With Instant Match changing what’s possible for Thumbtack, we took a moment to look back and ask: where did it all begin?
Instant Match started as an idea that was scoped, executed and handed off by the Labs team, Thumbtack’s own “startup within a startup.”
Meet Alex and Kyle
Alex and Kyle started working at Thumbtack on the same day in 2013. At the time, Thumbtack had 25 employees, two conference rooms, and a small attic space that would become the duo’s permanent office. Every day, Alex and Kyle took off their shoes and quietly climbed upstairs (to avoid making noise in conference rooms below) where they spent their days cold-calling pros to test outbound sales.
Today, Alex and Kyle make up a third of Thumbtack’s six-person Labs team (led by Nathan Allen), that’s piloted some of Thumbtack’s highest impact successes. We sat down with the legacy Tackers to learn more about their work, their routine—and whether they miss the days of a shoeless office space (they don’t).
Small Team, Big Footprint
“Our team has a ‘scale fast, fail fast’ approach,” explains Alex. “We quickly spin up tests to get a read on whether or not a concept might work. If the signal is positive, we iterate, pull in additional resources, and work with other teams across the company to scale the project into something real. If we can’t adequately test an idea or sense that it isn’t a good fit, we try to retire it quickly and move on to the next thing.”
In practice, that means that a lot of the projects the Labs team pilots never see the light of day. Alex and Kyle have worked on four projects each in their time on the Labs team, and from that pool they’ve each contributed to one major success.
For Alex, it was Pro Assistant/Quoting Service, which offered pros six different business services on a commission model. “The results from Pro Assistant were promising and pros loved it, but it wasn’t cost effective to provide so many services. So we identified the two services that most increased quotes per request (request filtering and quoting), moved to a pay-per-contact pricing model, and rebranded the idea as Thumbtack’s Quoting Service before scaling to additional categories and markets.” And over a year later, from Pro Assistant and Quoting Service, Instant Match was born.
For Kyle it was optimizing the recruitment sourcing process for engineers, a huge hurdle for the company as it scaled. “We wanted to broaden the funnel of recruits while rejigging the hiring process so we reached our target candidates in higher numbers,” says Kyle. At the time, the new system was a huge unlock for engineering recruiting.
Since the Labs team by definition tests unproven projects until they’re scalable, and then hands them off, their work is largely self-directed. “Alex and I have been on the same team together for four years and we’ve rarely worked on the same project,” explains Kyle. “Our work is pretty siloed initially, and we try to be at opposite ends of the project process to keep pace. If one of us is scoping something out, the other is often finishing things off. We always want to have something promising in the project pipeline.”
Despite this working arrangement, both Alex and Kyle agree that the team itself is one of the most central (and enduring) features of their work. “Nathan has fostered such a trusting and positive team environment,” explains Kyle. “After all this time, we still love working together and have a lot of fun in the day-to-day.”
And while many project ideas begin within Labs, it takes the work of countless other teams across Thumbtack to bring those ideas to life. “So much of what we do is building human-powered solutions that mimic processes and features that will eventually be productized,” says Alex. “There are so many amazing individuals and teams—in TSF, TSL and TPH—who have played an integral role in shaping and testing these projects. Without them, we’d have no successes to talk about.”
The Fate of Your TTU Post-Its
“Ideas come from everywhere. Jonathan, for example, always has ideas that he wants us to try out. With that in mind, we’re trying to make it as much of a cross-functional effort as we can,” says Kyle.
So what really happens to all of those Thumbtack University brainstorm post-it note stacks? “We categorize them and add them to our project scoping tracker, then discuss as a team,” Alex promises.
“We’ve had a lot of ideas around idea facilitation. White boards in the bathroom. A box in the dining area. We own the ideas@thumbtack email. Labs is a vehicle to set projects up quickly, but the ideas we scope come from everywhere across the company,” says Kyle.
“We know that every team here does experimentation on their own, and they’re doing it every day,” he explains. So what makes Labs different? “We’re entirely dedicated to experimentation, which allows us take bigger risks without sacrificing other work.”
“The first thing I do when I come in is check out the food situation. I never miss looking at the culinary menu when it comes out every week. Our culinary team is awesome,” says Alex.
Both agree that the structure of the Labs team—Nathan, Kyle, and Alex in San Francisco, and Tom, Tyra and Scott in Salt Lake—is the closest they come to any sense of day-to-day continuity.
“And after all this time we actually still like each other. We have pretty similar hobbies (all enjoy competitive sports: skiing, rock climbing, dodgeball) and we choose to spend time together outside of work,” says Alex.
Got a great idea for a project? Send it to the labs team at firstname.lastname@example.org. You never know, it might just turn into the Next Big Thing at Thumbtack.