March 29th, 2018
By: Sarah Schmid Stevenson
It used to be fairly simple to hire neighborhood kids to help move heavy objects or perform other household chores for a small fee. I’m not sure if the Internet and video games are to blame, or a general degradation of American civil discourse is the reason, but it seems a lot harder to connect these days.
Or at least it was, until services like Detroit’s ToDoolie started popping up. The company, co-founded last year by Wayne State University students Sergio Rodriguez, Jose Romo-Puerta, and Armando Arteaga, is a “commission-free platform connecting students with homeowners,” Rodriguez says. “We’re a facilitator, not a provider.”
Rodriguez says ToDoolie differs from similar sites, such as TaskRabbit, by focusing on a younger group of students (ages 16 to 24 instead of TaskRabbit’s 21+) and by not automatically taking a cut of the fee paid to students by homeowners. Instead, Rodriguez says his company makes its money when homeowners opt to pay the students with a credit card via ToDoolie’s platform.
If the student wants the money that day, she pays ToDoolie a 25-cent transaction fee. (It’s free if the student chooses to wait a few days for the bank to process the transaction. ToDoolie can also mail checks to people without bank accounts for a small fee.) In Austin, TX, where ToDoolie has a soft launch planned in June, the company is testing a new model where customers will pay a $5 booking fee.
Rodriguez says ToDoolie vets students by requiring a school-affiliated email to sign up for the platform, and the company offers a more thorough background check if the student is willing to pay for it. “Most of the time, it’s kids from the homeowner’s neighborhood,” who that they’re already familiar with, he adds. ToDoolie also makes sure the homeowners aren’t listed on the sex offender registry.
Rodriguez says ToDoolie was born out of personal need. He and his family moved from Chile to Grosse Pointe, MI, when he was in middle school. “I noticed there was a big market [for students-for-hire] in Grosse Pointe. I learned students still knock on doors, but they also do it through technology and word of mouth.”
By the time Rodriguez was in college pursuing a biomedical engineering degree, he needed money to help pay his tuition. “School was very time consuming, so there was no time for a job,” he recalls. “I started knocking on doors in the neighborhood and offering to work. It was great, because I could set my own schedule and charge more than minimum wage.” He ended up graduating without any tuition debt.
“We want every student to graduate without debt. Everyone should have access to financial security,” he says, calling it a basic human right. With the U.S. student loan debt now pegged at $1.3 trillion,, he feels there are far too many of his fellow college graduates taking staff jobs they don’t like simply because they need the money. “When you have to quickly find a job, it inhibits entrepreneurship. I want people to have more freedom.”
All three ToDoolie co-founders are pursuing graduate degrees at WSU while they continue to build their company, which they have self-funded so far. Although homeowners and students currently connect through ToDoolie’s website, an app is in the works. The company also plans to expand service to Canton and Northville, MI, later this year.