An Open Letter to Thumbtack

An Open Letter to Thumbtack

Dear Thumbtack, you’ve been a major national player in service-sector networking, including the field I love, professional photography. I appreciate the jobs I accessed through you in the past. But the door on that past, I’m sorry to have to say, is closed.

When I first launched my photography business in a new city, I discovered your service and took the risk that many other small business owners do: I bid on your crowd-sourced marketing.

Here's to the good times and the many great clients I found through your service.

I was surprised when you were penalized by Google in 2015, especially because just a year earlier, Google Capital had organized a $100 million investment in your business. Google did continue working with you, and with somewhat similar concerns, so did I. I hadn't yet figured out the best marketing strategy for my commercial photography business and barely even knew what "PPC advertising" or "SEO" meant. So, I continued working with Thumbtack and bid my way into a number of jobs. I built new portfolios and found several great clients, plus a few others. (That’s business, of course.)

Then, I realized that the Thumbtack widget you had me place on my website not only was giving you the upper hand in my search rankings, it was also potentially redirecting my own website traffic to yours. This didn’t seem quite right. SEO (and marketing generally) is always competitive, but isn’t always this aggressive. Directly co-opting business leads is cutthroat.

I cut back on my Thumbtack focus, but kept bidding with you. Discovering new avenues of networking and marketing, my need for your service tapered off.

Then, in 2018, you rolled out Instant Match. "You no longer pay for bids," Thumbtack promoted to us professionals. Prior to the announcement, I had participated in a phone survey in which the new system was introduced: bids are sent out automatically from professionals, and nobody pays unless they win the gig. This system seemed reasonable. Little did we professionals know that you would change the maximum number of bidders on a job from five to fifteen.

"The requestors have said they love having options," you effused. What about us professionals — you know, your source of revenue? How can we efficiently compete for jobs and avoid untenable price cuts when you’ve tripled our competition overnight? Clearly, Thumbtack’s interest had shifted solely to dramatically increasing its own odds of profitability.

All of this was frustrating enough, but through the angry backlash from us professionals, you dug your heels in and marched forward with your new Instant Match platform. Over the following months, I submitted just two bids. One of them amounted to a great event photography gig, but the other was a dead end lead at too high of a cost to justify.

Recently, I signed into the app to see what sort of leads were coming through. I was taken aback to notice that on top of all the new changes, the project budgets weren't showing on any requests. The already huge risk of bidding on projects had become a blind gamble, and I can’t see why anyone would want to take part in this Instant Match system any longer.

If I wanted to place poor-percentage bets, I'd go to Las Vegas. There, at least they make losing your hard-earned money seem like fun.

I mean no disrespect to the hardworking people at Thumbtack, who are surely trying to run a viable business as best they feel they can. If any photographers or a representative of Thumbtack would like to comment on my analysis here, I’d welcome that and try to have a dialogue with you. If Thumbtack can give me a good reason (and a good platform) to return to, I'd even consider that.

Lead image by John-Mark Smith via Pexels, used under Creative Commons. 

Scott Mason's picture

Scott Mason is a commercial photographer in Austin specializing in architectural imaging.

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You are absolutely correct. I about gave it up when they went to a "no bid" method, but when they no longer gave budget information, that was the hair that broke the camels back.

Need an open letter to BARK too.. Charging 30$ for a 1:5 chance to bid on a 100$ job..

That doesn't sound worth it at all. is a good platform if you feel like getting your opinion out there!

After 5 years using them I have totally given up after the blind budget and instant match, it's always been a race to the bottom of a budget anyway so I don't miss them much anyhow !

Spot on, over the years Thumbtack has been all over the map with their pricing/approach but this latest move of not providing budgets is the worst approach one could take.

I deleted my account before any of the changes you describe. Between all the people competing to see who could do the most work for nothing and all the high budget jobs that needed to overpay me for various reasons so I could just refund them the difference, the platform was useless to me.

I got a few jobs, so I made more than I spent, but I think I just got lucky. I can’t recommend thumbtack to anyone.

"...and all the high budget jobs that needed to overpay me for various reasons so I could just refund them the difference..."

Ahh yes the overpayment scam. As if there isn't enough to deal with getting real clients you have to filter out the scammers :(

Scammers are the worst. In the past, Thumbtack has actually been great about refunding me in those situations - no questions asked, if it looked fishy they would block the request and give me my money back. Their customer service was great in the past, and although they listen to complaints they seem to have become stubborn in terms of negotiating.

I blame the PPA for not getting their act together - no photographer should ever need to go to Thumbtack.

I know PPA is a network of sorts, but wasn't aware that they have a job bidding system.. Do they?

Thumbtack was the best thing that happened to my business, then they changed everything, now its unuseable.

Thumbtack was never perfect. But it did help me build my professional headshot business last year. I quickly stopped bothering with Thumbtack this year with all the changes and luckily I was already transitioning to other advertising methods for getting clients. Business is better than ever now but now I am longer using thumbtack. It would be nice if they didn't torpedo their own model because I would like to have kept the same thumbtack business I had last year as well. Based on some user discussion on their own boards it seems lots of other providers in other businesses besides photography have the same issues.

Thanks for sharing your experience, it sounds like we both had similar ones. I'm happy to hear that business is doing well for you!