TaskRabbit CEO: Better Job Market Hasn’t Dampened Appeal

When Leah Busque founded TaskRabbit in Boston back in 2008 (under the name RunMyErrand), the terms “sharing economy” and “collaborative consumption” weren’t part of the tech lexicon, much less the national one. Home rental service Airbnb was founded around the same time, and car-for-hire king Uber wouldn’t even exist until the next year.

Six years later, a lot has changed. Busque moved the company to San Francisco, raised a total of $37.7 million, and watched as sharing economy startups began popping up everywhere. Though TaskRabbit has stayed a generalist, allowing consumers to hire runners to pick up their groceries, build their Ikea furniture, photograph their weddings, and perform pretty much any other task, other startups have focused connecting people for very specific kinds of help, like house cleaning (Homejoy), ride-sharing (Lyft, Sidecar), babysitting (UrbanSitter), and more.

Last week, Busque and I caught up at Xconomy’s Napa Summit to chat about the size of the sharing economy, competitors that have fallen behind, why she doesn’t want to specialize in particular verticals, and the future of the company. Here is a lightly edited version of our conversation.

Xconomy: How has TaskRabbit changed since we last profiled the company in 2010?

Leah Busque: There’s a lot. The latest is that we’re in 20 U.S. cities. Last time we were probably just in two markets, Boston and San Francisco. We really felt like we wanted to get the model right before we started rolling it out really quickly. We learned a lot about the supply side of the marketplace. Now we have more than 30,000 active task rabbits. That’s incredibly exciting. How many companies can say they’ve created job jobs for 30,000 people?

We’re international now. We opened in the London market late last year. We’re testing products there that we’re thinking of bringing to the U.S. in the summer. We’re on the brink on massive product launch.

X: Who are your biggest competitors and how has that changed over the years?

LB: We’ve seen a lot of the industry change over the last five years. Early on we saw folks pop up like Zaarly,  which has pivoted its marketplace focus a couple of times. We’ve seen some personal assistant companies pop up—like Exec—and get merged into other companies. What I’ve realized over the last five years is the biggest competitor [for us] is the person themselves. Am I going to outsource or am I going to do this myself? You really think about how much value you’re creating in a platform and how easy it is to use. Otherwise people are going to do this themselves or find a friend to do it for them.

X: When you started TaskRabbit, the economy was bottoming out, and a lot of people needed extra work. Were you worried that the appeal would wear off as employment ramped up again?

LB: I didn’t know how this was going to go. When I started the company in 2008, I thought … Next Page »

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