TaskRabbit Interview: From Pet Owner to Entrepreneur

By September 28, 2011

Earle Dickson’s wife was an awful cook — always cutting her finger. Annoyed by the long process of bandaging her wounds, Dickson, a doctor  with Johnson & Johnson, started preparing bandages before her mishaps: a piece of gauze and attached it to the center of a piece of tape or Bandaids.

Frustrated with the lack of efficiency in grocery stores, Bernard Silver along with a team of colleagues invented the first barcode. Modern day ear plugs were invented by two swimmers, Ray and Cecilia Benner, who were frustrated with… well, swimmer’s ear.

Leah Busque TaskRabbit CEOOrdinary frustration seems to be the catalyst for almost every ” I should have thought of that” idea. The same was true for Leah Busque and TaskRabbit.  Just before heading out for dinner with her husband, Busque realized she needed to buy dog food for her 100-pound yellow labrador retriever, Kobe. After a long day, contemplating a trip to the store seemed like contemplating a cross country road trip. Busuqe thought what so many of us have said in a moment of  exasperation — “I would  PAY to not have to do that.”

But unlike the rest of us, her momentary laziness proved to be a flash of inspiration which eventually evolved into TaskRabbit.com, a peer-to-peer errands platform. If you havent heard of TaskRabbit, make sure to check out Jennifer Beese’s coverage.

I chatted with Busque about her moment of inspiration and TaskRabbit’s evolution into a six city (Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Bay Area, Orange Country and now Chicago) errand community.

LO: Can you tell us a little more about your dog food inspiration? 

LB: It was a cold winter night in Boston in February of 2008. My husband, Kevin, and I were getting ready to go out to dinner. We had already called a cab when we realized we were out of dog food. We have a 100lb yellow lab named Kobe who doesn’t miss many meals. We thought to ourselves, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a place online we could go, say that we needed dog food and name the price we would be willing to pay and have someone get it for us? We were certain there was someone in my neighborhood that would be willing to help me out. Before the cab made it to our apartment, I had mapped the vision for TaskRabbit in my head — this was the time and place the TaskRabbit idea was born. That was more than three years ago. Since then, TaskRabbit has moved its headquarters to San Francisco, built a market here and has launched in Los Angeles, Orange County, New York City and as of last week, Chicago.

LO: Every company that sets out to create a marketplace struggles with the chicken or the egg… in your case the tasks or the rabbits. What was your first acquisition focus, tasks or rabbits?

LB: In every market that we enter, our focus is on TaskRabbits first. In order to help those in need, we first need to find the right people to join the community.

LO: How does TaskRabbit make money? What’s the profit model?

LB: TaskRabbit takes a service fee on each Task that goes through the site, which is on average 15%.

LO: TaskRabbit didn’t tackle the entire country right out of the gate. What made you decide to role out city by city?

LB: At TaskRabbit, we are dedicated to a great and seamless user experience. So much so that we spent the first two years of our business perfecting our robust back-end operations engine, including a convenient payment system and messaging platform that enables TaskPosters and TaskRabbits to discuss Tasks to ensure satisfaction (example here). We tested these features in Boston and San Francisco before expanding TaskRabbit nationally, which is now well under way.

LO: How do choose what cities to expand to? Why Chicago now?

LB: Before selecting which city to go to next, we always consult our handy city map that tracks where the highest demand is for TaskRabbit — Chicago was particularly enthusiastic. The city is a hub of innovation, full of brilliant, hard-working, people who will bring the TaskRabbit community a versatile range of skills that will help busy neighbors put a little extra time back in their lives. Chicagoans are united, proud and determined — an ideal community for TaskRabbit to flourish.

LO: Do you eventually want to be national?

LB: We get emails from people all over the country, even all over the world, asking when TaskRabbit is going to open in their neighborhoods. We are absolutely dedicated to making this a reality for those folks.

LO: Possibly because of the city by city role out, TaskRabbit seems to have quite a loyal fan base. Can you describe the culture of the TaskRabbit community?

LB: The TaskRabbit culture starts at our headquarters in San Francisco and is strong all the way through our community all over the country. We have an incredibly loyal and dedicated community of people that believe in the vision for TaskRabbit and want to be a strong part of making it happen. The TaskRabbit community is full of friendly, savvy, spunky, trustworthy, energetic and resourceful people. We are proud to have a broad slice of the community represented as part of our TaskRabbit base. TaskRabbits include:

  • Stay at-home-moms (and dads!) who run Tasks as they are out and about
  • Young professionals looking to make a little extra money on nights and weekends
  • Retirees who have a different motivation completely — they are looking to stay active
  • College students who are looking to make a little extra income and build out their skill base and resumes

LO: After the AirBnB scandal, do you find more users wanting increased security in peer to peer sharing?

LB: Trust and security is at the core of any peer-to-peer marketplace. Obviously, recent events have brought it to the front of peoples’ minds. Since I founded TaskRabbit in 2008, the safety and security of our community has always been a focus and priority. We are dedicated to creating a safe and secure community for our users — TaskPosters and TaskRabbits alike. Each and every TaskRabbit goes through a four-step application process, including an application, a video interview, as well as a series of background checks, to create a fully-vetted community. We also have a robust reputation engine where TaskRabbits and TaskPosters can individually review each person they work with.

LO: I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of interesting tasks. What’s the funniest task you’ve seen posted?

LB: We see everything posted from IKEA furniture assembly, setting up a home wifi network, planning a birthday party, and moving help. There are some funny ones too, and it’s tough to pick one. But I would say two of the funniest are ‘Wrap my co-worker’s desk in cellophane’ (where the TaskRabbit was asked to wrap the co-worker’s entire desk – pens, computer, desk, etc. – in cellophane) and ‘Write a letter to my ex-girlfriend to win her back’.

To keep up with TaskRabbit, follow them on Twitter @TaskRabbit, or Leah @labusque.