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TaskRabbit's Leah Busque: The exit interview

Posted by Scott Kirsner  May 26, 2010 07:50 AM

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When a tiny start-up departs Boston for the Bay Area, it's not usually a news-making event. Except when that tiny start-up becomes very successful.

So I'm always curious to find out the circumstances.

This Friday, TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque is trading Cambridge for San Francisco, and taking the company with her. TaskRabbit, founded in 2008 after Busque left her job at IBM Cambridge, has created a network of "runners" in Boston who can take care of small jobs for a fee, like picking up dry cleaning, making a trip to IKEA, or installing a window air conditioner. (I wrote about the company last summer, when it was known as RunMyErrand.)

Busque did a great job finding some early supporters and angel investors in Boston. Zipcar chief executive Scott Griffith became an informal advisor and offered Busque some free office space in Cambridge, for instance.

Last summer, TaskRabbit was chosen as one of 20 companies to participate in the inaugural fbFund Rev, a 10-week development program in Palo Alto for start-ups building products that plug into Facebook. The fbFund program is overseen by Facebook, Founders Fund, and Accel Capital, which made a $25,000 investment in the selected companies.

Busque commuted between Boston and Palo Alto during the fbFund program. Afterward, in the fall of 2009, TaskRabbit raised $1 million from two Bay Area venture firms, Baseline Ventures and Maples Investments.

Busque is diplomatic about the decision to head west along with her husband Kevin, who until recently was an employee of Humedica, a healthcare IT company. She says the main reason for the move is that San Francisco will be the second market in which TaskRabbit launches, and she wants "to get out there and make sure that everything happens perfectly." (Two full-time employees will remain in Boston to run the continuing operation here.)

But asked whether she'll also move to the third city TaskRabbit launches in, and the fourth, Busque says that isn't the plan. She describes the move to San Francisco as permanent, "at least for the foreseeable future."

When she participated in the fbFund program, productivity guru Tim Ferriss became an advisor to the company, and "he was the one who introduced us to some key investors," Busque says.

She did pitch investors in Boston as well as the Bay area, Busque says. But no one here stepped up to invest. "In Boston, maybe we were too early for folks," she says.

So the fbFund program, as well as the funding it led to, were major factors in pulling Busque west. (The situation was similar with WePay, a group payment site founded by two Boston College alums in 2008.)

TaskRabbit will probably raise another round of funding this year to fuel its expansion, and Busque says "we would love to have east and west coast investors participate in that."

As of next week, though, the company will be based at the San Francisco outpost of Dogpatch Labs (a group workspace with free rent, operated by Waltham-based Polaris Venture Partners). Busque says she plans to launch a private beta of the errand-running service in San Francisco sometime in June.

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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