For a month, I got everything on demand – including angst about jobs

Life is much easier when everything is on-demand.
Life is much easier when everything is on-demand.

June proved to be a hectic month for me, jammed with travel to Nantucket, Miami, Austin, and New York. Fortunately, a bunch of startups have sprung up to take on the tasks that I didn’t have time for.

With my cellphone and credit card, I was able to do laundry, tackle household chores, and find a place to park — despite my over-stuffed schedule. Here are some highlights:

Two blocks too far

There’s a dry cleaner two blocks from my house, but I almost always forget to bring the bag of clothes with me when I head out. Washio, based in Los Angeles, is a service that handles laundry and dry cleaning; its app lets you schedule specific times for pick-up and drop-off. A friendly “Washio ninja” — yes, that’s what the company calls them — was at my doorstep at 10:30 a.m. on the dot, just a few seconds after I received a text message saying she was arriving. She took my bag and gave me a cookie.

The return didn’t work as smoothly: a driver arrived more than an hour early and had only half of my order. After a phone call with Washio, the rest of my clothes showed up about three hours later. Some sample prices: shirts $1.99 each, pants and sweaters $7.95. (I accidentally had a T-shirt cleaned for $6, something that wouldn’t have happened if I’d gone to the local shop.)

No time for a sandwich stop

The next day was crammed with appointments around Boston, and I needed to be at my desk for a 2:30 conference call. I had no time to stop for lunch, so I used an app from San Francisco-based Postmates to order a roast beef sandwich and Vitaminwater from Roast Beast, a shop in Boston that doesn’t deliver. The Postmates app finds a willing courier with a car or bike, and promises delivery within an hour. It took 32 minutes. The total cost was $15.09, about $5 of which represented a service fee, delivery fee, and tip.

Honey do

My wife, Amy, had a dinner group coming over one evening, so rather than helping her straighten the house, I went to the website TaskRabbit, founded in Boston, but now in San Francisco. I requested someone to clean the house on a Thursday morning, and TaskRabbit presented two options: one “Tasker” charged $75 an hour, which seemed more like what I’d pay an accountant, but the other was willing to work for $20 an hour.

She was on-time, cheerful, and took care of the job in 2 hours 15 minutes. The total was $47.25, including a “trust and safety fee,” which helps cover insurance and background checks on Taskers, according to the company.

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere

The next afternoon, I downloaded the app Drizly from a Boston startup that sends booze orders to local liquor stores that deliver. The app notified me that deliveries don’t start until 2 p.m. — I placed my order around 1:30 — but by 2:24, a driver from Foley Liquors in Brookline Hills was on my doorstep holding a brown paper bag. He checked my ID, and handed over the bottles of hard cider — most of them still cold. Drizly charges a $5 delivery fee, and you can tip the driver through the app, or do so in cash.

Freelance mower

How could I resist when a service called Plowz & Mowz sent an e-mail suggesting that I let them mow my lawn? Amy scheduled them to show up on a Friday afternoon, and as I was wrapping up my day, I heard the buzz of a mower. The job was done well — except for a stray paper towel that got shredded, but wasn’t picked up. Mowz charged $50 to do my smallish yard; Amy tracked down a coupon code online that cut it to $30.

Omnipresent valet service

On a rainy Monday, I opted to drive to the Back Bay for a 9 a.m. meeting. I used an app called Luxe Valet to request a valet parker to meet me outside the building of my appointment. After some confusion when the request was cancelled — twice — a friendly fellow named Jeffrey materialized and drove off with my Subaru. The coolest thing about the service was I didn’t need to return to the same spot to reclaim my car; I went to a lunch on Newbury Street, and the vehicle was returned to me there.

Luxe Valet was the only one of the services that felt like a bargain: The company charges $5 per hour, with a maximum rate of $25 per day. My tab was $22.94 for 4 1/2 hours, less than most Back Bay garages.

Did I feel ambivalent about outsourcing errands and chores to a small army of freelancers? Absolutely. I told myself I was putting money into people’s pockets. But the Postmates courier who delivered my sandwich worked about a half hour to earn $5.40 — not factoring in the cost of gas, insurance, or car maintenance. I wondered about his daily earnings, especially if there were lags between deliveries. (A company spokeswoman said couriers can take on multiple jobs at once, multiplying their earnings.)

There were a couple services I didn’t get a chance to sample. One was Savanna, a Boston startup that dispatches a barber to your home or office. When I tried to book a $39 appointment two days in advance, I began a back-and-forth e-mail exchange with a Savanna employee who eventually admitted, “This week is slammed,” and suggested the following week, which was too far off for me.

Another was HereComesTheAirplane.co, which posits that having food delivered still leaves some hard labor for you. So they will send someone over who will say, “Here comes the airplane!” while he or she feeds you.

That one, it turns out, may be a joke.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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