On Being ‘The Only’: TaskRabbit, One Of Silicon Valley’s Most Diverse Companies, May Be Sold

Written by Dana Sanchez

A possible strategic buyer surfaced during a recent funding round for Task Rabbit, one of the best-known startups in the gig economy, Recode reported.

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 Stacy Brown-Philpot, are women in an industry traditionally dominated by white males.

That can be advantageous in terms of perspective, Brown-Philpot said.

Brown-Philpot is one of the few black women CEOs in tech, and said that she’s often been the only black person in the room. “I have some empathy,” she told Fast Company:

“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.”

But everyone can do that, she believes. “Every single person, regardless of whether you’re in a majority group, if you’re a male, or if you’re white,” has at some point been on the margins and can recall that feeling. To Brown-Philpot and others, that represents an opportunity: Make diversity matter to everyone, and you’re bound to keep making headway.

Founded in 2008, TaskRabbit is still not profitable overall, but has raised close to $38 million in investments so far. 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.

The company wants to expand from its current 24 locations to 40 cities in the U.S., and has formed partnerships, including with furniture giant Ikea.

Brown-Philpot describes TaskRabbit as a leader in on-demand home services, allowing people to find somebody to clean their house or find a handyman in less than five minutes, 80 percent of the time.Independent freelance workers use the platform. TaskRabbit has 60 employees.

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, including raising black representation from 11 percent to 13 percent and offering internships geared toward black people, Fast Company reported.

Eleven-to-12 percent black representation is off the charts compared to other tech companies. TaskRabbit has pledged to be 13 percent, to match the U.S. population.

“We want to set a standard for what it means to feel like you’re in a diverse environment, feel like you could always be your authentic self,” Brown-Philpot said in a Bloomberg interview. “I share my experience as a black woman, and I invite people to talk if they’re feeling hurt or pain. I think being an African American woman helps. It’s being willing to talk about the real things happening right now that might be impacting someone’s ability to show up at work.”

Before TaskRabbit, Brown-Philpot worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Goldman Sachs. She earned an MBA from Stanford University, and got a job at Google, where she worked for nine years. She was in operations for search, Chrome and Google+ and served as head of online sales and operations in India, according to USA Today.

 

“Google tried very hard to make itself more diverse, but I know they went to great lengths not very successfully,” she said in a Recode interview.

Creating a diverse workplace means creating a culture that embraces diversity, Brown-Philpot said. “And ’embrace’ meaning are we a place where people feel welcome and they can bring their whole selves to work?

One of the things that I struggled with early on in my career was joining a company where it’s built on referrals, and the idea of hiring people based on your own network. If you actually don’t have a diverse network then you’re less likely to hire people who are diverse. And it’s much easier when you’re growing very fast and you need to just grab people. It needs to be an intentional kind of stated objective.

The second thing is … the pipeline. One of the things that I struggled with early on in my career was joining a company where it’s built on referrals, and the idea of hiring people based on your own network. If you actually don’t have a diverse network then you’re less likely to hire people who are diverse. And it’s much easier when you’re growing very fast and you need to just grab people. It needs to be an intentional kind of stated objective. You know, I have been ‘the only’ for most of my career. I walk into a room and there’s one black woman, or two black women, and there just aren’t that many because the pipeline of talent just isn’t there.

A third piece (is) the role of media in highlighting who these people are, telling their stories, sharing their stories, and making those stories more public … being able to talk about those stories is really important.

TaskRabbit was the first company to sign on to a Congressional Black Caucus initiative to boost recruitment of African Americans in tech, USA Today reported. The Congressional Black Caucus launched CBC TECH 2020 in 2015, putting political pressure on Silicon Valley to hire more blacks:

Blacks represent 2 percent or less of the work forces at major tech companies in Silicon Valley and little progress has been made despite increased investment of money and resources.

Yet top universities turn out African-American and Latino computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them, a USA Today analysis showed. And it’s not just computer science: Minorities are also sharply underrepresented in non-technical jobs such as sales and administration, with African Americans faring noticeably worse than Latinos.

Critics say the predominantly white male industry runs the risk of losing touch with the diverse nation — and world — that form its customer base. At the same time, African Americans are being excluded from the nation’s fastest-growing, highest-paying jobs.

Brown-Philpot said she was surprised by the attention and visibility she got as a black woman CEO. “I look forward to the day when this is the norm and not the exception,” she told Bloomberg.

 

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About Dana Sanchez
Dana Sanchez is the editor of Moguldom.com and AFKInsider.com. She has worked in digital and print news media as a business writer and news editor. She has a master's degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. Prior to working in news, Dana worked in advertising.

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