“A great idea is not an invention, it’s a discovery. Creativity is the commitment we make to the process of asking questions, finding patterns, and testing concepts.” -Leah Busque
Our ETL speaker this week was Leah Busque, founder and CEO of Taskrabbit. She began her talk with a story of an idea, and how that idea transformed into a company that has found work for over 30,000 people.
Busque loved her job as a software engineer at IBM, but felt as though she was missing out on something. She knew that she had other skills she needed to explore, and especially recognized this need each year when she participated in a conference called Lotusphere. The conference is unique because engineers actually talk to the customers in something called “meet the developers lab.” She loved being able to meet a customer in real world, fix a problem for them, and then send them on their way. One night, she was going to dinner with her husband, Kevin (her high school sweetheart and fellow engineer—they would spend Fridaynights building computers together!), and realized that they were out of dog food. It then occurred to Leah that there should be someway to connect people who want to find work with people who need errands done: the couple then discussed the idea over dinner. Leah knew the product should exist and that she had the skills to build it, but she wanted to figure out how to make it happen. She first looked up names that hadn’t already been taken by other websites, and settled for “runmyerrand.com” (customers later chose the name Taskrabbit through a vote). In June of that year, she quit her job at IBM. She cashed out her pension and worked for 10 weeks straight, trying to code and develop a prototype.
Busque then gave us three lessons that proved most useful to her through her journey with Taskrabbit. The first lesson was to tell everyone you meet about your idea. The fear that people will steal your idea should not get in the way of you sharing it—after all, said Busque, you usually are not the first person to have an idea, and the success of your product all comes down to execution. She spoke to the incredible value that can be gained in sharing an idea with many people, early on in the process. For example, Busque casually mentioned runmyerrand.com to some strangers that she was having dinner with. A woman replyed, saying “my buddy Scott would find this really interesting.” Busque then emailed this “scott,” to discover that he was Scott Griffith, CEO of zipcar. Scott became an early mentor of hers, introduced her to investors, and even offered her desk space at the zipcar office.
The second piece of advice that Busque shared with us was to cultivate an atmosphere of mentorship and collaboration. She participated in “Facebook Fund,” and the mentorship that came out of it accelerated both the growth of herself as an entrepreneur and the growth of her company. She discussed her determination to have Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour WorkWeek as an advisor. After plane flights, pitching, and hassling his assistant, she finally was able to have him as a mentor. He gave helpful advice and contacted his investor friends, who led a million dollar seed round.
The final thought she left us with was to love what you do. She gave some examples of why her company was significant to her, which included a story about a mother in San Francisco who’s son was going through chemotherapy in Boston. She did not have the money to fly and see him, so she found someone through Taskrabbit who could visit her son every day for a week to talk to him, bring him whatever he needed, and then call her afterwards to tell her how her son was. The person who did these tasks was actually another mom, and these two mothers built a relationship together. This story reminded Busque that her company had the ability to help people redefine who your neighbors are, and provide them with others who they can rely on.
Busque’s success attests to the value of being open—definitely something that fellow entrepreneurs can learn from. She spoke to the importance of being open to feedback, new ideas, new plans, or new people. Busque is a beautiful example of someone who was passionate about an idea and worked to make it happen. Her success story is one that growing entrepreneurs can learn from and use to make their own tiny ideas into products that are consequential and life-changing.