Leah Busque – TaskRabbit 1 of 2

"Whatever comes my way I will figure it out." Taskrabbit is a service marketplace where people can outsource their errands and tasks to members in the community.

Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling other to learn about building products and starting companies. I’m very excited because I’m here today with Leah Busque, who is the founder of TaskRabbit. TaskRabbit is a service market place where people can outsource their to-dos to others in the community. With that said, Leah, we’d love for you to give our audience a brief bio.

Leah: Sure. Thank you for having me. So, I am the founder of TaskRabbit. My background is engineering. I was a software engineer at IBM for seven years before I had the idea for TaskRabbit. But my passion for product and engineering and technology goes a little bit further back than that. It starts, actually when I think back to high school where I had this one amazing teacher who taught math and got me really into math and sciences and she was really influential with me because she was so empowering and just really a force in the school and the community. 

And so, I think that’s where my initial passion for math and sciences came out of and so when I went on to college I decided to major in math and computer science was sort of in the same neck of the woods, in the same building, so it seemed like a good fit and I immediately fell in love with programming and technology and had a great group of professors at Sweet Briar College, where I went to school, that encouraged me in that. 

After I graduated I went back to Boston and started at a start-up called Iris Associates, they were the original developers of Lotus Notes and Domino. We eventually got bought by IBM and all sort of merged into IBM but that’s originally where my background in engineering/technology springs out of and so when I started TaskRabbit it was all about building this really fun and amazing platform that could help people get things done in real life.

Matthew: What are some of the technology and market trends that currently exist and where do you see things developing in the future for your space?

Leah: So, when I started the company it was, I had the idea in February of 2008 and at that time Facebook was really popular, Twitter was just up and coming and [Forceware] and [Goala], these location-based platforms didn’t really have any attraction yet. 

At the time, I started to think about how we could start leveraging technologies like social, location and particularly mobile to form something really interesting and sort of the key thing running through my head is, how can we start to use the internet to get off the internet and build a stronger community together. 

And so what I’m seeing happening over the past three years and it will continue to happen is this trend of bringing the neighborhood back and utilizing technology as actually a local tool. Because technology gives us access to a global network of people. It’ll be leverage technology. Things like social location and mobile to create a local tool for communities. I think that’s incredibly powerful and I think we’re going to see more and more of those types of innovations happening. 

Matthew: What inspired you to start TaskRabbit? How did you come up with that idea and discover the opportunity?

Leah: As I said, it was February of 2008. i was living in Boston at the time. I remember this because it was a cold, snowy winter night. My husband and I were sitting in our kitchen, we were getting ready to go out to dinner and we realized we were out of dog food and we have this 100 pound yellow lab named Colby who just had to eat that night. 

We called a cab to come pick us up, so it was, like, okay, are we really going to have the cab stop on the way home after we go to dinner? What if all the stores are closed? Why is this such a pain to get this dog food? And my husband, Kevin, is really into technology as well so we always have these really geeky conversations in the house and that night it turned into, wouldn’t it be nice if there was just a place online where you could go, say we needed dog food, name the price we’re willing to pay and we’re certain that there was someone in our neighborhood, maybe at the store at that very second, that could help us out and it was just a matter of connecting with them. 

And so four months later, I was still at IBM when I had this idea. I ended up just quitting my job to build the first version of the site and in those four months I talked to anyone that would listen to me about the idea just to get feedback and to keep thinking about it. 

Met some great mentors and advisors during that time that really encouraged me to make the leap, and so I did. By June of ’08, I had quit my job, I locked myself in my house for ten weeks straight to build the first version of the site and then it launched in Boston and just really snowballed from there.

Matthew: We know that your a sole founder, can you speak about that experience of getting TaskRabbit off the ground and building it as a sole founder and how that has impacted your development as an entrepreneur?

Leah: Yeah. It’s interesting. It’s something I have thought a lot about over my experience of building this company and when I first had the idea I was very much and engineer. I wasn’t an entrepreneur yet. I was just fascinated and obsessed with building this really cool product and technology. I really didn’t give much thought to anything else, like how am I going to scale it, how am I going to market it. I didn’t even know how to raise money or who would give me money or anything like that. 

I just really leapt in head first because I was really passionate about building this product. When it snowballed, it ended up just really being me, early on boot strapping the company and of course, I’ve been lucky enough to have help and support from my family and especially my husband, Kevin, who kept his full-time job, kept us afloat during that time. 

Basically, Kevin and I made a pact that I would quit IBM and I would have six months to make something happen with the business, otherwise I would need to go back to work. We had a mortgage we needed to pay, we had to pay for our house and I took my pension out of IBM at the time and it was interesting because it was something like maybe $25,000 and I was like, okay, it’s $25,000 can last us six months, we can pay out mortgage, you don’t have to work, let’s see what you can do. That was June. 

By December, I had gained some good traction and I had the product launched, people were using it. Scott Griffith, who is the CEO of Zipcar, was a mentor and advisor to me and he was helping me interview some of the different Angels and raising a little bit of money. But it wasn’t really until nine months later that we actually closed a small seed round of 150K from two private Angel investors in Boston, who were actually the first money in the Zip Car too, so it was kind of nice keeping it in the family there. 

But, those last three months between December and March, of the . . . I had six, it ended up being nine, those last three months were brutal. But we both knew I was so close and I was on the brink of something and we just kept pushing forward and pushing towards it and made it happen which is great. 

I think a lot about if I were to start a company again that, and I’ve said this before, I would definitely get co-founders. I had to idea what I was getting into. It just ends up, especially in the early days when it’s super just scrappy and boot strapped and you’re just trying to do it all, I think it would have been nice to have that other person that was there 24/7 and in it like I was. 

It can get, I think, very lonely as the sole founder, even if you do have a great support system like I did. So, I think that made it work and it’s great where we are today and we built an awesome team around me which I am so thankful for but had I to do it all over again, I would definitely get some co-founders.

Matthew: Are there any unique metrics, or social proof, about TaskRabbit that you would like to share with the audience?

Leah: This is a great question. Early on, one of the biggest hurdles and challenges we faced, and we still face it to some extent today, was this idea of trust. Why should I trust someone else in my neighborhood to grab my dry cleaning, to do my grocery shopping, to come into my house? And what I’ve noticed over the past two to three years as we’ve developed the site is that as more and more peer-to-peer market places come up on the scene, we’re seeing a shift in consumer behavior and people are becoming more comfortable with the idea of sharing things. 

And the idea of access trumping ownership and being able to live more efficiently together in a community when we all kind of pool our resources together is a really interesting concept. And so I’d say that’s the social proof that we’re really starting to see develop right now and we’ve done a lot to mitigate the trust barriers and 100% of our TaskRabbits go through this vetting process that includes a background check and we have this whole big reputation engine that we built. 

So all those things have helped too but I think overall what’s really exciting for me to see is more and more of these peer-to-peer networks pop up on the scene and just all of together as an ecosystem conquering and getting over this barrier of getting people to share things together.


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