Leah Busque, Founder, TaskRabbit
No Task Too Big
Leah Busque launched TaskRabbit and became a pioneer in the sharing economy. Now she wants to empower other founders as she transitions to venture capital.
Picture this: You’re sitting at home on a February night in Boston, where winter temperatures dip well below freezing, and it’s snowing outside—not exactly a good time to find out your hundred-pound Labrador retriever is out of dog food.
So what do you do? Do you don your boots and trek through the snow in pursuit of kibble? Do you ask your spouse to do it? To a 28-year-old Leah Busque, the solution should have been simple: Why not hire someone in the area to run that errand for you?
“ were certain that there was someone in our neighborhood that’d be willing to help us out,” Busque recalls. “Maybe even someone at the store at that very moment, and it was just a matter of connecting with them.”
After some geeky brainstorming with her husband, Busque grabbed her iPhone—it had come out a few months before—and bought the first domain that came to mind: RunMyErrand.com. Four months after that, she left her job as a software engineer at IBM and locked herself in her house for 10 weeks to build the first version of the site, all because a service she wanted didn’t yet exist. Thanks to Busque’s creativity and persistence, now it does—TaskRabbit.
Think Big, Start Small: From Back Bay to the Bay Area
In September 2008, RunMyErrand launched in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, where Busque was living at the time.
“I was very targeted,” she says. “ really wanted to focus on one geography and create a peer-to-peer-network in that geography that was liquid, that would have high supply and high demand … and from there it just really started to snowball.”
Word traveled fast. People in Charlestown started telling those in Beacon Hill about this new service that let you hire locals to run your errands. Word traveled from Beacon Hill to the residents of Back Bay and Cambridge. Soon enough, Busque was recruiting Taskers from all over the city of Boston.
By the summer of 2009, Busque was invited to participate in an incubator program run by Facebook, leading her to change the name from RunMyErrand to TaskRabbit before launching in her second market—San Francisco.
A Pioneer in the Peer-to-Peer Sharing Economy
Here’s how TaskRabbit works:
First, you post a task on the platform (mobile or web), such as, “I need help mounting a 32-inch flat screen TV on my wall.” Next, you get matched with vetted Taskers in your area, and you can view their ratings and hourly rates. Then, your chosen Tasker shows up, completes the task, and gets paid securely via the app. A simple enough idea for any smartphone user today, but you have to remember that TaskRabbit launched in 2008; most people were still rocking flip phones, and the term “sharing economy” hadn’t yet made it into the consumer vernacular.
“These technologies were so new and so emerging, it wasn’t an obvious thing to be able to utilize your mobile device to connect with people in real time,” Busque explains.
“Certainly, no one was going to jump into a stranger’s car off the street and grab a ride with Lyft or with Uber. And so the consumer mindset was completely different. Trust was a big barrier. Letting a stranger into your home to hang shelves, or hang curtains, or clean your house—these were all very big decisions that the consumer was making.”
It’s been almost a decade since TaskRabbit’s inception, and the company’s come a long way from that neighborhood in Boston.
The service has expanded to about 40 markets (including London), raised more than $50 million in venture funding, and last year was acquired by Swedish furniture giant Ikea.
According to Busque, TaskRabbit gets more than 15,000 applications every month from people who want to be Taskers. And on the buyer side of that marketplace, people have hired Taskers to do errands as varied as waiting in line at a store, rushing a passport to the airport, and even retrieving keys from the bottom of a lake.
Knowing When to Quit, and When to Keep Going
As an entrepreneur, it’s important to know when to quit. Failing to realize an idea is a dud can lead to overspending and wasted time. So we had to ask Busque, especially given the novelty of the idea when it first launched: Did she ever feel like giving up?
“I’m not someone who gives up,” Busque says. “I’m not someone who quits.”
Given the dismal economy during TaskRabbit’s early days, one would have understood if she had. When Busque launched the first version of the site in September 2008, subprime lending had tanked the housing market and the stock market was crashing, ushering in the Great Recession—not exactly the best time to be quitting a steady job, or starting a business, or seeking investors. But still, Busque pressed on, choosing to bootstrap her startup for almost a year.
“We had a mortgage on our house and we had bills to pay,” Busque recalls. “We basically did the math and thought, ‘We’ve got about six months where I don’t need to work. I don’t need to take a salary to kinda make ends meet.’”
When six months came and went and TaskRabbit still didn’t have an investor, it must have been difficult not to close up shop right then and there.
“We were so close though; I felt like I was on the brink of something every day. I thought, ‘I just need 24 more hours, 48 more hours, one more week.’ And so every day was a question , ‘Should we keep going? Should we call it?’”
Thankfully, Busque didn’t call it quits. In December 2008, three months after she had missed her self-imposed deadline to raise funding, Busque closed her first angel round of $150,000. That funding was enough to carry her fledgling business through to the end of 2009, when she raised a seed round of $1 million.
As an entrepreneur, it’s just as important to know when to keep going as it is to know when to quit.
Before You Automate, Do it Manually
As Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham says, “Do things that don’t scale.” In his famous 2013 essay on this principle, Graham writes, “Startups take off because the founders make them take off.”
“I definitely had to do things that weren’t going to scale over the long term,” Busque says.
In the early days, for example, Busque could often be found zipping around Boston on her little Honda scooter, completing tasks on her own. “I still am the master TaskRabbit,” she laughs.
That firsthand experience as a Tasker proved invaluable, as Busque got to know her customers and gained a deeper understanding of how her service fit into the marketplace. That willingness to dive in and get her hands dirty proved to be a hallmark strategy for the founder.
“Even as the company developed … I would say one strategy I used that worked pretty well was figuring out how to do things manually first, to really, really understand what to build, how to make it more efficient, and then start to automate layers on top of it over time.”
Take TaskRabbit’s application process, for example. The first version involved an online application, an in-person interview (to start the site, Busque conducted 30 interviews herself over coffee in Boston), and a background check. In total, that highly manual process took three to five days.
“But the time we spent,” Busque says, “for instance, doing in-person interviews, really helped us to understand what was important in finding the right Taskers, in the highest quality, most consistent Taskers. And so we then, from those in-person interviews, would figure out what questions we needed to ask, what the indicators were early that this Tasker was going to perform well on the platform.”
Now? Every piece of that process is automated, and a Tasker can be onboarded in a matter of hours, not days.
How to Get Comfortable With Competition
Every founder knows that sinking feeling of learning a new business similar to yours is entering the marketplace. Maybe it’s why entrepreneurs are notorious for guarding their ideas with intensity, fearing one slip-up will allow a competitor to crush everything they’ve built.
But the fact is, if you’ve got a good idea, someone else is either already doing it, or will be doing it soon.
After nearly a decade in business, TaskRabbit has seen its fair share of competitors. At first, this rattled Busque’s nerves. “I remember early on stressing out a lot about the competition, but I think what I learned over time was that I just needed to stay focused on what we were building.”
What inspired her shift from flustered to focused was seeing so many competitors rush in and then quickly fizzle out.
“I would see competitors come out of the gate, raise multi-millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollars, and burn through it in 18 to 24 months. And so after that happened a couple of times, I just realized that I was going to play a long game.”
What was TaskRabbit’s competitive edge? “From day one, we were producing revenue,” Busque says. “From day one, we had positive operating margins. So for every job that went through the site, we were always making money on it. And we had to be very disciplined about how to build a platform that operated that way.”
She also thinks that too many of her competitors caved to marketplace and investor pressures, something she as a startup founder was not immune to.
“I remember getting a lot of pressure even from my investors at one point in the company’s life cycle about growth, about the competitive landscape, pressure to move faster, to copy whatever it was that they were doing, but I knew my business better than anyone.”
Repeat After Her: ‘This Is Not Rocket Science’
Many aspiring entrepreneurs let what they don’t know become a stumbling block to launching their businesses. But for Busque, what she didn’t know, she knew she could figure out. She recalls a conversation she had with herself just before leaving her job at IBM to pursue TaskRabbit:
“I was thinking about all the things that I didn’t know how to do. I was thinking, ‘All I know how to do is build this product. I’m a coder; I know how to code. I don’t know how to raise money from investors, I don’t know how to hire, I don’t know how to fire, I don’t know how to build a financial model.’ And then I realized that, to me it sounds funny, but I remember saying to myself: ‘This is not rocket science. … Just go figure it out.’”
Busque cites confidence as a key requirement for every successful entrepreneur. “As an entrepreneur, you’re doing something that no one’s ever done before, and you’re going to have to innovate and build new things in new ways.”
Another key entrepreneurial quality? Adaptability. And having gone from engineer to entrepreneur to investor, Busque clearly has that in spades. Though she studied at a women’s liberal arts college, she works in the mostly male tech industry. Though she’s highly analytical and majored in math and computer science, she appreciates the arts and minored in dance.
“The appreciation of those other aspects has really aided me in being able to adapt, and learn quickly, and jump into new situations, and have the confidence that I’m going to be able to figure out and learn whatever I need to as fast as I need to.”
From Founder to Investor
In 2016, Busque stepped down as CEO of TaskRabbit, and in September 2017, the company was sold to Ikea. (Interestingly, in a TEDx Talk six years prior to the acquisition, Busque said the most popular task posted on the platform was Ikea furniture assembly.)
“TaskRabbit is my first baby, my first child,” she says. “The one thing that you would hope for your child or for your company is that it has a full life, right? And is happy, and grows up, and moves on from you. And so I feel very fortunate that I got to be on that journey and see that happen all the way through.”
Even after the acquisition, Busque has her feet firmly planted in the startup world. She serves as executive chairwoman at TaskRabbit and has transitioned into the role of investor as general partner at Fuel Capital, a seed-stage venture fund in San Francisco. It’s a natural transition, given her background as the founder of a venture-funded startup.
“Building things has always been my passion,” she says. “I love the early stages of a company, when there is a seemingly impossible-yet-pressing problem to solve. I couldn’t be more excited to work closely with early-stage founders and their teams as they take on world-changing ideas—much like I did during my early days at TaskRabbit.”
Given her years of experience building a peer-to-peer marketplace, Busque as an investor has chosen to focus on consumer businesses and marketplaces.
“I’ve also focused my attention on meeting and supporting the ‘outsiders,’” she says, such as women founders, those who don’t fit the typical mold, and those who aren’t based in Silicon Valley. “It’s been awesome to meet so many awesome entrepreneurs who don’t look like the typical founder. … I certainly didn’t!”
Her new role and focus couldn’t come at a better time. According to the Crunchbase “Women in Venture” report, in 2017, only 6 percent of all seed dollars went to female-only-founded startups, while male-only-founded startups received 83 percent of all seed dollars. Those figures have remained remarkably static since 2012.
Busque’s first investments reflect the type of impact she hopes to make. Werk is a women-founded career platform helping women find flexible job opportunities. Feather is a Brooklyn-based startup that provides affordable furniture rental with quick delivery.
“As I thought about what I wanted to do next, I just started getting pulled in the direction of venture from a lot of different angles,” Busque says, “from investors that I highly respect, from friends that were in the industry, and so I made the decision that I wanted to do investing full time as the next stage of my career.”
And if the previous stage of her career is any indication, there’s no task too big for Busque.
- The two traits Busque says all entrepreneurs need to have to be successful (it has nothing to do with skills or industry knowledge)
- The stumbling block that keeps many aspiring entrepreneurs from launching businesses
- How Busque eventually got comfortable with competitors entering her space
- Why Busque’s “never quit” attitude was the key driver of TaskRabbit’s early success
Full Transcript of Podcast with Leah Busque
Nathan: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Foundr podcast. My name is Nathan Chen, I’m the CEO and host of the Foundr magazine podcast and also Foundr magazine. Now guys, I hope you’re all having a great day wherever you are around the world. I’ve had a really past hectic couple of weeks. I’m not sure if I mentioned, but pretty much we’ve just been filming so much course content, we’ve got a lot going on, we’ve got so much awesome stuff coming your way. But enough about me guys. We’re going to be launching a vlog soon as well, a V-L-O-G. Shoot me an email [email protected] I’d love to hear your suggestions of what you’d love to see from us. Basically, we’re going to be sharing how we’re building and growing an extremely fast media company around entrepreneurship – what we’re doing. You know most people said it couldn’t be done. I’ve been told so many times with my dream and my mission to build a household name entrepreneur brand. I think it would be really cool to show the behind-the-scenes of how we’re growing it because what we’re doing – like I said most say is impossible to do. All from Melbourne. All from Australia.
So guys if you think that sounds cool, if you think that sucks let me know. I’d love to hear from you – [email protected] Enough about me. Let’s talk about today’s guest. Her name is Leah Busque, and she’s the founder of a company called TaskRabbit, that was actually recently acquired by Ikea. Massive massive company, amazing startup founder, and she says how so much with us on idea validation, how she pivoted and found that marketplace, and really just owned that model. It was just a fantastic interview, so much gold shared. I think you guys are absolutely going to love this one, especially if you’re feeling like you’re in the grind right now, things are tough. Let’s be honest guys, building a business is so ridiculously hard, and what you’re doing probably right now is going to be pretty game-changing for the world, and most people don’t really understand your vision, and they just don’t get it. I think you’re going to love this episode because it really details what pure persistence looks like, and what it means to just keep hustling, keep pushing forward. Even if things aren’t working, because there’s so many ups and downs, it’s like an emotional roller coaster. I get it guys.
I really hope you enjoy this episode. I really hope it adds value to you, and helps you in some ways, shape or form. I’m really proud of this one. Exceptional founder, done some crazy stuff, you’re really going to learn from Leah’s experiences. Alright guys that’s it for me. If you are enjoying the show, please do take the time to leave us a review on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, you name it. Wherever you’re listening to this, you will help us more than you can imagine. And please do tell your friends, share this with your friends. We really are here to help and serve entrepreneurs however we can, and just create a no BS media company that really shows people ridiculously successful founders what it takes to build and grow a successful business. Alright guys. I’ll speak to you soon. Now let’s jump on the show.
The first question that I ask everyone that comes on is how did you get your job?
Leah: So my background is engineering. I was a math-computer science major in college, and then after graduation, I went to a smaller startup called Iris Associates. That was bought by Lotus, and then we were all merged into IBM. I ended up staying at IBM for eight years as a programmer. From there, I had the idea for TaskRabbit which is a web on mobile marketplace where you can connect with people in your neighborhood to get small jobs and tasks done. This is back in 2008. There was no app store, the iPhone had just come out, and so we were one of the first to build on top of those technology platforms. As an engineer I was really really passionate about this emerging technologies around social, location, and mobile, to be able to mash those three technologies up to connect real people in the real world to get real things done. And then over the course of the next five, seven, eight years, it’s becoming real time. And so I run that company TaskRabbit as CEO for eight years. Then we just recently sold the company to Ikea, which is very exciting. And as I thought about what I wanted to do next, I just started getting pulled in the direction adventure from a lot of different angles. From investors that I highly respect, from friends that were in the industry. And so I made the decision that I wanted to do investing full time as the next stage of my career. I had spent eight years at IBM as a programmer, I had spent eight years as the CEO of TaskRabbit, and I was really looking for something that I could do the next decade and beyond. And so I met my partner Chris Howard who is the founder of Fuel Capital, which is an early stage venture fund about a year ago now. And officially joined Fuel full-time, investing over this past summer.
Nathan: Yeah wow. Awesome. I’m most curious around your background with TaskRabbit, because that’s a massive marketplace. Were you guys one of the first to create a kind of peer-to-peer marketplace that kind of does tasks like that? Like that is the first kind one that I’ve heard of. There is one here in Australia, but I heard TaskRabbit long before.
Leah: Yeah. You know we really were. We were definitely early in the industry. Some would say that we helped pioneer the industry – the sharing economy. Back in 2008 it was – because this technologies were so new and so emerging, it wasn’t an obvious thing to be able to utilise your mobile device to connect with people in real time. Certainly no one was going to jump into a stranger’s car off the street, right? And grab a ride with Lift, or with Uber. And so the consumer mindset was completely different. Trust was a big barrier. Letting a stranger into your home to hang shelves, or hang curtains, or clean your house, these were all very big decisions that the consumer was making. Now over the course of the next few years, the consumer mindset dramatically shifted. The trust barrier became lower, and mostly because technology was able to play a role in creating trust between users, and creating a safe environment between users. And so we were really able to help pioneer that thinking, and helped design a peer-to-peer marketplace that was trusted, and that helped launch the sharing economy.
Nathan: I see. And how did you come up with the idea? Because I think it’s genius.
Leah: The idea came to me really as an inspiration one night. I was sitting at home with my husband – this was February of 2008. I remember it was February because we were living in Boston at the time, and it was cold and snowing outside. And I realised that I was out of dog food. And at the time we had this hundred-pound yellow lab named Koby, we kept very well fed, and my husband is also in technology, so we always have this very geeky conversations in the house. That night it turned into “would it be nice if there’s just a place online we could go, say we need a dog food, name the price we’re willing the pay.” We were certain that there was someone in your own neighborhood that would be willing to help us out. Maybe even someone at the store, at that very moment, and it was just a matter of connecting with them. So I grabbed my iPhone which had just come out a few months earlier, and I went online, and the first thing that came to my mind was runmyerrand.com. I typed that domain name in, and no one was using it, it was available. So I bought it on the spot, and then four months later, I ended up quitting my job at IBM to be build the first version of the site.
Nathan: I see. What happened next?
Leah: Well from there, it kind of snowballed. I launched under than name runmyerrand. It wasn’t until we launched a second market San Francisco that we changed the name to TaskRabbit. I basically quit my job at IBM, locked myself in my house for ten weeks straight, built the first version of this site, and get it launched in one neighborhood at Boston. I was a very targeted – really wanted to focus on one geography, and create a peer-to-peer network in that geography that was liquid, that would have high supply and high demand. I got at launched in one neighborhood at Boston – Charlestown, which is where I was living at the time. From there it just really started to snowball. The people in Charlestown were talking to the folks in Beacon Hill and Back Bay, and Cambridge. I started recruiting taskers all over the city of Boston. And then from there, we got invited to participate in an incubator program that Facebook was running in the summer of 2009, and that’s what brought me out to the bay area where I connected with my early stage seed investors, and got San Francisco open as our second market.
Nathan: Got you. Did you have to do a bit of the seeding of tasks and fulfillment of tasks in the early days?
Leah: Oh absolutely. I was the – I still am the master of TaskRabbit. I remember I was living in Boston and I have this little scooter that I would ride around town. It was just like 49cc, it was a little Honda scooter, and I went everywhere on that scooter doing tasks, doing jobs, talking to customers, just really really understanding the market, and what was necessary to really connect both sides of the marketplace.
Nathan: That’s something that I really like. Program-wise talks about this doing things that don’t scale. Would you say that that was your way of just really trying to understand the market and really doing things that don’t scale to really understand where is the growth was being inhibited and and stuff like that?
Leah: Yes definitely. I mean early on, it was just me. There was no team, there is no money, there were no investors. Figuring out what to build and how to build it, I definitely had to do things that weren’t going to scale over the long term. Even as the company developed though, I would say one strategy I used that work pretty well was figuring out how to do things manually first to really really understand what to build, how to make it more efficient, and then start to automate players on top of it over time, so that can scale over time, was a strategy that works for us in building the company.
Nathan: Can you give you more of an example of that?
Leah: Yeah I mean a great example of this was early on, we had this really long application process for taskers who wanted to come on to the platform. We’ve always been overwhelmed by people that want to make money on the platform, we’ve never been supply constrained, we’ve always had too much supply. In fact, we get over 15,000 applications every month from people that want to be taskers and make money on the platform. And then we can really only onboard 3,000. So a small percentage of the overall total. Early on, there was this application process that included a written application online, an in-person interview, an in- person meeting with someone on the team – with myself. I hand interviewed 30 taskers to start this site over coffee in Boston. From there, taskers would all go through a background checking process that was very manual, we basically had to input social security numbers, and run the background checks ourselves, the in-house, and then it would take three days before we would get an answer back – clear, all clear, whatever it was. From there, they would get onboarded to the site as we saw demands spikes in certain locations, categories, and schedules. Time of day, availability was another factor. What I just described to you, every single piece of that process was very manual to start. The background checks were very manual, the in-person interviews very manual but the time we spent for instance doing in-person interviews really helped us to understand what was important in finding the right taskers, in the highest quality, most consistent taskers. We then from those in-person interviews would figure out what questions we needed to ask, what the indicators were early that this tasker was going to perform well on the platform. Once we get those learnings, we started to automate those processes. Now you can get on boarded as a tasker in literally like minutes – like a day, half a day, hours. If we need more taskers on the platform, so we took a process that was generally three to five days long, and every piece of that is now automated
Nathan: I see. One thing I’m really curious about is – I really loved the idea when I first heard about TaskRabbit. It was probably about five years ago, I was in Australia – Melbourne, and something like that didn’t exist, I said it was a killer idea. I’m curious because I don’t really know the space that well, have you had many competitors in the states? I know you scaled TaskRabbit out to 44 cities. Did you have many competitors popup? And how did you compete? Because I know how difficult – from speaking to other founders are two-sided marketplaces to build.
Leah: Yes we absolutely did. I mean over the course of – you know I founded the the company in 2008, so it’s been nine years. There’s been many competitors that have popped up and fizzled out. I remember early on, stressing out a lot about the competition. But I think what I learned over time was that I just needed to stay focused on what we’re building at TaskRabbit. I had a lot of conviction around what we’re building and why it was performing well, and why the quality was so high, and the care we took in building the business and operating efficiently. I would see competitors come out of the game, raise multi-millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollar and through it in 18 to 24 months. After that happened a couple of times, I just realized that I was going to play a long game. I was going to keep my head down, and I was going to focus on doing what I know we were doing really well, which was building a sustainable business with a very strong brand, and focusing on how to do that in a really quality, consistent way. Over time I learned not to worry as much about the competition, and I think overall that really paid off for us.
Nathan: I see. When you talk about a sustainable business model, what was different with TaskRabbit compared to other services that made it more sustainable? Where you guys managed cash per se? And aggressive you were in growth, or?
Leah: You know it really was about the economics. From day one, we were producing revenue. From day one, we had positive operating margins.For every job that went through the site, we were always making money on it. We had to be very disciplined about how to build a platform that operate that way. We had to be disciplined about hiring, we had to be disciplined about how much capital we raised and where the burn was every month until we got the company to profitability. It was a long game. I think once I realized that this was a marathon, not a sprint, that put us in a really strong mindset and that’s just how we operated.
Nathan: I see. How long did it take for you – because I think that it’s quite common amongst early stage founders. You’re just like “I want it now, I want it now”, “I want to get fast at growth, growth growth”, “We gotta push, push, push,” and then – that’s actually something that happened to me with our company. I come to a point where I was just like you know – when one of my mentors taught me that has built a very large business said “to build anything of true worth and significance, it takes at least seven to ten years”. Eversince he told me that, I’ve kind of been – I’m so pushed on growth. I still want us to grow, and we still are. But I’m very patient. How long did it take for you to get to that?
Leah: Well I would say I got to that mindset fairly early within the first three years. Because I had seen so many competitors as they come out of the game too fast, and too hot, and kind of burnout quickly. I think that there can be a lot of competitive and market pressures, and frankly investor pressures, that you can just as a founder kind of like get to you. I remember getting a lot of pressure even from my investors at one point in the company’s life cycle about growth, about the competitive landscape, pressure to move faster, to copy whatever it was that they were doing, but I knew my business better than anyone, I knew that to create something that was sustainable that would scale over like you said seven, ten years and beyond, which it has, that I had to be disciplined about how I was going to build the company. Sometimes it can be hard to block out all of these pressures and push back on them, so I can understand why founders can get into that mode and I think in a competitive situation when you see one company sort of escalate their spend, or escalate their growth in the name of profits, then it’s pretty easy for a lot of other companies to jump on that beyond wagon as well.
Nathan: Yeah no, I agree. That’s great advice. I want to switch gear, because one thing I’m really curious about is essentially TaskRabbit was your first time founder, that was your first baby, is that correct?
Leah: That is correct. Yes.
Nathan: And you come from a development background, and you would have had to learn a lot of skills around leadership that – please don’t think that I’m putting you into a bucket, but I felt this kind of too where learning around leadership, team building, being a good people person is difficult. Is that a challenge that you had? How did you navigate that?
Leah: Yeah. I mean there was a huge learning curve when I first started. I like to describe it as I went from being an engineer to an entrepreneur, and now I’m an early stage investor, and in each one of those transitions, there’s always a lot to learn. I think for me, there a few factors that helped. One is I’m highly analytical, I was that math-computer science major, I’m engineer, but I also went to a liberal arts college, and I went to a woman’s college, which I think highly influenced who I am today. I did a math-computer science major, but I also minored in dance, and arts, and creativity is something that I always had in my life and has been a big piece of my life. I think the appreciation of those other aspects has really aided me in being able to adapt and learn quickly, and jumping to new situations, and have the confidence that I’m going to be able to figure out and learn whatever I need to, as fast as I need to. I remember kind of having this conversation with myself early on, I was actually still with IBM had not left yet, but I was thinking about leaving, and I was thinking about all the things that I didn’t know how to do. I was thinking, all I know how to do is build this product, I’m a coder, I know how to code. I don’t know how to raise money from investors, I don’t know how to hire, I don’t know how to fire, I don’t know how to build a financial model, and then I realised that – to me it sounds funny but I remember saying to myself “this is not rocket science, you will figure it out. Just go figure it out”. T have enough confidence in yourself, to be able to figure things out, I think is a really important skill, and it’s a skill that a lot of entrepreneurs have because as an entrepreneur, you’re doing something that no one’s ever done before. You’re going to have to innovate and build new things and new ways, and I think that’s the fun part of being an entrepreneur, of being a founder. So yeah, that is my constant in life is I like to learn, I’m always learning, I’m always ramping up something new.
Nathan: Love it. Did you ever feel like giving up?
Leah: I wouldn’t say I ever felt like giving up. I’m not someone who gives up. I’m not someone who quits. I think there’s always times where you feel like “Ugh is this going to work? Am I going to fail? Am I just having a bad day? Is it going to be better tomorrow?” I’ll give you an example.
When I left IBM in 2008 in june, I built the first version of the site, get it launched on September, right when the stock market was crashing, and we are going through a big economic downturn. It was an awful time to be launching a company, and awful time to be raising money, and so I had to bootstrap the company on my own for the first what turned out to be about a year. But my husband and I, we had a mortgage on our house, and we had bills to pay, and we basically did the math and thought, we’ve got about six months where I don’t need to work, I don’t need to take a salary to kind of make ends meet. Six months ahead, and that was December of 2008, right around the holidays, and we hadn’t raised money yet, and we’re so close though. I felt like I was on the brink of something. Everyday I thought “I just need 24 more hours, 48 more hours, one more week”. Everyday was a question. Should we keep going? Should we call it? Luckily we were able to push through. I was able to push through and get a small angel round done in March of 2009, it was $150,000 that carried me through to the larger seed round that I raised at the end of 2009, later that year. But yes, I remember every single day thinking “should I keep going? Should I push forward?”
Nathan: Yeah wow. Thank you for sharing that with us. We have to work towards wrapping up, I’m super mindful your time. I’d really like to talk about the recent acquisition with Ikea. More around the fact that – what does it feel like? Because this is something that you live and breathe for eight, nine years building this company, it was your baby, and to hand it over, how does that feel? Why did you decide that you are ready to move on? How did you come to that decision? Can you talk to us – obviously you know investors want to receive a return, but yeah.
Leah: It’s been an incredible journey i would say. You know you said in the beginning – and I agree with this, TaskRabbit is my first baby, my first child. I feel like I get to see that baby grow up, I get to see the baby become a toddler, and go through their awkward teenage years, and move on, and go to college, and now I feel like TaskRabbit has moved out of the house, and has gotten married, and doesn’t need to be living with me anymore. I think as a founder, whenever you start a company, the one thing that you would hope for your child or for your company is that it has a full life, and is happy, and grows up, and moves on. I feel very fortunate that I got to be on that journey and see that happen all the way through. The timing was just right in the end, so it’s very exciting.
Nathan: Does it feel weird? That like when you wake up – because this is something like a what few months ago that there is like taking your email around TaskRabbit stuff, and you’re not on slack and yeah.
Leah: Maybe I’m like an empty nest for now, I don’t know. Maybe, a little bit. I’m like “wow I’m not getting as many email as I used to”.Actually I’m getting a lot more now as an investor. I thought as a CEO you get a lot of emails, as an investor it is like 10x the number of emails. It’s totally insane, but I love it.
Nathan: Awesome. Alright well look, last question is where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work? And yes, I really enjoyed speaking with you Leah.
Leah: I enjoyed speaking with you as well. Thanks for having me. I would love to connect to listeners online. You can follow me on twitter @labunleashed or visit our website fuelcapital.com
Key Resources From Our Interview With Leah Busque
- Connect with Leah Busque on Linkedin
- Follow Leah Busque on Twitter
- Learn more about TaskRabbit
- Follow TaskRabbit on Twitter