IKEA Is Buying TaskRabbit, One of Silicon Valley’s Few Women-Led Companies

Written by Dana Sanchez

IKEA Group, the world’s largest home furnishing retailer, has agreed to buy TaskRabbit, Inc., an on-demand services platform known as one of the few women-led tech companies in Silicon Valley.

TaskRabbit has struggled in recent years to make a profit.

It’s a surprising union of traditional retail and the tech world — but one that makes a lot of sense, EnGadget reported:

TaskRabbit has made a name for itself as the go-to service for random tasks — and that often involves moving and building furniture. The deal gives IKEA a deeper foothold in the technology world — it just launched an AR-focused app for iOS 11. It also helps the company solve some annoying problems for consumers. Nobody actually likes building the company’s wares, and its expensive and lengthy delivery options also seem archaic in 2017. In particular, IKEA needs to compete with Amazon, which can easily ship out furniture within a day and offer easy installation options.

One of the best-known startups in the gig economy, San Francisco-based TaskRabbit operates in the U.S. and London. It will continue to run as an independent company with CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot staying on, Ikea said.

Besides being known for helping to formalize the side hustle, TaskRabbit is known for having one of the most diverse workplaces in Silicon Valley. Its founder, Leah Busque, and CEO Brown-Philpot, are women in an industry traditionally dominated by white males.

That can be advantageous in terms of perspective, Brown-Philpot said in a Fast Company report. A former Google executive, Brown-Philpot is one of the few black women CEOs in tech. She said that she has often been the only black person in the room:

“I have been the only, or one of the only, for a large part of my life, in a lot of different situations. To know what that feels like is so powerful because I can put myself in someone else’s shoes.”

Popular requests on TaskRabbit’s messaging board in the early days included assembling IKEA sofas and other furniture, rides to the airport, trips to the grocery store, house cleaning and home repairs.

But TaskRabbit never focused on particular segments, preferring to be open any kind of odd jobs, and other companies eclipsed it, Bloomberg reported:

Companies like Uber, Instacart, Postmates, Thumbtack and Handy Technologies entered the market with more focus and several of these rivals eclipsed TaskRabbit in valuation and popularity.

In November 2016, IKEA started a pilot program in London IKEA stores using TaskRabbit’s furniture-assembly workers, or “taskers,” to set up furniture for IKEA customers.

The acquisition could fix the most annoying thing about the iconic furniture company — how hard it is to assemble its furniture, Business Insider reported.

Entering the on-demand, sharing economy enables IKEA to make customers’ lives a little bit easier, the company  said. “We will be able to learn from TaskRabbit’s digital expertise, while also providing IKEA customers additional ways to access flexible and affordable service solutions to meet the needs of today’s customer,” said Jesper Brodin, president and CEO of IKEA Group.

The IKEA acquisition price has not been made public.

TaskRabbit has raised about $50 million since it was founded in 2008. Investors include venture firms such as Shasta Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Founders Fund, Recode reported. It did another small financing in 2016 from an international investor.

A possible strategic buyer surfaced during a recent funding round for Task Rabbit, Recode reported in April. TaskRabbit has recently expanded to 40 cities around the U.S. and U.K.

IKEA is buying TaskRabbit
Image: Irfan Ghani

IKEA owns and operates 357 IKEA stores in 29 countries with a growing e-commerce business and 2 billion visits to IKEA.com each year.

“As urbanization and digital transformation continue to challenge retail concepts we need to develop the business faster and in a more flexible way,” said IKEA’s Brodin. “An acquisition of TaskRabbit would be an exciting leap in this transformation and allows us to move forward with an even greater focus on innovation and development to meet changing customer needs.”

Black people represent 2 percent or less of the workforce at major tech companies in Silicon Valley and little progress has been made to change that despite the increased investment of money and resources, USA Today reported.

Tech companies set a precedent a few years ago when they started releasing data on diversity — or lack of it — in their workplaces. TaskRabbit published its demographic targets for 2016. The report includes raising black representation from 11 percent to 13 percent and offering internships geared toward black people.