From 8-Year-Old Bossypants to Silicon Valley CEO

Meet the woman who turned a fleeting idea into a successful business. 

leah-busque
Photo by Bloomberg/Getty Images

We've all dreamed of a personal assistant to handle the never-ending to-do list of life. Leah Busque, a software engineer by training, turned that fantasy into a business by creating TaskRabbit, the online service where people can hire local help for everything from errand running to furniture assembly. Real Simple spoke with Busque, 35, about her life as an engineer/entrepreneur/mother.

What was your childhood like?
I grew up in a very small rural town in central Massachusetts. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and my dad worked for the air force for 30 years.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I remember when I was eight, I asked my dad what the highest rank was in a company and he told me it was CEO. I immediately set up my first business. It was all about recycling and called Pollution Solutions—P.S. for short. I created a little "office space" in our basement, made myself CEO, and basically bossed around my little sister and cousin Mikey for the summer.

You were a software engineer at IBM when you came up with the idea for TaskRabbit.
Yes, it was 2008, and I'd been working there for about seven years. I was living in Boston. One cold, snowy February evening, my husband and I realized we were out of dog food for our Lab, Kobe. We thought, Wouldn't it be nice if we could go online, name the price we wanted to pay, and connect with someone in our neighborhood willing to run the errand for us?

What happened next?
I grabbed my iPhone and typed the first domain name that came to mind, RunMyErrand.com, which was available. Domain names are never available, so I bought it on the spot. Twenty minutes later, I hated it as the name for the company. But we kept it for a while. It was a very simple idea— people can go online and find someone in their area for a particular task. I don't claim to be the first person who thought of it. But because of my background, I could actually build it and code it and create something people could use.

Which you did pretty quickly.
Yes, about four months after that snowy night, I quit my job, built the first version, and launched it in Boston. Now we have about 30,000 taskers making money on the platform across the U.S. and the UK.

You were an engineer, not an entrepreneur.
Right. I didn't know anything about raising money from investors, hiring or firing, or building a team. There were so many things to learn.

What's it like to be in a meeting with you?
I've been told that people feel as if they should come prepared. I don't like to have meetings just for the sake of meetings. I really want to maximize our time together. We work pretty efficiently, and that probably stems from our underlying model of creating efficiency for people.

Tell us about your family life.
My daughter, Amelia, is two. She's at that age where she's walking and talking—she's so much fun. The first three or four months, when I was running a company full-time, had this newborn at home, and wasn't sleeping, were pretty tough.

How do you handle life now?
One thing that helps make it work is compartmentalizing my day. I wake up with Amelia around seven, and we have an hour together before her nanny comes. During that time, it's all about her. After work, I've got an hour with her before she goes to bed. And I try to keep weekends sacred, as family time.

Your husband was also involved in the company.
Yes, for six years he was VP of technology. He's also a very strong partner at home. If I have a late meeting or an early breakfast, he's at home with the baby.

Do you cook during the week?
No, there's no cooking in my house. I order food pretty much five times a week.

Do you have time to exercise?
Absolutely not. I run the company and spend time with Amelia, and that's pretty much all I can muster right now.

When do you do your best thinking?
Probably when I sleep. I often wake up in the night with ideas or solutions to problems I've been agonizing over for months.

Any final advice for entrepreneurs?
There are so many reasons you shouldn't pursue an idea and so many reasons you're going to tell yourself you can't do something. Don't get bogged down by that. If you have an idea, take a step, and see how far you can go.