Part of being a good job board entrepreneur is studying how other marketplaces came to be. I am always drawn to the origin stories of sites like Craigslist, Ziprecruiter and others in our space. These stories offer valuable tips and trick for anyone building a two-sided marketplace. TaskRabit is another interesting story to note. On a recent episode of the “How I Built This” podcast, their founder Leah Solivan details how she launched the company more than a decade ago.
It’s a great listen. I transcribed a few key parts about the pivotal moments she faced getting it off the ground.
Leah Solivan’s idea for a business grew out of a very specific problem. She wanted to solve on one snowy evening in Boston. The problem of getting a big bag of dog food for her yellow lab to her apartment. And did she really wanna go out in the middle of a snowstorm? Not really, but was there someone else who might be willing to do it for the right price? Now, that was an interesting question, but the thing Leah found most compelling about this problem was not that the solution might one day turn into a business. Instead, Leah, who at the time was an engineer at IBM, saw the problem as more of an engineering challenge. Like, do I have the coding skills I need to solve the dog food delivery problem. And if, for example, I were to start an online business for home deliveries, is the market ready for that to happen?
And so it was February of 2008. It was cold and snowing outside. It was we’re getting ready to go out to dinner in Boston with some friends. And we realized we were out of dog food. And at the time we had this hundred pound yellow lab named Kobe, who he kept very well fed. So we realized we’re out of this dog food and I’m talking with Kevin and I’m like, God, there’s gotta be a way to get this dog. We’re taking a cab to dinner. We don’t wanna drag the dog food with us to dinner.
And I was like, you know what, wouldn’t it be nice if there’s just a place online, you could go say you needed dog food, name, the price you’re willing to pay. There’s probably someone in our neighborhood right now. That’d be willing to help us out. And maybe there’s even someone at the store at this very second and we should be able to connect with them.
And the iPhone had just come out. And so I grabbed my iPhone and I was like, we should be able to connect with whoever who’s ever at the store right now. I said, okay, if a site likes this existed, what would it be called? And I typed into my iPhone, …into GoDaddy runmyerrand.com and the domain name was available for $6 99. So she bought it.
How She Leveraged a popular newsletter for the BETA
So in Charlestown (Mass.), this one square mile neighborhood of Boston, I figured out that there was this mother’s association and I’m not a mom at the time. Right. I’m still like, I don’t have kids, so I don’t fully understand, but I think moms are busy and like, they’d probably use the service. So I go to the head of the Charlestown mother’s organization and I say, okay, I have this idea. I’ve talked to a lot of the moms in town and I wanna build a beta for you. I wanna build a beta just for you 900 moms in one square mile of Boston, you know, will you advertise it through your newsletter if I build you this beta.
How She Recruited the First Taskers through Craigslist
So I build the site for the moms close beta and I post an ad on Craigslist and I say, I’m looking for some help running errands, and I get hundreds, hundreds of inquiries I’ll help you. I’ll help you. You know? And so I’m like, wow, okay. There’s a lot of demand out there for people that wanna run errands. Brilliant. And so I started meeting, um, potential at the time we called them runners. I met everyone face to face to start because I was terrified that, you know, there was gonna be a trust and safety issue early on. Yeah. And so I met them all at Zoom’s coffee shop, 30 minute interviews and wow. I, I brought on 30 of them to start the site.
This origin story is a great tale of persistence tenacity that great entrepreneurs share. I hope you learn from it.