neighbours have a long history of being helpful. They open doors, help move heavy furniture, and offer flour when you’ve run out.Some startups are betting that neighbours will go to great lengths to be helpful if they’re paid.
TaskRabbit is building a network of personal minions to help you with anything you need right now. List a chore and a price you’re willing to pay, and someone nearby might do it for you.
TaskRabbit was founded by Leah Busque in 2008. It raised $5 million last spring and was featured on the ABC Nightly News as a solution for America’s job crisis. Every month, $4 million worth of tasks are posted on the network.
We spoke with Busque and TaskRabbit’s new CEO, Eric Grosse about TaskRabbit and how it plans to turn the nation into a network of personal assistants.
How did you come up with the idea for TaskRabbit?
Busque: I had the idea for TaskRabbit one night when my husband and I were getting ready for dinner. We were living in Boston and had called a cab to pick us up for dinner when we realised we were out of dog food. We had this 100 pound yellow lab named Kobe who had to eat.
My husband and I were in technology and we had these geeky conversations in the house. That night it turned into, “Wouldn’t it be nice to go somewhere online and say, ‘We need dog food,’ name a price we’d be willing to pay, and find someone in our neighbourhood, maybe at the store that very moment, who could help us?” Before the cab arrived at our door I purchased the domain name Runmyerrand.com.
How did you take the idea for Runmyerrand and turn it into an actual company?
Busque: Four months after that dinner I quit my job at IBM to build the first version of the site. It snowballed from there. Scott Griffith, the CEO of Zip Car, came on as an advisor. He incubated us out of the Cambridge office of Zip Car for our first year.
He told me about an incubator program in the Bay area over the summer of 2009 run by Dave McClure. I applied and we were one of 25 companies invited to come out and participate.
At the end of that program, we raised a $1.8 million seed round of financing. We opened San Francisco as our second test market. We really focused on what it took to create an amazing user experience — understanding operations, logistics, the payment platform, the reputation engine.
From there we raised a $5 million Series A round of financing, which we closed earlier this year. That allowed us to start replicating the model in more cities. Now we’re in six major markets – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, and Orange County.
Eric recently took over as CEO, which used to be your position. Why did you want to hire a new CEO?
Busque: Around the time we were closing the A round of financing, we had a ton of momentum as a company. I knew that we wanted to open in more cities and build out the organisation. So I went to Shasta Ventures who led that round of financing and said, “I think it’s about time we bring in some executive leadership.” The key was finding someone who had the background and experience to balance out my experience on the engineering and product side, because that’s what I’m passionate about: product, technology, and engineering.
The final candidates came down to a COO and two CEO candidates, and one of those people were Eric. When Eric and I met for the first time we hit it off.
Do people really want to do chores for other people?
Busque: We’re in six markets and have 2,000 active Task Rabbits across the country. Task Rabbit’s are people who do the jobs. We have active Task Rabbits and thousands more on waiting lists in cities that aren’t open yet.
The excitement of being a Task Rabbit is that you can create your own businesses and become an entrepreneur. We’re creating jobs for people in this economy. Some of the Task Rabbits are cashing out at $5,000 per month. Some are making it their full-time jobs; others are stay-at-home mums or young professionals who do it nights and weekends. They love the flexibility of the service.
How do Task Rabbits get paid?
Busque: We ask for your credit card upfront when you’re posting a task. You never have to pay until the task is complete. This ensures our TaskRabbits will get paid, which adds another level of safety, security, and trust.
For the task poster, you never have to have cash and everything goes through the payment platform that we’ve created on TaskRabbit.
You must see some interesting data…
Busque: We see a lot of popular things go through the site. Grocery deliveries, Ikea furniture assembly, trips to big box stores like Costco, Target, Whole Foods…we also see a lot of other jobs like moving help, or planning a birthday party, or help setting up a wi-fi network.
No one category makes up more than 5% of the overall task volume.
It sounds like a real-time Craigslist. Do you have any plans to tie in other real-time networks?Busque: A huge differentiator between us and Craigslist is the trust, safety, security, the reputation system we’ve created.
All of our TaskRabbits go through a vetting process, which includes an online application, a video interview, a series of background checks, and then an online quiz that they have to pass before they’re activated on the site.
How many postings are getting fulfilled?
Grosse: We don’t disclose that right now but over the past 6 months, the amount of posted tasks that have been completed has tripled.
What do you attribute the growth to?
Grosse: Stories like the Diane Sawyer piece certainly don’t hurt. We were inundated with requests after that story ran. I think we had more than 6 million hits and the TaskRabbit pipeline that Leah referred to overflowed with people who wanted to become TaskRabbits, as well as those who wanted to know when the service was coming to their neighbourhood, which was tremendously gratifying.
Do other competitors, like Zarly, do the same vetting process? Couldn’t being too safe hurt growth?
Busque: The pipeline process is certainly a key differentiator with what anyone else is doing right now in the marketplace.
Where will TaskRabbit launch next?
Grosse: We haven’t disclosed publicly where we’re going next, but we’re actively looking at new markets to go into. We want to make sure that when we do move into new markets we provide the type of quality and experience that people come to expect from the service.
There’s this concept called Net Promoter Scores, or how happy are you with the service. Would you recommend this service to your friend? The scores that we’re getting on that are literally off the charts. They’re comparable to what Google and Amazon see.
From my background in travel at HotWire and Expedia, the metrics that TaskRabbit is seeing are more than double at what I saw at both those companies.
Any future products we can expect TaskRabbit to launch?
Busque: One interesting feature we have coming up is a TaskRabbit API.
We’re seeing are a lot of productivity apps, like to-do list apps, that want a way to plug in and outsource those to-do list items to a TaskRabbit network that can actually complete them.
The APIs will be coming up in the next month or so.
We’re also working on more mobile platforms. We want to tackle Android, iPad and continue to optimise the web and iPhone versions.
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