"I would look at everything in my life and question, like, "Is there a solution here? Is there something to build here?" - Leah Busque Solivan on what it means to have an entrepreneurial mindset


Today skimmed from the couch is presented by A._C.. Hotels by Marriott. It's a global hotel brand. That works cited about more on that later. I let's get into the episode I would look at everything in my life and question Asia Mike. Is there a solution here. Is there something to build here and so that moment of inspiration when I was out of dog food could have just coming on like any other airtime but because I was in this entrepreneurial mindset I was able to Kinda capture that moment and discover it as something that could then turn into a company Anthony. I'm Carly's Aitken. I'm Danielle Weisberg. Welcome to skin from the couch. This podcast is where we go deep on career advice from women who have lifted from the the good stuff like hiring and growing a team to the rough stuff like negotiating your salary and giving or getting hard feedback we started the skin from a couch so what fedor place to talk it all out than where it began on a couch so so please welcome Leia Bosque Sullivan to the couch. Leah is an engineer and entrepreneur who founded one of the first GIG economy companies task rabbit the mobile mobile and online marketplace that hooks you up when you need someone to help you move pick up your laundry cleaner place before your family shows up for visit build your furniture. I have used that many many times Leah Built Tass rabbit from the ground up and lead the company before selling it to Ikea in 2017 building Ikea furniture obviously a huge market for tasker. We've all been there many many times today. Leah is helping to build other startups as a general partner at the venture capital firm fuel capital capital. Leo Welcome to the couch. Thanks so much for having me. Thanks for being here. We are so excited to talk to you. <hes> I think as Daniel was saying in the intro we used test grab it many any time. It's nice to officially say thank you in person <hes> so wanna get into just kind of your background. What is not on your resume? If we looked at your linked in and what would we not find well. <hes> what you would not find is probably my strong passion around the arts. I actually grew up as a ballet dancer. The answer <hes> and I danced for twenty five years before I started task. Grab it yeah and then gave it up when I started the company because who has time to do any sort of extracurriculars alerts when you've found it a company yes wait. That's crazy so were you dancing professionally or for fun before you started task for fun <hes> and I was dancing in the Boston area and so <hes> mostly ballet and jazz and we would do shows in the Boston area but it was something I was pretty serious about and banned in college. I actually had made a minor in dance. I was a computer science major but then a minor in dance. It's funny that you say you don't have time because I think I was joking. The other take like all of my hobbies have disappeared and that's that's a huge one. Tell us a little bit about what it means to be a general partner now and what your day to day looks like so fuel capital. I joined fuel about two years ago. As general partner my partner Chris Howard founded the firm about six years ago to raise funds on his own own and we just launched a seventy five million dollar fund that we deploy that we raise together so the day to day now is a lot of meeting with entrepreneurs. <hes> you know we try to meet with two to three entrepreneurs every single day here pitches follow up on meetings doing diligence we meet with a a lot of co-investors as well because our models very collaborative so we like to invest alongside other investors some of which we are investors in skin as Lau <hes> and so a lot of meetings with other investors <hes> and then time as well just to do research into think in due diligence and you know my background in engineering and technology I think really drives this passion and me to stay ahead of the curve on what's coming new from a technology standpoint and so I'll spend some time thinking about that. Do you think that anybody who knew you when you were growing up when when you're doing ballet surprise about what your career is well. I'm sure some people are surprised I mean I grew up in a very tiny town Shirley Massachusetts population four thousand I mean I went to a school pool that had in one building kindergarten through eighth grade. I mean it was super super tiny so I'm sure a lot of people are surprised about what I what I'm doing today but it's funny because when I think back I remember when I was eight years old asking my father what the highest title and the company was and he told Oh mate was being a C._e._o.. A chief executive officer and I remember starting my first company which I called pollution solutions good name relag Geron yet very rainy and it was this recycling program that I started in my elementary school and it was basically an excuse to kind of boss around my a little sister and my cousin but I set up offices in our basement. I had a whole like poster board pitch and program. I brought to the school and so there was something saying I think in me from a very early age that maybe knew this was the path so we're gonNA come back to your work and what you're doing now at fuel but we want to talk talk about your first baby task of it as my first baby so you started out as an engineer. You were working for a startup that was bought out I._B._M.. As we said had and then in two thousand and eight you had an idea for an errand service so right yes skim that story for us so it was February of two thousand eight a remember his February because it was cold and snowing outside and I was living in Boston at the time and it was one of those awful winters and I was meeting friends across town for dinner when I realized I was out of dog food and at the time I had this one hundred pound yellow lab named Kobe at very well fed. He's the best dog and when I realized that a dog I was at a dog food. I thought this is such a simple problem. Why isn't there a simple solution? Four months earlier earlier the first iphone had come out so this is very early days of the IPHONE. There was no APP store. Mobile Technology was just emerging but but as an engineer. I thought there's got to be someone I can connect with on this phone. Someone who's at the store at this very second. I should just be able to connect with them right now and say I need doctrine and so I became obsessed with this this idea in this new technology that was emerging around social location and mobile and I ended up quitting my job at IBM four months later to build the first version of the site that sounds so amazing using picking back to what it's become but you have the idea and then. How did you actually turn it into something? What were the first steps that you took yeah? I mean I like to say I certainly was not the first person to have this idea. The idea for task rabbit is a very simple one getting help from your neighbors <hes> but I was the first the to really put it into action into leverage the technology that was just emerging. I mean we are so so early. It was this was before lift and Uber even existed right so the thought that you would ask a stranger for help was kind of insane at the time but with my engineering background I knew that I could build what was in my head and I could leverage the mobile technology. I knew I had this theory that with facebook facebook emerging I would be able to build trust between strangers because I thought okay I could leverage the social graph and if you were hiring <unk> a task rabbit and had a good experience with them then your friends would be more likely to hire that purchase while task grab it back then actually in the very very beginning when we're just US live in Boston it was called run my errand dot com. I hated that name from the very beginning but it was the first thing I actually thought of that night. I was out of Dartford Later so I tell the story like it was this moment of inspiration and then four months later I quit my job and like that is all true but the story that you you know I don't usually have time to tell is that for many months even years leading up to that moment. I was sort of getting bored at I._B._M.. I sort of felt like I have these other skill sets that I wanted to explore that I wasn't utilizing on a daily basis and so I had been thinking a lot about new ideas and joining a start up or doing something on my own. There's this great book. I don't know if you guys have read it. By Adam. Grant called originals. We look he's he's amazing and so Adam writes about this concept of Asia Day which is the opposite of deja Vu right and Deja Vu is when you see something and you feel like you've seen it before. It feels familiar to you but you've only seen it for the first time so volusia. Day is the opposite of that where you see something obtain a thousand times but you're able to take a step back and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes and because I was sort of bored that I._B._M.. In thinking about new ideas I definitely was in a mindset of visual day like I would look at everything in my life and question like is is there a solution here. Is there something to build here and so that moment of inspiration when I was out of dog food could have just coming on like any other time but but because I was in this entrepreneurial mindset I was able to Kinda capture that moment and discover it as as something that could then turn into a company. I WANNA contextualized this a little bit because here we are twenty nineteen. It seems so normal that you would just like let a stranger into your apartment or get into their car and you touched on this a little bit but for a lot of our listeners who are used to that it was not always like that. It was still a weird thing to let someone into your home. Yes can you talk about. How did you guys market that? I know you talked about facebook but it's got gotta go beyond that like how did you make that. Did you think it was going to be as big of a challenge as it was. Did it turn out to be much easier to convince men's people to let people they don't know into their lives so I mean it's a great question because like I said I just really emphasized like people really thought aw that I was insane that you would let a stranger into your home like an ask for help and the idea that you would hail a car off the street a stranger strange off the street and jump into the back of their seat like it was unheard of unheard of theirs that mean that always goes around instagram which is like two thousand eight parents like don't get into a car with a stranger in one thousand nine hundred and make sure Uber Yeah absolutely did you believe in like the stranger partly. Did you have personal concerns around it. <hes> you know I like like to think that I I met the I thirty task irs over coffee myself thirty of them. I had coffee meetings and sort of my litmus test was would I invite this person in my grandmother's house to help her get something done and that's how I decided who the first thirty tasker were to start the site <hes> you know that doesn't scale and so I had to figure out ways to automate that <hes> in so of course we did background checking and then ratings and reviews came along and all these different things but but in the early days the the messaging and positioning around trust <hes> was incredibly important it was the thing that we had to overcome when when you think about you know I I would say task but is really credited with creating the GIG economy or maybe I shouldn't say creating but really making it something that we all are aware of and and <hes> you know obviously that has taken different iterations especially after the housing crisis in two thousand eight. How do you think about task rabbits roll over the last ten years what that has meant for other businesses? Yeah I mean it's funny because in two thousand eight <hes> prior to two two founding the company I was like June of twenty of twenty two thousand eight that I left IBM may was by September that the stock market was crashing in that everyone is being laid off and I just left this cushy job at IBM announced thinking what am I doing it turned out to be the best time to start a company like task. Grab it because so many people bowl we're looking for new ways of working and they had been laid off and they're great highly skilled people that needed to make money in and and needed new flexible ways to to work and so I feel very fortunate that I was able to start the company at that moment in time because it did help it has helped a lot of people I mean sixty thousand active tasks across the country. <hes> you know has been incredible to watch grow by two thousand Nintendo. There were lots of other companies emerging and the sharing economy then became this more mainstream trend for our listeners. Can you just explain the difference between sharing economy and kick economy okay so the sharing economy really focused around this idea of being able to share resources newsbeat between strangers so things like airbnb in sharing homes <hes> sharing rides like lifting uber. I mean I even lumped task. Grab it into that in. It's just the sharing of skills and sharing of time since then <hes> and this is kind of you know hindsight twenty twenty there's been a lot of controversy around the GIG economy and is it are are the impacts a good thing for workers. Are they in traditional businesses. Could it be hurting us as workforce in different ways. Do you see that differently now than you. You did ten years ago I do. I mean one thing in this is sort of like a pet peeve in that I have in the space don't mean to bring it up but for some MHM reason the word Gig economy just like h just rubs me the wrong way because I am not not a good word. It's just like it. I feel like it it minimizes A._M.. Is is the work and it minimizes the people doing the work and I much prefer thinking about the freelance economy or distributed work being able to be distributed and flexible and so that is one thing for me that when I started in two thousand and eight you know it started to really scale in two thousand ten and this idea of the freelance economy of sharing resources sharing skills distributed work it really all came down to flexibility disability and that is the number one thing when we asked hackers what they want to you want to make money of course they wanNA make money right but if you ask them to stack rank my hourly rate versus the flexibility of the job versus anything else flexibility would always come out on top and so one the thing that I learned as you look at the Labor markets and the workforce is flexibility is not only key in what we've built to date at task grab it but the need for flexibility in the Labour markets in general is something that this next generation of workers demands it's part of their expectations on how they work and so what we need to see happen is legislation and rules and policy evolve to meet the needs of the actual workers today which which <hes> you know doesn't necessarily line up right now and that's where the controversy happens. We'll get back to that in a minute but first. Let's talk about something all our guests on this show deal with and that's traveling usually for business I think in the month of June we were on something like twenty. Three planes travel for work is part of our day to day and we get tired. We get cranky. We just WanNa go home and what we have come to love is when we stay at a hotel and adjust makes it feel better like you can breathe and that's why we're excited to partner with a A._C.. Hotels A._C.. Hotels is equal parts beautiful which we appreciate but more so functional which we appreciate even more you just want to look at their instagram. You'll know what we mean in everything from the guest rooms the hotel lobby to their location is completely over thought and thought out in the best way possible. <hes> can't Belt and then eventually sold <hes> it is looked at as an inspiration to an entrepreneur entrepreneurs like ourselves like a lot of our listeners like you built an incredible empire empire and you know I always hate when people tell us like it looks easy and you know we all laugh at that. I don't think what you did look easy by. I think that you made aide look really seamless in a lot of ways and I'm sure that that is not the case. You've been very public recently about the toll that stress took on you physically basically and would love to just kind of dig into that a little bit and and have you talk about what that looked like for you. Yeah I mean it was really a roller coaster ride. There are lots of high rise. There're lots of lows probably more lows than highs and you know one thing I learned early on is that I really just needed to stay level. I learned not to ride the highs and get too excited about anything because there is going to be a low around the corner and I didn't WanNa hit rock bottom either we got oh. We joke about that all the time like as soon as you hit a high. It's like you're absolutely and so it. It's emotionally emotionally like just really difficult to to ride both the highs and lows so I learned how to stay level which on some you know some people will say like Oh. That's it's too bad like people would say you should celebrate that round of funding or you should celebrate being on the today show and I was just like nope knows you let your team celebrate. Yes I definitely he led the team celebrate but I would also you know try to like temper the celebration with a boost of reality because I think sometimes and we this at task grab it all the time where it was like we had so much press and you know we were so fortunate to get all of these inbound organic leads and people wanted to talk to us about the story but that doesn't necessarily mean that the business and the revenue and the dollars are lining up to that story right and there was always a lot of work to do and so sometimes those two things hyphen momentum didn't necessarily match the reality so it was important to kind of keep. The team came in reality but I certainly you know personally like I was never happy. I was never happy with anything going on even though there was some amazing the things that happened when you talk about the the team celebrating these things. I just think it's so interesting to contextualize this like two thousand eight eight to two thousand eleven like you're looking around and people are getting laid off left and right we talked about the housing crisis. Recession did the stress of that that moment you're building the company and add to the stress of just starting a company well. I mean it was all very stressful. I would say that <hes> you know the moments that I can remember that. Were the most stressful were times when I had to reorganize the team. I had to let people go off the the team. I had to edit the team. I had to raise money the the last round of funding for task grab. It was the hardest money to raise. Why do you think that was so counterintuitive right. I mean at one I think it was hard because it was a surprise to me. I didn't expect it to be hard and it was the very small amount of money that we needed to basically get us to profitability <hes> which then led to the sale too key so it was like this very small amount of money that we needed to raise but because we had been on this venture track for eight years ray it made it really difficult to raise as the tiny bit of money at the end that we needed because no venture investor wanted to put in a tiny bit of money at that point and as an entrepreneur for the first time name like I didn't understand that model you know I would go back to my investors and be like hey could you a million will get a million from here. They're like no now. That doesn't make sense for our model model. Unlike what do you mean like you have a billion dollars range by giving. Just give me a million dollars. I don't understand so but no that wasn't to their model. Anyone and who has <hes> raise money from outside investors has been through that moment of like. Are we going to get funding and it's and it's talking about it. Yeah I know me too. <hes> talk through the pain and you have a lot of employees and yeah depending on you. Yes you recently wrote. This article about stress is actually putting you in the hospital and I would love to share that story if you don't mind if it was the last three million dollars I had to raise <hes> and it wasn't coming from my internal internal investors because they were either you know tapped out or it didn't make sense for their model and so I had to go find it externally and at that point when you're an eight year old accompanying you various <unk> almost fifty million dollars like to ask for another three from anywhere like the valuations don't match up right. There's ownership requirements all these these things and so it's kind of amazing because I had this cold inbound email off of linked in from <hes> Task Rabbit user are in London who's just like a super fan and he was like hey can. I come by the Task Rabbit Office. The next time I'm in San Francisco and great you know he's like I run this fund and in London and I was like okay but I didn't really know anything about what he did so he came by the office and we really hit it off and it turns out he runs his multibillion dollar right right out cared lesson to apply to Lincoln. I mean I never revived to either at Bir ever but it was serendipitous <hes> and so you know that actually was the investor that ended up doing three million which was completely outside of his model in wheelhouse but because he was such a fad ical user in London like he really believed in the company any but you know after a hundred meetings with investors saying no to me <hes> I I was completely completely stressed out. We were like two weeks away for missing payroll like we did not have money to pay people you know in the company and so so <hes> we were close you know with some of these investors about these conversations right to they like take such a long time sometimes and so it was the Monday. I'd gone on a walk with an entrepreneur friend. He tells me later that he felt like I looked a little like off like a little green in the face but I went home and my stomach started hurting and it progressively got worse and worse and worse and how I ended up taking an Uber Bird the emergency room at like eight P._M.. At night 'cause I couldn't get off the couch and then I waited five hours in the waiting room for the emergency room and it got worse and worse and and worse and worse and then I finally get into see a doctor and he's like your colon is about to burst and they had done an m._r._i.. Hi and he was like you know. We don't know what causes this but have you been under a lot of address lately and he's like it's stress induced colitis and so. I ended up in the hospital for five days straight pump full of antibiotics thankfully no surgery was needed because they antibiotics <hes> solve the problem but I remember I was like making calls to London from hospital bed like trying to get this deal closed. How does that experience both trying to raise is that lasts three million and also separately the intense stress help you on the other other side now when you're looking at investing while I mean I think is an investor. I have a lot of empathy a lot of empathy for the founders that are coming in into pitch that are sitting in front of me. I WANNA understand not just about their business models and you know their visions for the business but I wanNA understand who who they are and what drives them and when Chris and I invest in a company we're not just investing the dollars we want to invest in those people and so both Chris and I are big believers and you know just the importance around founders health and wellness and overall sustainability and I believe that Ah that really influences cultures and teams and you know hundreds of thousands of people at a time can be influenced if the founder actually isn't in a really healthy stable place after hitting a very scary point how have you as you continued to grow and then South House. Grab it and now in this new role. How do you manage stress now. Do you do. Do you have different tools today. Well I think you know everyone is different and I think for me. I found that I have to have time. Time to exercise a for me that is the thing <hes> and so I try to do something really active every single day and I need something for me that is like mentally until we exhausting as it is physically do something today. I did soul cycle this Martin Okay Yeah so I actually sold cycles kind of my go-to because I feel like it. It is both mentally and physically exhausting but I've tried a lot of other things I like all kinds of different things I also went on this like four day retreat where we hiked ten miles a day and it was amazing. I did that recently <hes> so I think everybody's different. <hes> meditation can also be something if you can carve out out like ten minutes a day <hes> to just take time quiet your mind refocus. That's something I think it can be real helpful as well so for me. The trick Eric is scheduling it into my day and if it is not on my calendar I am not going to do it and so making sure that every day there's some time something something that just allows your mind in body that kind of reset and stay healthy. I think is important so so this summer we've done a lot. We went on a book tour. We saw you guys in ten different cities. We were on like thirty planes. It's been crazy and one of the the things that we are so happy to have back at home is a good toothbrush and our favorites is quip so there are a lot of reasons why we like quip tip. One of them is that we like to have matching things matching quips. Apparently one of the things that I love is that you can stick it on your mere. Yes the other reason that we love love quip. Is that <hes> there no wires. There's no clunky charger. It can run for about three months on a single charge and then just when you think you're like Oh. I need a new brush head. The brush heads are automatically delivered <hes> every three months for just five dollars so they know exactly what you want and you don't have to think about it. We can't recommend it enough so clip clip starts at just twenty five dollars and if you go to get quip dot com slash skim right now you can get your first refill pack for free. That's I refill pack free at G.. H. E. Q. U.. I. P. DOT COM SLASH SKIP <music>. How do you support the founders that you work with on that piece because I think it's a it's a good thing to say or to talk about? When a founder is looking to raise their making decision between funds it's another thing when that founder is actually in the middle of raise and you see them burnt out outright so a couple of things one is my experience as a founder was that there were very few investors that you know <hes> I I felt like I could even admit that I had went to work out like Oh? You spent an hour away from the office today like the the pressure I felt for my investors. Busters was real and some of that was in my head but some of that was from that right and I remember one investor telling me one time like He. No you post a lot of pitchers with your her family. Your Kid yes oh my God and so like what message does that send do a founders yes. What did you say I mean <music> at the time I just said yes? It's like I'm with my family. I'm like it was a did you at the time no a bit like that was so inappropriate and absolutely yeah absolutely but you know I also had raised a lot of money at that point I had a great relationship with my board and so I felt very confident about where I was and who I was. I can imagine a lot of first time founders that get that sort of feedback from an investor like that does not set them on us on a good path horrifying. It is so as so for me as an investor. Now I think simply just talking about it. You know giving not not only permission but the encouragement to take the time and so we've launched a whole series of events that we call reef. You'll feel capital so we do these regularly okay and we invite a founders to come in refuel with us and we'll do a soul cycle class or a boot camp class or go on a hike. We're doing actually a two day retreat St for our portfolio company in October so a lot of funds will do you know a two day C._E._o.. Summit and they'll bring in business leaders to talk about business where like our founders can get business advice from anywhere and they can get it for two. That's cool. I'm happy to share business advice but we're going to do a two day. Overnight retrieved that will just refuel and reset our founders in our portfolio so actually making the investment there i WanNa talk about finally the the career transition so so in two thousand seventeen useful tasks rabbit and then we've talked a little bit about fuel. I WANNA go back to that that moment when you sold tell me about it yeah well task grab. It is my first baby so I said to other babies since then but task grab it is really the first in so he you know it was exciting but it was also emotional and I remember being on the board call that we had to formally vote vote on doing the sale you know and everyone went around in voted and I was last and I was in tears but it was like happy tears but it was also so like this is an end. This is the end of this chapter and so it was very emotional <hes> but I felt like as a founder for me it was is my dream to build something that lived beyond me and I felt like I was sending my kid off to college and they didn't beat me anymore and they were going to go in thrive on their own and and so that was really fulfilling and to see that now play out to over the last couple of years that I has run the business spent great of course I had an amazing team team like Stacey as the C._E._o.. To really who I trust so much right to continue to be there so I think all of that made it a lot easier for me <hes> but but it was you know an exciting emotional time so I'm going to turn this out to our last segment our favorite the lightning round goes like this. We will give you a prompt you if to answer as quickly as possible R._A.. Okay I one. What did you think you are going to be when you grew up and astronaut or Ballet Dancer College Major Math Computer Science and Dance First Job Bank teller worst job babysitting last task ask you did as a task rabbit like that I did as a task grab it that I posted as it has because I've done both right? I actually want both the owns the last one that you personally personally did the last one I personally did was probably picking up dry cleaning for someone <hes> and then the last tasks that I posted was some <hes> yard work help that I needed in California yeah. We're as professional mistake. You've ever made hiring their own people. I call when you get good news. Oh my sister what about bad news. I don't tell anyone. When was the last time you negotiated for yourself <hes> well? I negotiate a lot every day on behalf of fuel and deals that I'm getting getting into yeah. What is your go-to interview question when you're hiring someone? What do you wish you had done twenty years ago? How do people know when you're stressed? They don't <hes> what drives you today learning learning new things what's your shameless plug. We've got an incredible portfolio at fuel including companies right here actually based in New York <hes> companies like good dog that are connecting dog breeders with <hes> people looking for dogs. We've got this amazing female founder Sally Christianson who you started a company called Arjun which is really reinventing women's work where <hes> so a lot of fun fuel companies greatly at thank. Do you so much thank you. Thanks for having me. Thanks for hanging out with us. 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