companies advertise their micro jobs, and users can control and process them via the app. An example: When these lines were written, 1.50 euros had just been cashed in. In the cafeteria of the TU Berlin one should check whether “there are special coffee-to-go cups and these are being distributed”. An offer that can be refused - but a student at the TU who is about to get a coffee to go anyway might see it differently. That explains a lot, further says a Streetspotr survey from 2012. 72 percent of users are between 18 and 29 years old, another 17 percent are at least under 39 (see box on page 43).

You can also assume that users are tech-savvy. Technically inexperienced smartphone users can easily spend an hour getting the Streetspotr app running at all, the time was personally stopped. In other words: Streetspotr must actually feel like doing what they are doing there. “It's like a scavenger hunt, a very entertaining way to earn extra money and get to know your city anew,” says Christian Salle.

The question of whether Streetspotr and Co. are not the trailblazers for a new low-wage sector still has to be asked, and the relevant experts do not find any euphoric answers. But first a look at Dorothea Utzt, who earns a lot of money thanks to Streetspotr. She owns the company. Dorothea Utzt is 33 years old, studied German to become a teacher, but did not work in this profession. After a brief foray into journalism, she and two friends founded a company specializing in app programming in 2007. Apps were only just coming onto the market at the time, and Dorothea Utzt and her colleagues were among the pioneers. Until today she took care of the marketing of her company. The idea for Streetspotr came about on the basis of an order from BMW. The car manufacturer wanted to have all underground car parks in Germany "mapped", opening times, parking levels, prices - Utzt's company should say how this could best be implemented. "This is how the idea came up to do it with the crowd," that is, with hundreds of smartphone users. In 2011, not only was an app designed, but the company of the same name was also founded.

There is no money for some tasks

The principle is the same today as it was back then with the BMW order, only there are now significantly more clients. There are currently around 250 users for one provider, including Red Bull and Sony. Streetspotr receives 50 percent commission from the client for every job. The company is growing. “We want to expand,” says Dorothea Utzt, we are already represented in the entire German-speaking area and in Great Britain, Poland has just joined. In the spring of this year, KfW-Bank and an investor with a "high six-figure sum" joined the company. 14 employees are currently employed, plus a few students.

She does not believe that Dorothea Utzt supports wage dumping. “The focus is absolutely on having fun,” she says. “Those who are only interested in the money will not register with us.” A user earns an average of ten euros per month, with a maximum of 1,500 euros per year. And an excessive demand-supply system is excluded anyway. Every hired job is checked to see whether it is legally and morally justifiable and whether a minimum amount is paid. "We are simply creating access to a market that would not even exist without our technology," says Utzt. In other words: BMW would never think of sending its own employees to inspect the republic's underground car parks. Christian Salle is one of the heavy users of Streetspotr. For every successfully completed job you get points at Streetspotr. The more points, the higher the rank. Some jobs, worth up to ten euros, can only be accepted with a certain number of points. And there are also tasks for which there are points but no money. For example, taking photos of a park or a cathedral. That is the sightseeing function of Streetspotr, which Christian Salle appreciates very much. Recently he got to know unknown corners of Hamburg. Salle also praises the chat function. When he was still living in Frankfurt in 2012, it enabled him to meet a lot of new people there.

One can tell from Salle that Streetspotr is not a stopgap solution for him, and this probably also applies to the police officers, the ex-management consultants and railway employees, whom the managing director Dorothea Utzt mentions as an example as an intensive user. But she also knows about the Streetspotr counterpart from the USA, the Gigwalk app. It has 650,000 users and 6,500 cities across North America are served. Earning money is clearly in the foreground here, and for many users it is the second or third job. There you can observe what critics of microjobbing cite as its dangers: the dissection of work and the associated outsourcing of the simplest activities to low-wage workers.

“All of this follows the classic principle of dividing work into smaller and smaller units,” says Franz Kühmayer, who “does not consider microjobbing to be a future-proof model”. The computer scientist and physicist is a strategy consultant in Vienna and a member of the Zukunftsinstitut think tank. There he is concerned with the future of work. When it comes to microjobbing, the main question is how productivity can be increased while lowering wage costs, he says. Sooner or later, if at all possible, this will always result in automation - or outsourcing of activities to low-wage countries. Examples are Power Point service providers in India or programs that can already produce journalistic texts from raw data. “In the long run, such micro-jobs therefore have no chance of surviving in Europe.” Of course, it is difficult to outsource locally-based activities to India. “Offers like Streetspotr can exist as niche products, but not as macroeconomic trendsetters,” estimates Kühmayer.

The market principle counts

However, microjob services shouldn't be brushed aside entirely as irrelevant, he adds. It is worth taking a look at other service providers who cannot be perceived on the smartphone, but can be viewed flexibly in terms of location. What is new here is that jobs are increasingly being squandered for which academic training is nevertheless necessary. Many journalists, for example, see themselves increasingly threatened by offers such as text brokers, where writing orders are placed. Professionals would get almost 50 euros gross for a text the length of the present one. Beginners around 10. These are completely new standards of dumping with which translators and other humanities scholars are also confronted, and in the future potentially every other professional group in which there is an oversupply of labor. Streetspotr fits into the picture: Here, too, access for mobile and tech-savvy people is privileged, for the wages of pocket money.

"The market economy principle is in the foreground with such offers", says Werner Eichhorst, deputy director of the research institute for the future of work in Bonn. Which of course also means that good quality will probably continue to redeem a good price. "In the case of unspecific work, however, microjobbing can certainly promote wage dumping." Neither Eichhorst nor Kühmayer believes that "this is a major phenomenon". Especially since the small-scale organization of work "always means a coordination and control effort, for which staff would have to be hired again". Microjobbing would simply only be an option for very manageable parts of the economy.

Christian Salle, the actor, can be sure that his profession will not be replaced by micro-jobbers anytime soon, and that is why he will continue to be happy to “collect the five euros that are on the street”. However, the number one in the Streetspotr ranking is currently spurring his ambition. He knows the man - "in person". And he wants to oust him from the top. The competition never sleeps, especially not among micro-jobbers.