CEO Charlotte Culina on Disrupting the Sharing and Gig Economies

CEO Charlotte Culina on Disrupting the Sharing and Gig Economies

Q: A major trend in entrepreneurship over the past decade or so has been on the development of sharing and gig platforms—such as ride-sharing services and task-based employment websites—as a way for people to find flexible sources of income and to get things done. Can you talk a bit about how The Urban Helper stands out from this now-established group of companies?

Absolutely. The Urban Helper offers the same thing—flexible employment opportunities and innovative ways to make money and get things done—but with an eye towards solving some of the problems that earlier platforms seemed to create. Unlike many of the companies that we might now consider the old guard of the gig or sharing economy, The Urban Helper was conceived with a social purpose at the heart of its mission. It was important to me that my company solve existing problems rather than create new ones—you might say I’m out to disrupt the disruptors!

Q: What types of problems did you see being created by other companies in the gig and sharing space?

I think some of the problems were unintended consequences—new markets that were structured in such a way that workers couldn’t make a reasonable wage, or adding more cars or more driving into urban environments that were already struggling with pollution and traffic. Other problems were more along the lines of capitalism running amok: fees that were so high the service became unaffordable to regular people, or such a dense and undifferentiated user base that someone just starting out had little chance of landing a gig. I also felt that a lot of these companies ended up further isolating us as individuals. You know, maybe you drive 20 miles in your car to do an isolated task for someone you’ll never see again. And then you do that same sort of job again, and again. There isn’t really a relationship to be had with those kinds of transactions. I wanted to find a way to help people get work done while drawing hyperlocal communities closer together.

Q: How does the Urban Helper do that?

On a very basic level, the Urban Helper prioritizes connections in your neighborhood. We try to put people who need a service or help in touch with people in their same community who can provide that service or assistance. We keep our fees low because we want the service to be as affordable as possible, and we offer a time banking option that removes financial obstacles to accessing the platform. Because we want to connect people in their own neighborhoods, we’re cutting down on commuting time and pollution, and because we see community empowerment as central to our business purpose, we’re driven by more than profit. I am a huge believer in the People, Planet, Profit model of making a business.

Q: You’re in the first phase of your beta test right now, running in a few select neighborhoods in Los Angeles. What would you say to someone considering registering for the platform?

We are thrilled that we’re up and running. We’ve got a couple dozen services offered already, which is really exciting. I’d say: sign up and give it a try! The more people we have, the more services are offered, the more diverse our users, the more helpful it will be to everyone. We want you to try it out not just because The Urban Helper facilitates work getting done—always a good thing—but because we are a community-minded platform that gets stronger the more people use it. Join us!