SAN FRANCISCO: Why CEO of TaskRabbit is stepping down while business is good

  

BizJournal, Hayley Ringle

SAN FRANCISCO — TaskRabbit co-founder and CEO Leah Busque said today in Phoenix she was stepping down from her top post for the second time because the business is so strong and she wanted more freedom to do other things.

Busque will become TaskRabbit’s executive chairwoman and take on more of a leadership role with the board.

TaskRabbit’s COO of three years, Stacy Brown-Philpot, will take over as CEO. The announcement was made in the past week.

“I’ve been thinking about doing this for many months,” Busque said Monday in Phoenix. “We decided together (with Brown-Philpot) this was the best time because the business was so strong.”

Busque was the featured lunch speaker today at the fourth annual Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference at downtown Phoenix’s Hotel Palomar.

TaskRabbit, which Busque started in 2008 with her husband Kevin, said revenue is up 300 percent and March was the company’s biggest quarter ever.

The company plans to expand further in Europe after it launched in London, and is looking to expand next in Asia. While TaskRabbit is in 20 cities across the U.S., it is not available in Arizona.

San Francisco-based TaskRabbit is an on-demand app that matches people who need various tasks and errands done with people who can do those tasks.

Busque said she plans to focus more on women in technology and the local college board she sits on. She is also pregnant with her second child.

“This new role will help TaskRabbit grow,” she said.

As a former IBM software engineer, Busque said it’s important to know when to step back, and when to move forward.

When she first stepped back in 2011 and hired former Hotwire co-founder Eric Grosse to take over the company, she needed a strong business partner. However, after nine months they both realized it wasn’t working, and Busque resumed CEO duties.

“We needed the founder to be there and we needed a strong product leader,” Busque said.

Now, after meeting Brown-Philpot a year and a half before she hired her, the former Google executive has handled the operations so well in her three years Busque felt it was time to pass on the reins to her.

“This was a natural time to transition,” Busque said. “This also furthers our commitment to ensure we have a diverse team, not only with gender but with age and race. We are actively focused on it.”

Brown-Philpot is African American.

Busque started TaskRabbit in Boston originally as RunMyErrand.com after cashing out her $27,000 IBM pension. She built the first version of the software company, and then the economy collapsed.

It turned out to be the best time for a company like hers to offer people jobs.

“It was really lucky timing with the economy because so many people needed jobs, including my dad,” Busque said. “We realized this was more of a product, this was going to change the way people worked.”

While the sharing economy is very common now, with popular companies such as Uber, Postmates and Zeel, TaskRabbit was one of the first in 2008, and is facing even more competition as more companies pop up in the space.

“I’ve seen so many companies come and go,” she said. “Long ago I decided to focus on what I’m doing and not on what other competing companies are doing.”

Initially, it took her nine months to get angel investment. She knew she needed money to build a team and further scale the business.

“We were so passionate about what we were building,” she said. “We were focused on what was possible and just put our fears out of our mind.”

TaskRabbit has since raised about $50 million and is live in cities across the country and in London.

Because the company started in such a tough economy, Busque said TaskRabbit has always operated in a disciplined fashion. Growth was originally organic through free press and word of mouth. The company is only now spending more on ads and marketing.

“We’re very smart and strategic in how we spend our money,” she said. “This quarter we’ve spent the most ever on marketing because we know we can show returns on it.”

As a female in a male-dominated industry, Busque said luckily she has rarely dealt with gender issues or biases against her. She recalled one investor who called her “babe” after a pitch and that really shocked her.

“I really couldn’t believe it,” she said. “It threw me off my game.”