5 Lessons I've Learned From Discovering TaskRabbit

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  • I’m really excited to be here today to tell you about some of the lessons I’ve learned from my journey with TaskRabbit. For those of you not familiar, let me start by telling you how the idea for TaskRabbit came to be. It was a cold winter night in Boston in February of 2008. My husband and I were getting ready to go out to dinner; we’d called a cab to come and pick us up, when we realized we were out of dog food. At the time, we had this 100-pound, yellow Lab named Kobe who just had to eat that night. We thought, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a place online we could go, say we needed dog food and name the price we were willing to pay? We were certain there was someone in our neighborhood that would be willing to help us out. Maybe there was someone at the store right that second, and it was just a matter of connecting with them. From trying to find a solution to a simple problem — how to get a 50-pound bag of dog food at the last minute — the idea for TaskRabbit was born. We’ve since grown into a marketplace for all kinds of jobs, errands, and Tasks. People use us to outsource everything from grocery shopping to house cleaning to wedding planning. Companies use us to find the talent they need — like graphic design, administrative help, and event staff — to grow. That initial idea — a solution for how to get dog food — grew into a vision to revolutionize the way people work. And here’s the secret — I didn’t arrive at that vision by myself. A fully formed and funded approach to disrupting the world’s labor force didn’t strike like lightning. When 99U first approached me to speak here today, they asked me a weird question. They asked me what my philosophy was for making ideas happen. My philosophy? This question kept me awake for a night or two until it dawned, on me: An idea is not an invention, it’s a discovery.
  • TaskRabbit as we know it today is not something I invented. It’s something I discovered through a very deliberate process of asking questions, finding patterns, and testing concepts. Today, I’m going to share with you five of the most important lessons I have learned during my process of discovering TaskRabbit. These lessons have become my philosophy for making ideas happen, and I hope you find them as useful as I have. So, let’s get started. Here’s lesson number one:
  • Tell everyone you meet about your idea. Everyone. How many of you have been in this situation: You're at a party, or a conference, or a networking event, and some young founder sidles up to you to chat about his big project. He says his idea is going to disrupt everything about everything. He tells you about how it's sure to scale massively the minute he deploys. He tells you about the flood of investment dollars that will surely be unleashed the moment his brilliant idea sees the light of day. But he refuses to tell you his idea, at least until you sign a non-disclosure agreement, which he conveniently has in his pocket. He won’t talk about his great idea because he’s sure someone’s going to steal it from him. Does this make sense?
  • It doesn’t. Think about some of the greatest “ideas” in history. The Theory of Evolution. That was Charles Darwin’s darling, right? Well, not exactly. <animate> Darwin came up with the idea but so did Alfred Russel Wallace. In fact, it wasn’t until Darwin learned that Wallace had independently arrived at the same idea that he really got himself together enough to share his idea with the world. Darwin so respected Wallace’s views that he included many of his citations in The Descent of Man . How about another great idea — alternating current? <animate> Alternating current, the primary form with which electricity is transmitted to buildings like the one we’re sitting in, wasn’t “invented” by Nikola Tesla. He was among the dozens of physicists, inventors, and engineers who pioneered the theories and developments that made using alternating current possible. <animate> And who invented the Internet? Last month, five people shared the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering in recognition of their respective roles in the creation of the Internet. The theory of evolution, alternating current, the Internet — not a single one of these ideas hit like lightning. Many minds contributed many ideas to the creation of these things. Ideas aren't immobile, concrete things that can be stolen. They’re living, breathing, social beings that benefit greatly from coming into contact with other ideas.
  • George Bernard Shaw had a really interesting approach to the social nature of ideas: If you have an apple, and I have an apple, and we swap, we each still only have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we swap, we each have two ideas. That concept, that moment of collaboration and trust, it's incredible. And it's totally available to all of us at any time. Sharing ideas is how we move from the illusion of isolated invention to a process of collaborative discovery, it’s how we move forward. Talking to everyone about your idea will help you gather feedback, and identify problems and action steps. It will also bring the right people into your orbit.
  • This type of hands-on networking still works. I met Scott Griffith , the CEO of Zipcar who helped propel my company in a huge way, through a mutual acquaintance I'd chatted up about TaskRabbit. Had I been afraid that someone would steal my idea, I wouldn’t have met Scott and my idea never would have gotten off the ground. Which brings me to my next lesson: Cultivate an atmosphere of mentorship and collaboration.
  • Had I not been open to talking about my idea with everyone who would listen, I probably wouldn’t have been able to build up the mentorship and collaboration networks I have. I definitely would never have met one of the most important people in my life: Ann Miura-Ko.
  • Ann was one of TaskRabbit's first investors and is a constant source of inspiration for me. Once called the ‘most powerful woman in startups’ by Forbes, Ann is disciplined, smart, and driven — all qualities I admire and strive to emulate. Ann's expectations are high — she expects action and results on a constant basis, so as a founder of one of her portfolio companies, not a day goes by where I don't do everything in my power to deliver. I respect and admire Ann and consider myself extremely fortunate to have her on the TaskRabbit team. Go out and find advisers like Ann. Assemble a panel of people who know the things you don't know, who've made the kinds of mistakes you'd like to avoid, and who are looking at your business from perspectives you don't have — and get them involved every step of the way. Let them push you to do better than you knew was possible. But don’t stop there. I’ve learned that my success is not just tied to the high-level advisors I bring into my orbit, but to everyone in my life.
  • I’ve built a community full of innovators, creators, darers, and doers. The people on my team are unbelievably talented and motivated, and that motivates me. Surrounding myself with people who are actively and enthusiastically working toward their best futures keeps me moving toward my goals. And when you have big hairy, audacious goals, you need that type of motivation. It’s like rocket fuel. And speaking of big, hairy, audacious goals — mine’s a doozie. That’s why I’ve learned to take things one baby step at a time.
  • My company is dedicated to solving a pretty huge problem, and it can be overwhelming to think of the magnitude of this vision. My approach is to choose specific and actionable items to complete each day to move us closer to these goals. When it was finally time to let TaskRabbit loose into the world, we didn’t launch globally. We didn’t even launch nationally.
  • We started at the zipcode level. We gathered some learnings, then we expanded to the next zipcode. Pretty soon, TaskRabbits were powering the city of Boston. And then San Francisco. And then New York and LA and Chicago and Seattle and Portland and so on. The way I approach getting big things done is exactly the same as the way we approach expansion at TaskRabbit: I have BHAGs and baby steps. Choosing specific, actionable items to complete each day to move closer to bigger goals keeps me on track for accomplishing the big picture. And it keeps my To-Do list from being too overwhelming to tackle.
  • Revolutionize the way people work is not on my to-do list every morning. <animate> If it were, I’d never get there. The baby steps make the difference. They also put me in a position to do the single most important thing a founder can do:
  • Ship it. Get it out the door. This lesson is scary, yes, but nothing you do matters if it’s not out there in the world. Just ship it. Make it public. Get it in front of users, and learn from them. Use those learnings to make it better. Then ship it again. At TaskRabbit, this iterative process allows us to move forward quickly, intelligently, and continuously. As appealing as it can be to imagine that “big reveal day” when you pull back the curtain to show off the most dazzling, brilliant thing the world has ever seen...it’s just not realistic. Shipping things earlier in your company’s life means you identify great product choices early on — which means you get to target your efforts toward the ones that yield the best results. It’s kind of like playing with a stacked deck — and why wouldn’t you do that it you could? If you want to change the world, if you want to disrupt an industry, if you want to make a meaningful impact in people’s lives: Ship. It. Now. Which brings me to my last point: Change the world, disrupt an industry, make a meaningful impact in people’s lives. You can do these things. These things can be within the reach of every single person in this room, and within the reach of every single person that dares to create. How? It’s simple. It’s my last lesson, and it’s the one I hope you’ll walk away thinking about.
  • Love what you do. I love TaskRabbit. I live it, I breathe it. It makes me smile, and cry, and laugh, and yes, sometimes it even makes me scream. I love it. Knowing that TaskRabbit, a company born from an idea I had one night and nurtured by the incredible people in my orbit, is poised to revolutionize work as we know it is my rocket fuel. I wake up every single morning with a singular goal: To do everything possible to move my company forward. That’s the type of drive that loving what you do can provide. And there’s nothing like it.