Fast Company

23 FOR GIVING THE YELLOW PAGES AN AI TWIST

Atlanta-based Nikki Bell offers her personal chef and catering services over Thumbtack. The site has helped her land nearly 200 jobs, from corporate events to private dinners.

It’s standing room only in the Thumbtack cafeteria at the last “all thumbs” meeting of the year. Marco Zappacosta, the company’s bearded, 32-year-old cofounder and CEO, grabs the microphone in front of more than 300 staffers at the San Francisco headquarters, as 300 others stream in from a customer service center in Salt Lake City.

He cues up an emoji-filled graph of his “emo ro-co”—startup pidgin for “emotional roller coaster”—from the past year. Zappacosta’s nine-year-old platform connects customers with local professionals to book everything from landscaping services to math tutoring. The rocky ride over the past year was tied to the company’s development of a new system called Instant Match, which automates the bidding process for pros and algorithmically pairs them with customers’ job requests.

The emojis form a bowl shape: In the early months of 2017, a crest of happy faces marks Zappacosta’s “blissful ignorance,” followed by a mid-year dip into crying and befuddlement, “when we were just crawling through.” At year’s end, though, a series of smiling and lovestruck faces rises triumphantly—that’s when Zappacosta realized, “Holy shit, we actually have a way to do this!” Thumbtack had transformed the process of finding and hiring service providers online for its users.

The mood of the meeting is businesslike but light—a tone befitting a startup now valued as a unicorn with young founders, and, by a scan of the room, few employees over 40 years old. A guy near the front of the room holds a mallet

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