Leah Busque: How Taskrabbit grew by leaps and bounds

Leah Busque describes how running out of dog food inspired her online company Taskrabbit

One thing many entrepreneurs have in common is the way they respond to problems they find irritating or annoying. Instead of just accepting the frustrations they encounter, they try to do something to fix the situation. The result can often be a new kind of business.

For Leah Busque, founder of online errand-running business Taskrabbit, the event that caused her to start a company happened one evening when she and her husband had just called a cab to take them to meet friends for dinner.

"We realised we had run out of dog food," she says.

Start Quote

No-one said, 'You're insane. This is not a good idea.' Everyone was like, 'Why doesn't this exist yet?'”

End Quote Leah Busque Taskrabbit

At the time the couple lived in Boston, Massachusetts, where Ms Busque worked at IBM as a software engineer.

Worried that all the shops would be closed on their way home, she and her husband began discussing the problem.

"My husband's also in technology, so we've always had these very geeky conversations," she says.

"And that night it turned into, 'Wouldn't it be nice if there was just a place online we could go, say we needed dog food, name the price we're willing to pay?'

"We were certain that there was someone in our own neighbourhood that would be willing to help us out, and it was just a matter of connecting with them."

Before she left the house that evening, Ms Busque used her phone to register an internet domain name for her new business idea.

A few months later, she left her job at IBM to work full time on the project.

Researching the market

Once they've hit on what they think is a good idea, many entrepreneurs keep it to themselves, fearful that others might steal it.

Leah Busque Leah Busque's start-up idea came from a conversation with her husband

Leah Busque took the opposite approach. She says she talked to "anyone who would listen - family, friends, the guy sitting next to me on the bus, the person in the coffee shop, it didn't matter".

She noticed that out of hundreds of conversations "no-one said, 'You're insane. This is not a good idea.' Everyone was like, 'Why doesn't this exist yet?'"

Convinced there was a real potential market, she pressed on with her plan.

"Ignorance is bliss, I think, when you're first starting out," she says. "I wasn't thinking about starting a company, about raising money, about hiring. I was just thinking, I have to build this idea in my head."

Piloting the idea

Ms Busque began by putting an advertisement on Craigslist, an online classified advertising service, seeking people to help her try out her idea. She was surprised by the response.

"I thought I would get all these college students involved that would want to make extra money… but that actually wasn't the case at all," she says. As well as students, there were enquiries from retired people and out-of-work professionals such as lawyers, pharmacists and teachers.

Taskrabbit office Taskrabbit is now based in San Francisco

But, Ms Busque says, the idea resonated most of all with working mothers. This group seemed not only to be interested in part-time work as errand-runners, but also in becoming customers of the service.

"They were trying to balance work and life and kids, and they would love for someone to deliver their groceries or pick up the dry cleaning," Ms Busque says.

For her experimental run, Ms Busque spent many hours in local coffee shops interviewing about 100 people, picking 30 of them to take part. The experience helped her later on, when she was developing a more automated vetting and background-checking system for errand-runners.

Ms Busque's plan involved creating an online marketplace, where customers who wanted small tasks done could connect with people willing to carry them out.

Customers would invite bids for various jobs. The company would offer guidance on pricing for many popular tasks and would take a percentage of the price paid, to cover its costs. A reputation ranking system and profiles of errand-runners would help customers to choose the right person for their job.


After a successful small-scale trial, Ms Busque set about building an enterprise.

A chance conversation led her to contact Scott Griffith, who was chief executive of car-sharing business Zipcar at the time. Mr Griffith liked the sound of her plans and offered her space in the Zipcar offices while she got the business off the ground.

Start-up Stories


  • Year founded: 2008
  • HQ: San Francisco, US
  • Number of employees: 40
  • Ownership: Private
  • Annual sales: Not disclosed

"It was an incredible opportunity," says Ms Busque. "I got to watch [Scott] run a 200-person company and grow it and scale it and raise money of his own right before my eyes."

Despite this help, turning an idea into a business was not easy, particularly in late 2008 and 2009.

"It was a really tough time to be raising money," says Ms Busque. "We were in a recession. Investors were not investing. And so that was incredibly stressful and took up a lot of time and energy and a lot of late nights wondering if we should continue or not."

Growing the business

Ms Busque persisted in her efforts to find backers. A breakthrough came after she spent several weeks attending a business incubator programme in California, run by social networking giant Facebook.

"It was kind of like a start-up boot camp - I just learned so much," she says.

Taskrabbit logo on coffee cup Taskrabbit is hoping to come to the UK soon

Partly through connections she made through the incubator programme, she was able to put together a round of seed-funding, so she could take her business to the next stage.

It was Ms Busque's first visit to the west coast of the US, and she found the atmosphere of Silicon Valley inspiring. She decided to open a second base in San Francisco, which is where the company now has its headquarters.

The firm now operates in several US cities. It is also looking to expand overseas and is planning to launch an operation in the UK soon.


Taskrabbit is just one example of a player in the so-called "sharing economy", where firms attempt to use the internet to make better use of facilities that have spare capacity. Other examples include car-ride sharing firm Zimride, wi-fi access sharing business FON, and Airbnb, which enables home owners to rent out spare rooms as holiday accommodation.

Compared with, say, a manufacturing business, an internet-based company might seem fairly easy to set up. It also means that online businesses might find they have more competitors than traditional ones.

Certainly, Taskrabbit has not found its path to be completely smooth. In July, the company had to lose some staff.

Taskrabbit has expanded from domestic errands into offering help to businesses - a field currently dominated by some huge temporary employment agencies. Ms Busque says she's not worried about competition from big players.

"The temporary labour industry is one that hasn't been reinvented in decades, and so it's prime for disruption," she says. "We're really excited about tackling that market."

It remains to be seen whether Leah Busque and her errand-runners are equal to the task.

More on This Story

Start-up Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


Business Live

    Treasury Committee Via Twitter Mark Broad Economics reporter, BBC News

    Carney criticises Lord Grabiner's manner in evidence to Select Comm - Grabiner was author of the report into FX conduct of Bank of England.

    12:30: Barclays results
    Frances O'Grady

    TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady is not impressed with Antony Jenkins' bumper pay package for 2014, particularly given the provisions it has made for potential fines. "It is hard to have a positive view of any organisation that pays its boss £5.5m in a single year - a sum that would take a full-time worker on the minimum wage 465 years to earn," she says.

    12:13: Market update

    After earlier gains, the FTSE 100 share index in London fell 6.39 points to 6,934.25. In Frankfurt, the Dax has followed the same pattern, down 7.4 points to 11,402.9. The Cac in Paris slipped just under 3 points to 4,914.4.

    • Barclays dips 3.3% after unveiling more provisions for PPI and rate-fixing investigations
    • Tullow Oil bounced back 4% after falling 7.7% yesterday on concerns that a boundary dispute between Ivory Coast and Ghana could delay a project off west Africa
    PPI Via Email Kevin Peachey Personal finance reporter, BBC News

    Barclays today became the latest bank to add to the amount of money set aside for PPI mis-selling cases. The total bill for the top five banks in the UK is now an eye-watering £24.4bn, says consumer group Which?.

    Fiat-Chrysler Via Email Russell Hotten Business reporter, BBC News
    Sergio Marchionne

    Fiat-Chrysler's boss thinks it is great that Google and Apple are moving into car technology - but it also makes him feel uncomfortable. Sergio Marchionne (pictured here with a Ferrari) said at the Geneva motor show that the industry needs "disruptive interlopers. It's a good thing. But when you're the guy whose life is being disrupted, it's not necessarily a good feeling."

    11:29: Australian rates

    The Reserve Bank of Australia left interest rates unchanged at 2.25% today after cutting by a quarter of a point in January for the first time in 18 months. Further easing remains on the cards to help drive down the Aussie dollar and drive growth. Greg Gibbs, an RBS analyst, said "unusually clear guidance" meant the RBA is keen to keep a lid on the dollar.

    Geneva motor show Via Email Russell Hotten Business reporter

    Aston Martin unveils plans to broaden its range of cars to attract younger and female buyers. New sports cars, a four-seater - and a small SUV - are all in the pipeline. The British carmaker may be synonymous with James Bond, but its buyers are frequently middle-aged enthusiasts. "The brand has to be relevant," says boss Andy Palmer. "Less dependent on a narrow portfolio and one type of customer."

    11:01: Treasury Committee

    Mr Habgood says he never thought that the terms of reference for Lord Grabiner's inquiry were restrictive. Mr Carney agrees that the barrister was able to investigate freely and had unlimited resources to do so.

    10:49: Treasury Committee

    The Bank's internal investigation, led by barrister Lord Grabiner, began in March 2014 following allegations that a senior member of staff had been told of "attempts to move" the foreign exchange market. It resulted in the Bank's chief foreign currency exchange dealer, Martin Mallett, being dismissed in November. Mr Carney told MPs that Mr Mallett was aware of possible misconduct into the forex market but failed to share that information with his superiors: "He did not escalate these issues."

    10:43: M&A statistics

    The Office for National Statistics says the number of mergers and acquisitions involving UK companies fell to the lowest figure since 1987 last year. "The downward trend of domestic M&A may be a result of UK political instability as UK businesses experienced uncertainties about the outcome of the Scottish referendum, held in September 2014, and the impending general election," the ONS said.

    10:27: Treasury Committee

    Bank of England governor Mark Carney and chairman of its court, Anthony Habgood, are giving evidence to MPs on the Treasury committee about the Bank's own foreign exchange market investigation. Labour MP John Mann asks how deeply ingrained the concept of a "nod and a wink culture" is at the Bank. Mr Habgood admits there is a need to professionalise the working practices.

    Via Email Beef ban Simon Atkinson Editor, India Business Report
    Water buffalo

    Bad news for beef farmers - and for those who like a burger. Cows are holy to Hindus - slaughtering the animals was already illegal. But in Maharashtra state, that ban has now been extended to bulls and bullocks. The beef industry here says thousands of jobs in will be lost. Water buffalo (like the pair above) survive though - or rather - don't …. so the beef substitute will still be available.

    09:54: China trade Radio 5 live

    Parcelforce Worldwide's ales and marketing director, Helen Wylde, was on 5 live earlier talking about sales to China from the UK. Baby milk, children's clothing, shoes, toys, educational books from Britain all sell well in China. The most odd? Bicycles. Chinese buyers like trusted brands.

    09:37: Construction data

    The purchasing managers' index for the construction sector rose 1 point to 60.1 in February, defying expectations for a fall as growth picked up across the housing, commercial and civil engineering sectors. Tim Moore, senior economist at Markit, says some construction companies think the general election outcome could prove a "temporary bump in the road" for new work.

    09:21: Paddy Power results
    World Cup

    It's a lucky day for Paddy Power investors after the company said it will return €392m cash to shareholders after failing to find any potential bid targets. Operating profit jumped by a better than expected 19% to €163.8m for 2014, helped by last summer's World Cup, which was won by Germany.

    Barclays results Via Email Chirantan Barua Bernstein Research

    Dividends were held flat for the fourth quarter at 3.5p as compared to last year and came in lower than consensus at 3.7p. Non-progressive nature will be taken as marginally negative and also highlights that the bank's key focus continues to be capital build.

    08:53: Business Matters World Service
    Royal Enfield

    Can India's cities become cleaner and greener? Business Matters on the World Service is live from Chennai all week. In the first programme Fergus Nicoll asks whether the infrastructure is fit for purpose - and visits an Indian success story with its roots in Britain: Royal Enfield motorcycles. Listen here.

    08:41: Barclays
    Barclays shares

    Shares in Barclays are down 2.3%, or 6.15p, at 256.6p in morning trading in London. The stock has not moved much over the past 12 months given that it's just 8.7p higher than the price on March 4 last year.

    08:27: Ford BBC Radio 4
    Ford Mustang

    Jim Farley, Ford's European president, tells presenter Simon Jack on Today that he hopes Britain does not leave the European Union. One in three engines made by the company comes from the UK, which he described as the "centrepiece" of its global enterprise. Asked about the Russian market, Farley said Ford believed in it in the long term but admitted that some short-term adjustments were required because of the volatile economy.

    08:14: Taylor Wimpey results

    If you're a house builder and you're not making piles of money, then something is very wrong. Fortunately for Taylor Wimpey that is not the case. Annual pre-tax profits are up two thirds to £450m before one-off deductions as 12,454 homes were completed across the UK - 758 more than in 2013 - with an 11.5% rise in average selling price to £213,000.

    07:56: Barclays results

    While Mr Jenkins takes his first annual bonus with Barclays, the overall 2014 bonus pool for the bank is down £520m to £1.86bn. Most of the total - £1.05bn - goes to the investment bank. Its capital ratio, a measure of strength against unexpected losses, is up to 10.3% from 9.1%.

    07:44: Barclays results BBC Radio 4

    Barclays chief Antony Jenkins is on Today. The bank is the healthiest it has been since the financial crisis, he says. Changing culture at the bank takes a long time, Mr Jenkins adds, but the "vast majority" of his 130,000 bankers "want to do the right thing". He is taking a bonus of £1.1m after the "huge amount of progress" the bank has made. Asked about the topic du jour, Mr Jenkins says he pays all his tax in the UK and as a US green card holder.

    07:37: Barclays results

    Barclays wrote down the value of its education, social housing and local authority loan portfolio by £935m. Last year the portfolio was valued at just less than £16bn, but at that time, the lender reclassified the loans as "level 3" assets. That's City-speak for loans you cannot value easily because they don't sell very often.

    07:24: Direct Line results
    Direct Line website

    It's been a good 2014 for Direct Line, with pre-tax profits up 12% to £456.8m and a windfall of £430m from the sale of its international business. Shareholders will pocket total dividends of 27.2p per share, up from 20.6p in 2013. Harvey Keitel probably pocked a pretty penny too for featuring in its TV ads.

    07:16: Barclays results

    Antony Jenkins will take his first bonus as chief executive of the lender: £1.1m. The bank also said it would increase its provision for payment protection insurance (PPI) by £200m for the last three months of 2014, taking the year's total to £1.1bn. Excluding these provisions and other things the bank considers one-offs, pre-tax profit rose 12% to £5.5bn. But including the nasties, the figure sank 21% to £2.26bn.

    07:03: Barclays results

    Barclays have posted their 2014 results. They have set aside an extra £750m after those investigations for foreign exchange manipulation, taking the pot to £1.25bn.

    06:53: Barclays BBC Radio 4

    Chris Wheeler, of Atlantic Equities, has also popped up on Today. He tells Simon Jack that Barclays is doing only "averagely well ... it's still work in progress". He expects pre-tax profits to be about £5.2bn when the bank reports its annual results at 7am.

    06:35: Markets performance Radio 5 live

    Justin Urquhart-Stewart of 7 Investments is still on 5 live. "We are dealing with companies that make a profit and make things," he says of the Nasdaq's rally. The dotcom boom was based on companies that failed to make money, although "we have to be wary" because markets in 2015 are gorged on cheap money and cheap debt.

    06:23: Barclays results Radio 5 live

    Chris Wheeler of Atlantic Equities is talking about Barclays. £5.2bn pretax profits are on the cards for the bank in its annual results, he estimates - a tad ahead of last year's result. However, "it's the return on equity that counts", he says. The bank is struggling to make 10%, which for a high-risk endeavour like banking is not where you want that figure, Wheeler adds. Results come at 07:00.

    06:11: Markets performance Radio 5 live

    Justin Urquhart-Stewart of 7 Investments is on 5 live as the markets guest. "You have a global economy in pretty good shape and in the eurozone some better figures," he says, following soaring US markets. The FTSE 100 may grow further if there's better sentiment from China, he adds.

    06:02: Mobile World Congress Radio 5 live

    Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent, is in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress. Sony chief executive Kazuo Hirai is "making some tough decisions" and focusing Sony on things like films and games and camera technology: the areas that make money, he tells 5 live. Like many companies, it's finding mobile phones a tricky market.

    06:00: Chris Johnston Business reporter

    Get in touch via email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on twitter @BBCBusiness

    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning! US stocks hit record levels, with both the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 closing at all-time highs and the Nasdaq breaking the 5,000 barrier for the first time in 15 years. Is that going to last? Stay tuned for more.



  • Mukesh SinghNo remorse

    Delhi bus rapist says victim shouldn't have fought back

  • Aimen DeanI spied

    The founder member of al-Qaeda who worked for MI6

  • A man shutting his eyes tightlyStrange light show

    What do you see when you close your eyes?

  • Man in pollution mask in BeijingSmog storm

    Chinese climate film inspired by baby's tumour goes viral

From BBC Capital


  • Former al-Qaeda double agent Aimen DeanHARDtalk Watch

    Islamic State is about revenge says former al-Qaeda member turned spy Aimen Dean

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.