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The Giant Job Upload

Magic is a startup funded by Sequoia, Y-Combinator, and others. The idea is simple: text a thing, and we’ll have a human do the thing for you. “Find me the best open seat on my flight”, “find these sneakers, buy them”, etc.

For any simple requests, we have apps (OpenTable, Amazon). For everything else, there’s Magic. It pays humans to do the hunting and pecking for you. Hunting on mobile is particularly challenging, and Magic presented an interesting opportunity for desktop workers to do micro-tasks for someone on the go.

The startup is doing OK. It’s no Google. So why is this interesting now?

The Covid Upload

The real world is on indefinite hiatus, pushing employment into a Pareto distribution. A small number of people (analysts, engineers, doctors, traders) are working harder than ever, while 20% of the broader population is about to be unemployed. Millions of Americans are going to start looking for jobs online.

We’re about to upload the entire service industry to the web. Millions of people looking for work, their only outlets a keyboard and Zoom. This might create as whole new economy, and there are two possible startups to be experimented with.

1. Vertical Services

Take the Magic approach, but tailor it to an industry. For example –

(a) Smartbox: Have a trusted agent label all incoming email in your inbox. Even draft replies.

(b) Sneakernet: Amazon doesn’t have things stocked, but Alibaba does. You can’t use the apps you relied on, and acquiring things requires more prowling. We call suppliers in China to get you the things Amazon has out of stock and send them to you.

(c) EasyQA: Stop writing brittle Selenium tests. We’ll manually QA your site for you.

(d) Recruiters: It’s so hard to find a great recruiter, but it feels like it should be very, very easy to train, measure, and quantify this job. I bet you the maître d’ at a recently closed Michelin restaurant would be a fine sherpa of your company’s candidates.

Etc.

2. Horizontal Services

Magic mixed with Zirtual. Find your sidekick in 30 seconds. Pair the user with their agent directly. You might get disintermediated, but it’s a better product. Many of the requests require private data, context, and trust. 

Something like this:

  1. Post request in chatroom.
  2. Get a few bidders within 5 seconds.
  3. Get on a group video call with 5-6 of them.
  4. Select the one that seems most promising.
  5. Rate when done.

The fastest interview process ever.

People are the New NoCode

You might say, well, shouldn’t we be writing software for all of this? Higher margin in software! Perhaps. However the world is about to go through a giant employment shift. Humans need jobs to have a sense of purpose. It might be the moral choice to employ a mix of people and software in the coming quarters, as we adjust to the new realities.

Exponential Times

These approaches have been tried unsucccesfully in the past, but things are different now. The world changed more rapidly in the past month than the last half-century. The time to start this company is now. Today. The entire services industry just collapsed, and millions of fresh Internet immigrants are online, twiddling their thumbs, wondering what to do.


P.S. If you’re truly a patriot, limit your “Magicians” to your country. Remote employment is the new gold.