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Thumbtack: A Photographer’s Business Partner or Something Else?

I met a photographer last week who mentioned a web service to me that offers professionals a way to find new customers. The site is called “Thumbtack” (Thumbtack - Accomplish your personal projects) and it allows you to build a profile and specify the type of work you offer in your area, then matches this to requests from consumers.

The business model is that consumers pay nothing and professionals buy sets of credits they can use to bid on the work. Initially, a set of 24 credits cost $34.99. Different job quotes require different numbers of credits, but for example a corporate headshot quote costs 2 credits and a commercial photo shoot costs 4 credits.

The consumer receives up to 5 quotes and can decide among them or to hire outside the system or not at all. There is a notification to the professional when the quote is read, and if the quote is not read within 48 hours the site refunds the credit to the account. The consumer can click to contact the professional with questions before deciding on one.

It all sounds easy, so I signed up to give it a try. I created a professional profile with gallery photos and a detailed biography and description of my available services as a photographer. I have been a life-long photographer with several photos published in magazines and the New York Times, so I thought I’d have a fairly good chance of landing some business through the Thumbtack service.

In the past week I have received roughly a dozen requests for photo work. I have replied with quotes to 9 of these requests with reasonable prices within the ranges asked for by the consumers. In one case I quoted significantly under the range to see if I could get a reply. Some of the requests filled up to 5 quotes quickly while others had only 2 quotes including mine. My quotes offered generous time and deliverables and highlighted my professional experience and dedication to quality and to creating images that would bring the customer joy.

In total, I have received zero replies from consumers and zero jobs. I have no idea if these consumers are real people or if the requests are genuine. Thumbtack lists some doublespeak about their quality control process of reducing spam requests, but there’s no way for the professional to tell if the requests are real. On one quote this is the automated email I got from Thumbtack: "We see that Janelle D. viewed your quote and your profile but may not have followed up with you. It looks like Janelle received 4 other quotes on this commercial photography request and has not hired another Thumbtack professional. Janelle viewed the quote of, profile of, and messaged other pros."

To test the system, I signed in as a consumer and created a request for a web designer to create a simple web site for me. I left the budget flexible to be discussed. I live in the Seattle area, so I was expecting all 5 quotes to be filled almost instantly. After 48 hours, I got an automated email from Thumbtack saying, "We sent your request to web designers in your area, but unfortunately we couldn't find anyone who was available, interested, and qualified to complete your project.” I find it impossible to believe that in Seattle there are no web designers looking for some simple extra side projects. According to Thumbtack there are hundreds of thousands of professionals across the country providing services in over 900 categories ready to help me, and yet not one web designer in the greater Seattle area.

As far as I can tell, Thumbtack is a complete scam. They collected $34.99 from me and I will not be buying any more of their useless credits. If Thumbtack charged the consumer even $1 per request, I might start to believe that the requests are from actual consumers, but they have stated that requests will always be free. If someone from Thumbtack reads this they are likely to reply with something like, “You have to create a lot of quotes before you get your first gig, and then you can build your list of feedback/reviews, and then you’ll get more gigs.” This is what they have said on some discussion boards I found online. It sounds fishy to me - just keep taking our diet pills because you won’t lose weight until you take lots of them.

I will use my few remaining credits to respond to requests with quotes at ridiculously low prices to complete my experiment. I doubt I will be contacted, but I am willing to try. Caveat Emptor.