Brian Leonard and Stacy Brown-Philpot
More than a decade ago, TaskRabbit identified and built a new category that might be called on-demand personal helpers. In fact, as the gig economy emerged in the late-2000s, TaskRabbit made itself into the king of its category. The company had a great run for nearly a decade, and in 2017 got acquired by IKEA. (The deal makes sense when you realize that a lot of TaskRabbit’s business was from people who needed help assembling IKEA furniture.)
By 2018, TaskRabbit was king of a category that was maturing, and had a new parent ready to invest in taking the company to a new stage. The TaskRabbit leadership team, led by CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot, had ideas and convictions about the new category they could invent and claim, but weren’t quite nailing it down, getting alignment around the team, or putting together words that could express where TaskRabbit needed to go.
They asked us to bring our category design perspective and try to help. As always, our approach is to believe the team has all the great ideas, and our job is to pull them out, guide the conversation toward category creation, get agreement, and capture and express the new point of view. After a number of sessions with the team, we landed on a category we called the “task management network.” The category goal is to make hiring a TaskRabbit tasker less of a transaction and more of a relationship built on trust over time.
“What we were thinking before the meetings (with CDA) is not drastically different from what we ended up with,” CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot says. “Maybe a fresh perspective helped. The packaging, structure of the concept – we wouldn’t have gotten so far if not for an external force making us think longer term.”
The category name was just part of what unlocked TaskRabbit’s strategy. In fact, focusing too much on getting the perfect category name can be a distraction. Often a more important component is category narrative – what we call a Point of View (POV). The narrative gets to the root of the problem that needs solving and proves how to solve it and the benefits of the solution – the category. The POV informs product teams about what to build, marketing about what to say, and management about strategic direction.
Once the TaskRabbit team had the category name of task management network and a POV story to support it, they made a 10th anniversary video to introduce the idea. The product team added category-supporting features to the site, like a way to “favorite” a tasker and start to build a go-to team of trusted taskers. Marketing created copy and emails that encouraged relationships with taskers. Meanwhile, Leonard and Brown-Philpot took the category concept to IKEA’s board.
“The whole thing was really good for our board,” co-founder Brian Leonard says. “Our parent company is super idealistic. Their mission is to make life better for the many. You can tell a story that a bookshelf or bed is a gift that makes life better at home. What they loved about the task management network is it’s a way to follow up and help people do whatever they need at home. What category design did for us was package up a clear narrative about how we’re doing that.”
TaskRabbit is not done. It plans a sustained effort to establish the task management network category. “We’ll market it more and more,” Leonard says. “The team is super-energized.” If the company can establish itself as the king of yet another category, it should have another decade of category leadership.