Image by Joshua Curry of The Charleston City Paper Bryan Sprader, a Fox with QuickFoxes.com, performs the "Office Organizer" Foxrun for Paul Bowers of The Charleston City Paper.
Here was my problem: My new office was a bit of a wreck, with a precarious tower of books in one corner and an office chair acting as a filing cabinet. It wasn't quite in tornado-passed-through-it territory, but I still didn't have the time to clean up the last guy's mess.
So I hired a fox.
QuickFoxes.com, the brainchild of College of Charleston graduate Mark Schwartz, lets you hire people to do Foxruns — tasks like walking your dog, adding calligraphy to your wedding invitations, teaching your kid how to swim, or organizing your office — on an hourly or room-by-room basis. Schwartz likens it to Craigslist's Services section, minus the anonymity and plus a middleman who does background checks and hires all the workers as independent contractors.
The site went live June 21, and already, without any formal advertising, Schwartz says he's getting around 40 Foxrun requests a day for his pool of 45 foxes. Three foxes were available for my office cleaning job, and I picked Bryan Sprader, a 6th-grade English teacher at Northwoods Middle School who needed summer work after the Charleston County School District cut summer school sessions from its budget. He showed up three minutes early, sporting a safety-yellow uniform polo that positively glowed in the dimly lit office as he set to work clearing cluttered drawers and trashing old memos. For this job, QuickFoxes took its usual 30-percent cut from the $20 fee, leaving Sprader with $14 for an hour's work.
Schwartz, 25, says the idea for the site came to him on a three-and-a-half-month road trip around the continental U.S. Driving through California in the throes of the Great Recession, he saw tent cities and met people begging for money, and he thought, "All these people have skills that other people want, but we need to connect them."
For now, Schwartz interviews all of the foxes himself, in an office on the third floor of the palatial pink Faber House on East Bay Street. His first job after graduating with a business degree in 2009 was at Aerotek Staffing, and he says he has grown to distrust resumés — half are "lies completely," he says — and prefers applications and face-to-face questioning. If they cut the mustard and pass a criminal and sex offender registry check, foxes make themselves available for Foxruns according to their background and training. The foxes have their own profiles and review sections on the site, and if they get three negative reviews in a year, Schwartz fires them.
Sprader, 26, gets his assignments via e-mail on his smartphone; others get automated phone calls from the office. He did some construction work during college, so his list of potential Foxruns includes home repairs, apartment moving, and general handyman duties. He's also willing to give guided tours of Charleston based on carriage tours he's taken and some independent research he's done.
Schwartz comes from entrepreneurial stock. His mother and father are his chief financial officer and chief operations officer, respectively.
"We people are innovators," says Maggie Schwartz, 59, whose office is directly next door to her son's. She and her husband, Eric Schwartz, started a tourist lodge in the Amazon rainforest of her native Ecuador 27 years ago, before such lodges were common.
"I sort of invented ecotourism," says Eric Schwartz, 60. He almost speaks fondly about the two years he and his wife spent slogging through the jungle wetlands and building bridges to create La Selva Jungle Lodge. At the end, they had sold nearly everything they owned and borrowed everything they could — and it paid off. In nine months, La Selva was a raging success.
When his son approached him with the QuickFoxes idea, he says it hit him like a lightning bolt and he signed on immediately. "I have a long history of taking on challenging and off-the-wall and out-of-the-box ideas, and that's how I raised my son to think," he says.
Mark Schwartz wants to spread QuickFoxes to cities nationwide in the next few years, but for now he's racing the clock to get the kinks out of the website. The company starts its first major ad campaign with Charleston news site The Digitel this week, and every day he's sending two or three e-mails to his tech team with bugs to fix before site traffic starts picking up. One day the comments section isn't working, the next, the blog is down.
He says he works 14-hour days, sometimes at the office and sometimes at home. He's got changes of clothes and a fold-out sofa bed in his office.
"I'm an idea person," he says, "but most people who say that don't actually follow through."