Entrepreneurs

TaskRabbit’s CEO went undercover and was hired to clean someone’s apartment 

TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot
Simon Dawson/Bloomberg | Getty Images
TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot

The next time you meet someone on TaskRabbit — the online start-up that lets you hire a freelance worker nearby to perform a task, like cleaning your bathroom or fixing a leaky sink — it could be the company’s CEO.

TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot, who joined the company as COO five years ago and became CEO in 2016, is a regular user of the company’s platform — and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.

In an effort to better understand what it’s like to be both a TaskRabbit client (a user who hires someone to perform a task) and a “tasker” (the person being paid to do some work), Brown-Philpot has her own TaskRabbit account and she even occasionally gets hired, the CEO said in an interview at Fortune magazine’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado on July 17.

TaskRabbit, which last year was acquired by Swedish furniture retailer Ikea for an undisclosed price, asks its employees to work as taskers once every few months, according to The Wall Street Journal. And that policy extends to the CEO as well, Brown-Philpot says.

“I love it,” she tells Fortune, adding that she recently found herself in a somewhat high-pressure situation doing just that. “I actually cleaned somebody’s apartment who was moving out and needed to get their deposit back.”

The pressure for Brown-Philpot, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, came from the fact that she had only about two hours to clean the space well enough to ensure the security deposit refund.

“That was a lot of pressure,” she says. “Because it wasn’t just cleaning it so you could sleep nice tonight; it was money on the line.”

What’s more, the TaskRabbit CEO says she had to contend with a “really dirty" oven. Fortunately for Brown-Philpot and the TaskRabbit client, everything worked out in the end: “He got his deposit back,” she brags.

Brown-Philpot didn’t tell the client that his cleaner for the day was actually the company's CEO — “I didn’t want to freak him out,” she says. But the job was illuminating for Brown-Philpot, who says it helped her see firsthand what it’s like to be a worker on the TaskRabbit platform.

“It was a good experience to not just feel what it’s like to be a client sometimes, but also to know what it’s like to be a tasker,” she tells Fortune.

The TaskRabbit CEO is not the first exec at a so-called “gig economy” start-up — companies like Uber or Postmates — to go undercover to work on their own platform. For instance, new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi famously picked up passengers in an Uber and drove them around San Francisco area earlier this year.

And Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky has made his own home available to rent out on the popular app. “I still live in the original Airbnb and I still Airbnb it so you can book it,” Chesky told People in 2015. “It’s available throughout the year, you can book the couch for just like $50.” Fellow Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia also said in September 2017 that he plans to make a spare room in his downtown San Francisco apartment available through a company initiative, called Open Homes, that finds temporary accommodations for refugees.

As for Brown-Philpot, she also regularly hires people on TaskRabbit to perform various tasks, as she told LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman on the podcast Masters of Scale.

“I remember there was a tasker who came to my house to fix a light switch recently, and he said, ‘You know, I remember you,’ and I thought he was going to remember me as the CEO of the company, but he had delivered a birthday cake and flowers for me like two years before to a restaurant,” Brown-Philpot said on the podcast.

When she asked the man how he’d gone from delivering cakes to electrical work, she says he told her that he’d always loved “fidgeting with things” and other people he met on TaskRabbit encouraged him to take some electrician classes. He told her, “‘Now I’m making like twice as much as I was making on the platform because of TaskRabbit.’”

“You can’t quantify the impact of what that is, and the power of community, but it’s really helped, we’ve created this self-enabling way for people to learn and earn in the marketplace,” Brown-Philpot said.

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