Office Hours: I'm a GP at Fuel Capital and I was the Founder & CEO of TaskRabbit. I'm Leah Solivan.Featured

cadran's profile thumbnail
Thanks so much for joining us, Leah!Elpha – Please ask Leah your questions before this Thursday. She may not have time to answer every question, so please emoji upvote your favorites.
leahsolivan's profile thumbnail
So excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
TanyaM's profile thumbnail
Hi Leah! Your story is inspiring! Now that you are on the other side of it as an investor... looking back, are there things you would have done differently in the early days when you were raising money for TaskRabbit?
leahsolivan's profile thumbnail
Hi Tanya,Thanks for the question! It's a good one.A few thoughts: 1) I would have spent more time understanding the investors' fund sizes and when they got involved in companies so I was better able to target the most appropriate investor. Word of caution... investors will always take a meeting. And they will always leave their options open by saying that they invest in everything from seed to growth rounds. But, the fact of the matter is that they do have a "sweet spot." It is important to understand that sweet spot so you aren't continually discouraged throughout the course of fundraising.2) The second thing I wish I had known was all the dynamics that are at play for venture investors. As a founder, I was most focused on the competition in my specific market (who was competing with TaskRabbit directly in the space). As an investor, I now realize that a founder’s competition is not only the companies in your respective market but also the other companies in your investors’ portfolios. It has become quite clear that founders are competing for an investors’ time and money with all other companies in their portfolio. I wish I had recognized this when I was a founder. Decisions that seemed so odd at the time would have made so much more sense.
TanyaM's profile thumbnail
Great Advice. Definitely keeping that in mind. Thank you!
melodyma's profile thumbnail
@leahsolivan The second point is 👌
fannysurjana's profile thumbnail
Thanks Leah for the office hour! On Product/Market Fit - Would you go about changing the product to fit the market or focus on selling the product to the right market?
leahsolivan's profile thumbnail
Hi Fanny, Great question. It's a tricky one and really depends on where you are in your product development cycle. The key to finding product-market fit is listening to your current customers and then iterating to adapt the product to meet their needs. If you feel like your current product might resonate with a different customer, by all means, run a test to see if you can gain more traction with a different customer segment. More often than not, if you start with the customer, listen to their needs, and build for them, you will iterate into a product that hits that magical zone of product-market fit.One thing to remember is that the customer that you are building for is not static; they are always changing. Their needs are always changing as well. You have to continuously listen to their feedback and ABA (always be adapting) to ensure that you maintain product-market fit as the company scales as well. It's always a moving target :-)
fannysurjana's profile thumbnail
Thanks Leah! This is super useful.
samanthahu's profile thumbnail
Hi @leahsolivan, what inspired you to build TaskRabbit? Did you start to scale the demand side or the supply side while building TaskRabbit? Why? And what the most critical challenges did you see at that time? Thanks for taking time to answer my questions!
leahsolivan's profile thumbnail
Hey Samantha,Thanks for the questions.... On the inspiration question for TaskRabbit. I had actually lived the problem. On a cold night in Boston in 2008, I ran out of dog food and immediately thought… wouldn’t it be nice if there was a place online where I could go, say I needed dog food and find someone (perhaps who was at the store at that very moment) who would be willing to help me out. It was such a common problem but there was no real solution. Given I was an engineer, I knew I could build a solution so I decided to make the leap and do it. On the supply versus demand side. This is a question I get a lot. As with most marketplaces, we at TaskRabbit needed to get the quality supply in place (in our case, the Taskers, who would be doing the work) before we could push the demand side. The reasoning is that this is the best way to ensure a quality and consistent experience once customers (the demand side) came to the platform. On the challenges... the main one was convincing customers that they could trust strangers to help them with jobs and tasks in their own homes. The idea of outsourcing to strangers was so nascent back in 2008/2009 so there was a lot of convincing to do in the early days. Now, it's commonplace to hop in a car with strangers but it was a totally foreign concept when we launched TaskRabbit.
samanthahu's profile thumbnail
Hi @leahsolivan, thanks so much for your in depth thoughts of scaling the TaskRabbit in the early days. They're still revelent in current marketplace business model.
brookessinclair's profile thumbnail
Hi Leah,Thank you for this time. I was touched by your decade long pursuit of TaskRabbit. When you were building TaskRabbit, and the chips were down, was there anything you wouldn't do to succeed?Thanks,Brooke
leahsolivan's profile thumbnail
Hi Brooke,Very little ;). TaskRabbit is my first born (I've actually had two real children since) but I always had the perspective that I would do anything for my child. So, I did with TaskRabbit. While it was needed at the time, it was exhausting as you can imagine. And it is one thing that I caution other founders against now that I am investor. There were several times while building TaskRabbit that I suffered from burnout. In one instance, I actually wound up in the hospital for 5 days. I now coach Fuel founders to take a more sustainable approach to building their business. It is not always best to be burning the candle at both ends (as they say). Our guiding principle at Fuel has always been that we stand in our founders’ corners, not their kitchen and we want to be trusted confidantes always - but particularly during the difficult times. We believe that we need to go beyond the money and invest in our founders' health and well-being, giving them the time and space to recharge - to “fuel up” so to speak - for what’s bound to come their way. We believe this is fundamental to not only sustaining our founders but also creating sustainable companies and cultures. So last year we launched ReFUEL, a series of events focused on the physical and mental well-being of our founders. The event series focuses on diet, fitness, recovery, meditation and improved sleep - the fundamentals to ensuring that founders are building a sustainable lifestyle.
brookessinclair's profile thumbnail
Thank you <3
noniculotta556's profile thumbnail
Leah, you are so inspiring. I'm one of the founders of Art in Res (artinres.com), a fine-art marketplace that allows you to try art in your home before you buy it. We're lowering the barrier to art collecting and helping emerging artists get their work out there. We work with artists nationwide, and our platform is peer-to-peer, so artists sell directly from their studios to art lovers. When folks choose to return a rental, they ship their boxed rental directly back to the artist's studio. Sometimes our users call us the "Rent the Runway for Fine Art". My question for you, because you've built such a reputable and trusted brand in TaskRabbit is - especially in the early days of Task Rabbit, what did you do to ensure best practices between participating members of your marketplace? In other words, how did you encourage people to 'behave as good users', and when they acted outside of those requirements, what efforts did you make to maintain the integrity of your userbase? Thank you very much for answering! Noni
leahsolivan's profile thumbnail
Hi Noni,Thanks for the question... this is hard, particularly when we have 60,000 Taskers representing our brand. The key ways we ensured that Taskers and Clients were good actors were:1) Extensive vetting process before allowing Taskers on the platform. This included criminal background checking.2) Robust ratings and review process on both sides of the marketplace. This gave both sides the opportunity to raise any flags or concerns that they see in the "real world." We took these reviews very seriously and would action on anything that was worrisome. 3) Instituting policies around response time and other performance metrics. 4) Actively managing the marketplace so that the "best" Taskers were surfaced in search results.
noniculotta556's profile thumbnail
Thank you for your reply!
jessicagrayson's profile thumbnail
I remember reading an article with the Stacy Brown-Philpot where she mentioned that no one thought she was the CEO of Taskrabbit. That always made me wonder how you may have gotten connected to Stacy initially and how you convinced a team of people such as your board, for example, that she was the right fit, knowing that there would have likely been unconscious bias at play amongst the decision makers since society is not accustomed to seeing a black female CEO in Silicon Valley?
leahsolivan's profile thumbnail
Hi Jessica, Thanks for your question. I found Stacy through a recruiter. We actually met a few years before I recruited her to come be our COO. When I was ready to make the hire, Stacy and I had built a trusted relationship over many years, so it was actually a pretty easy decision for me and our Board to bring her on. I think because we had so much time to get to know each other, this really helped with the process. She references incredibly well too ... everyone who worked with her at Google raved about her :-) I was lucky to be working with a Board and team that embraced Stacy from the beginning. There really wasn't any bias or concerns in bringing her on board and she has been a great partner to me and leader for the company.In fact, one of Stacy's key initiatives has been to increase the diversity of the broader TaskRabbit team and she has done such an incredible job at doing so. As she has demonstrated... if you have a diverse team at the top, it attracts a more diverse team. As we know from research, it's also great for business - diversity leads to an increase in the bottom line. I'm really proud of the work she has done here.
Hoda's profile thumbnail
Hi Leah, I was a TaskRabbit user for a few years, before the Ikea acquisition. Congratulations on your success, and also congratulations on raising Fund III at Fuel Capital.How would you like founders to meet with you and your team to introduce themselves? Warm introductions, of course, is the industry norm. However, is there any other way to get connected with Fuel Capital?Thanks,
leahsolivan's profile thumbnail
Hey Hoda...Easy... just email me at leah@fuelcapital.com.
JennyPIN's profile thumbnail
Hi Leah. Thank you and congratulations on your success -- and your new venture. My company developed a digital trust badge for the gig and sharing economies. As an add-on or upgrade, it lets a gig worker show they've undergone a broader, deeper screening. Companies like TaskRabbit are our ideal target, though we are still very early. What's the best way for a young start up to introduce an opportunity to an established marketplace company to open a conversation?
jessziyuezhang's profile thumbnail
Hi Leah! I don’t have a question 😛 I’m just here to fan girl a little bit. I love the product and what a great and long lasting company you’ve built! I love how it gave opportunities to people during the worst economic times and created value for everyone. Thank you for creating it! 🥰
MayaPapaya's profile thumbnail
Just want to say that I love that you're here!
rachelbell's profile thumbnail
Hi, Leah! Congrats on your success! What's interesting to you in the category of marketplaces? Are one-stop-shop marketplaces fading out, as niche/highly-targeted marketplaces growing?Who do you think is poised or what does it take to become the marketplace of DTC brands (as they seem to exist in silos on their own, relying heavily on social media to drive awareness), if it's not the inevitable Amz?
isla's profile thumbnail
Hello @leahsolivan! My question: I know the primary focus is usually on the end users/customers, but what methods have to used to learn more about the day-to-day lives of the people who make money through the platform?
ambermanry's profile thumbnail
Hi Leah. I’m also a technologist from Virginia. I’m creating an animated and interactive cartoon to teach kids Computer Science and Cybersecurity. I’m pursuing a contract with the federal government (where I have my roots) to develop this further. Do you all invest in pre-revenue companies or do you prefer to see revenue first (and what amount)? If you invest in pre-revenue companies, what KPIs do you look for?
joclark's profile thumbnail
Thanks for doing OH and for sharing your great story! I am a non-tech founder of a deep tech company at the pre-seed/pre-revenue stage. I filed patents and assembled an A Team (all with track records). The problem I’m solving requires a complete restructuring that has to happen except that that means it’s complex! My feedback from investors: come back when you’re raising more money. Or no, you’re taking on the mega giants with way more human and $ capital. I also would love nothing more than a diverse, woman-soaked dev team (and/or CTO). I just need one of the right people to believe in me and what I’m doing, as I know I’m doing the right thing. I raised 4.5 million on a previous company business plan/no traction. This time not even getting offers for 300k. Any advice? Tysm!
LifeCafeCEO's profile thumbnail
Leah you're rockstar! We'd love to invite you to www.SheTransActs.com as your mission and purpose aligns with ours:-)
delia's profile thumbnail
Thanks for sharing your story Leah! Very impressive career. I am currently co-founding a private fundraising marketplace that uses machine learning to identify investors most likely to invest in start-ups and to enable data-driven deal screening and investments. Our mission is to connect and bring transparency to private fundraising process by using the power of Network Effects, Data and AI. The ability to discover less obvious sources of funding solves the long tail problem of the marketplace, bringing efficiency, diversity and cost cutting across the entire eco-system. Part of our marketplace data curation algorithm is to build a reputation and value score for all participants, and a friend of mine recommended to take a look at Task Rabbit’s “Elite” or “Value” classification. Would love to get your insights of what worked and what didn't, especially at the beginning.We are a pre-seed/ pre-revenue stage company trying to get off the ground, so any advice is like gold for us. Please check our first iteration of our website (http://vcfund.me) and test our alpha matching algo (http://vcfund.me/Home/GetStarted). What do you think about "Alice" and the results she generated? Please comment here https://forms.gle/hXjGoxX1Ver5EeLeA. Thank you!!
cadran's profile thumbnail
Thanks to everyone who joined us! Office Hours are now over.