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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

InternetFebruary 22, 2022

Who really wants what Sidehustle is selling?

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

A new Six60-backed app promises to help hustlers make a bit of a cash on the side, whether that’s by selling vintage clothes or drainlaying services. Shanti Mathias checks it out for IRL.

“Everyone’s right on board with the side hustle and wants to be part of it,” says David Gibson. “Young people might have five hustles, one of which might become a main hustle.” 

At this point in our interview, I’ve heard the word “hustle” so much that it is abstracting; ceasing to have any meaning. Gibson is telling me about his app Sidehustle, which launched formally last year. It’s a platform for buying and selling, as well as listing your availability for work and finding jobs – like Trade Me, but much more casual. Sidehustle is the successor to an app called Diohub which Gibson – an investor who has worked with Trustpower, NZME, and other New Zealand companies – founded with his babysitter, Felicity Ellis, to connect students at private Auckland Diocesan School for Girls who were keen to make some money babysitting and doing odd jobs with parents who wanted their services.

“There was a sense that young people were looking for projects in their lives selling things or selling services,” Gibson says. From there, he and a team brainstormed a way to take the app wider. 

If Sidehustle is an app for hustling, what does this actually mean? “Hustle implies making money,” says Ben Walker, a lecturer in Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Management who studies the psychology of work identities. Walker initially heard the word used in the hip-hop music he’s listened to since he was a teenager. Now, though, hustles – and hustling – is everywhere. 

David Gibson hopes that Sidehustle will allow young people to do more work. (Photo: supplied)

“The verb hustle means that you’ve got to go and get it, and be proud of going to get it for yourself,” says Gibson, who is certainly invested in the idea of hustling. This is hustling as rebranded entrepreneurship. Gibson suggests that most young people in New Zealand have a side hustle, but “having a format or platform that represents [hustling] is new”.  

Other definitions of hustling are more practical. “To me a side hustle is anything I can do alongside a ‘normal’ job to make extra cash,” says Ashlee Grigg, a digital marketer who has made a profile on Sidehustle to try to get work. 

Gibson’s app, which he says currently has 22,000 users, is up against stiff – and heavily resourced – competition. In Aotearoa, Trade Me offers jobs, marketplace listings, and five million active users. Meta’s Facebook Marketplace and Instagram Shopping integrate social media with ecommerce, as Sidehustle hopes to do. And British app Depop, purchased last year by Etsy for $1.2 billion, is a peer-to-peer marketplace specialising in secondhand clothing targeting much of the same audience as Sidehustle – young people looking to make some extra cash.  

Against this competition, Sidehustle has invested heavily in marketing. There are glowing teal posters in bus stops, “which is where youth go on school routes and to university,” Gibson says. There have also been collaborations with influencers, mostly of the “polished white woman” type, such as Matilda Green and Simone Anderson. Most prominent, though – and heavily emphasised by Gibson – is the collaboration with Six60, who are partners and investors, and who also advertise the app. “We know the side hustle experience really well,” the band’s bass guitarist, Chris Mac, says in a statement to The Spinoff. “Word of mouth used to be your best bet, but now it feels like Sidehustle is giving that mouth a megaphone and it’s going to be really exciting to see how Kiwis use it. I’ve got some ideas myself.”

Band Six60 is among the investors of the Sidehustle app. (Photo: supplied)

So what is the Sidehustle app actually like to use? “It’s pretty clunky and unintuitive,” says Aslan Rowlands, a guitar teacher from Wellington. They have listed guitar lessons on the app twice, once last week and once a month ago, but haven’t found any work. Rowlands particularly struggled with the format of the app, which requires joining different “markets” – that is, groups – to advertise to a more targeted audience. “It’s difficult to know what you’re actually supposed to do,” Rowlands says. 

Downloading the app, I found something similar: on my (admittedly old) Android phone, the interface was infuriatingly laggy. As I didn’t join any groups, I saw a mix of listings, everything from drainlaying to selling cosmetics. The app tries to coin its own language – you can “vouch” or “track” other users and “boost” posts, and it’s difficult to figure out what these features do for users who can’t call the app’s owner and have these features explained (according to Gibson, vouching is a way to verify users, tracking is a way to follow particular users or listings, and boosting means that you will get a portion of the 7% commission the company takes on any sales made through the platform). 

The sorts of jobs advertised on the app are often one-off, like flyering, assistance with moving, or helping at an event. People listing jobs on the service are linked to the government page describing the minimum wage, and are liable for taxes themselves. While using the app, I saw multiple listings for $16 an hour work (which is technically legal as a training wage, although only if certain other conditions are present). 

As there are no timestamps, posts – which look similar to an Instagram feed, with the ability to scroll through images, tap for more details, like, and comment – and a limited search function, it’s difficult to tell if a user you contact will reply, or even to get a sense of what opportunities are out there. Worst of all, the app feels kind of dead: opening it multiple times over the course of a week, I saw the same “hustles” and the same “hustlers” over and over – mostly from profiles with only one post, and no likes or followers. 

Sidehustle is using bus stops as a central source of advertising. (Photo: Shanti Mathias)

According to Gibson, the technology of the app will continue to improve in the months to come – the company has a three person team of developers – and minimising the search function is intentional. “The young generation is used to the idea of a scrolling feed where opportunities come through that feed and that feed developing through what you think is interesting,” he says. The social architecture of the app and its algorithm will improve as more users join up, he says. 

Gibson has a point: companies like TikTok depend on sophisticated algorithms to show users what they are interested in – although most apps of this nature still have some kind of search function. But it’s early days yet: with its slick and colourful branding, reminiscent of buy now pay later companies like Afterpay, the Sidehustle app might yet find its place. “Some projects will be successful, and some won’t,” says Gibson. “I’m really happy with the app so far.” 

The success of Gibson’s app could depend on what kind of hold the idea of hustling has in New Zealand culture. I ask Walker, the psychologist of work, what motivates people to start a side hustle – that is, essentially to do extra work. 

Some of the push is cultural, he says, pointing out that many people work multiple jobs, or have multiple sources of income, and don’t frame it as “hustling” (oh yes, the third quarter returns from my second company have just come in. So glad I have a profitable side hustle!). But for many people, “the side hustle has symbolic value,” he says. “[People] use it as a signal that they work hard,  they’re entrepreneurial, they’re creative.”

The Sidehustle interface is designed to be clean and attractive.

There are also economic reasons why side hustles are attractive. “The quality of work has degraded, so that the amount [you’re] paid, the actual nature of the work – whether it’s creative or intellectually challenging – isn’t what it used to be,” says Walker. In a moment of profound economic uncertainty, with high inflation, a side hustle is appealing to those who need the extra cash. “Money is pretty tight at the moment, even with full-time work,” says Rowlands, the guitar teacher. When they saw an advertisement for Sidehustle at a bus stop, the logo featuring an unsubtle dollar sign, they thought it was worth a go.

The existence of Sidehustle illustrates how our relationship to work is changing. “Work wasn’t always a major source of identity for people,” says Walker, noting that today, social media bios often highlight someone’s job as a central identity. For people working in jobs that they don’t feel represent their identities and values, he says the idea of a side hustle becomes even more valuable, allowing the possibility, in a work-dominated culture, of labour that represents  who you are. 

“Side hustles are passion projects, you don’t feel like it’s real work,” Gibson says determinedly. The widely perpetuated view Gibson is espousing, to “do what you love”, has its critics. “In this framework, labour is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love,” wrote critic Miya Tokumitsu in Jacobin in 2014. “This leads to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate — and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of labourers.” If the only valuable work is “lovable” – which is often constructed as high-status white-collar, or creative work – then what does that mean for the many people who may not love their jobs? Vital, but lower-paid jobs, like care work, running a landfill, or bus driving are rarely framed as worth loving. 

For many people, however, contemporary economic and social constructions of labour aren’t that important – they’re just excited about the opportunity to make some money. “I think it’s great that people looking for work can create a listing and promote themselves which is not something that really exists on other sites,” says Grigg, the digital marketer, of Sidehustle. 

“In theory, I think it’s a great idea. I would love to be able to advertise my tutoring to people all over NZ,” says Rowlands, though the audience on the app hasn’t gotten them any work yet. 

Gibson is just as confident. “I like seeing people have a go,” he says. He’s excited about young people working more: teaching te reo Māori, selling their old clothes, working for Six60’s social media. “We’re on the right side of good here,” he adds.

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