Each week, we present an influential woman whose career and style has inspired the Silkarmour team to aim higher and dress better. This week’s Silkarmour woman is Leah Busque, founder and CEO of TaskRabbit.
If death and the tax-man are the only things guaranteed in life, then chores are right behind. About to leave for a dinner party on a snowy February night in Boston, Leah Busque realised she was out of dog-food for the evening and lamented at how there wasn’t a service that could help her. Any given start-up is designed to improve an aspect of every-day life but Task Rabbit has changed the game. By uniting the instantaneous nature of social media with the demand to complete everyday errands, Busque has restored faith in the once-reliable concept of ad-hoc earnings, providing a continuous income to a community that makes up 34% of the American workforce.
Matching freelance labourers to local demand, the services Task Rabbit distributes often range from simple jobs such as cleaning and furniture assembly to hiring help to move house. Busque was an IBM programmer for 7 years prior to her venture and was ready to launch her freshly-coded app when the recession hit in September 2008. Instead of retreating to the shore, she took the plunge and launched what was supposed to be RunMyErrand with a new name; gambling on the idea that the crash would change how people would see their potential in earning a salary.
What is refreshing about Busque’s rise in tech is how she’s rarely had an issue with gender equality. She may have left IBM unscathed but is adamant about the importance of role models for other women on the way up, inspired by her own female teachers in high-school “who made me not question if women could be successful in that field.” Busque is keen to keep this inspiration alive for others and in doing so, works with Iridescent Learning, an organisation for high-school girls that are interested in pursuing technology in education. Although she has never thought her role as a woman has made her any different to her peers, she is adamant that our generation needs to “continue to invest in those things and then the numbers at the top will start changing.”
However, Busque’s ascension in Silicon Valley hasn’t been without criticism. The Wall Street Journal raised the point that Task Rabbit contributes to a “gig” economy that doesn’t guarantee a stable income. But she remains undeterred, simply responding with the valid point that a large portion of Task Rabbit runners were unemployed professionals; “we've had teachers, contractors, handymen that were laid off in 2008 coming to the TaskRabbit platform and finding ways to make ends meet.” In the spirit of getting creative to survive post-recession living, jobs now include standing in line (and being paid $1,500 to do so) for the latest iPhone on launch day and hiring a qualified scuba-diver to rescue a woman’s keys from the bottom of a lake. One customer has gone as far as paying another mother to bring healthy meals and blankets to her son who was having chemotherapy out of state.
Now, Busque is ready to move on. Although she will retain her position as executive chairwoman, her current roles as an advisor for Binary Capital and Homebrew offer her a seat on the other side of the venture capitalist table and like former Birchbox co-CEO Haley Barna, she will be able to influence the growth of equally innovative companies and offer advice in their own times of need. When TaskRabbit was struggling, Busque was led by a simple gem of encouragement from ZipCar CEO Scott Griffith: “he told me ‘I think you’re on to something. See how far you can take it.’” Busque said to Lifehacker.com. “Not a day goes by that I don't remember those words.”
Career Golden Nuggets
- Stay inspired – “Keep a notebook next to your bed. Some of my best ideas have come to be by waking me up in the middle of the night”
- Go to extremes – “I basically locked myself in my room and programmed the first site for 10 weeks straight. No distractions!”
- Build a good team - "Finding great mentors, advisors and team members can really complement your skill set. It's all about building a team and a community that's successful"
- Don’t overthink it - "We can become so paralyzed by the fear of what we don't know that we won't even try. If you're passionate about something, you're going to find a way to figure it out”
- Achieve big goals with small steps – “I encourage everyone to set a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG for short) and take baby steps to accomplish it. I certainly don't wake up every morning and think about how I'm going to revolutionize everyday work, but I do identify small, actionable steps that can be accomplished every day”