When I’m looking for inspiration for this blog I sometimes cruise around the internet. Sometimes it’s a waste of time: sometimes I find a gem. This week it was the latter.
It’s about a cleaning company in New York. Now in the age of Facebook and Twitter and iPhones and apps a cleaning company is about as unsexy as it gets. The CEO was a former derivatives salesman – what on earth was he doing starting a cleaning company? Especially one where – as the article freely relates – one of the main ways of getting business in the early days was pounding the streets and knocking on doors.
What I liked about the article was its openness about how hard it was in the beginning. The business idea was simple – a website that allowed residential and corporate clients in New York to book a cleaner online. But there were problems: the founders of the company were all non-technical – so the website and its maintenance had to be outsourced – and there was no money. It was a bootstrap business.
They made mistakes as well – originally they outsourced the cleaning to third party cleaning agencies. Disaster: “all of our 1* reviews are from those days.”
But eventually they got it right, and in less than three years from September 2010 to April 2013 monthly revenue grew from $15,000 to $300,000 – with expectations of turnover reaching $4m for the full twelve months. By anyone’s standards those numbers are hugely impressive.
So what did MyClean.com do right? And what lessons can you learn that will help in your business? Here are four that I picked out from the article:
• First of all MyClean saw a gap in the market and went for it – clearly, they’d tried to find a cleaner in New York and found out that it wasn’t easy
• They knew their figures: 7% of visitors to the website converted into customers – I know I’m always talking about your KPIs, but those are the sort of figures you absolutely need to know
• When the tech didn’t work, they didn’t give up. I dare say there are a few people reading this blog who’ve knocked on doors in their time. How many of us would be prepared to do it now?
• And above all, they got the one key basic of their business right. Whatever else went wrong, they made sure that the cleaning was right. That was the product they were supplying and it had to be perfect.
And now four lessons that MyClean themselves take from the last 2½ years:
• Pick a big market – they put the home cleaning market at $65bn a year. If you choose a market like that you only need a small slice to have a serious business: and as MyClean say, it leaves a lot of margin for error. It’s far easier to fail in a new or unproven market
• Turn what’s hard into what’s easy. Dav and I have a cleaner. Is finding a good one easy? Absolutely not: it should be, but it isn’t
• Focus on your strengths. No, the founders of MyClean weren’t technical – so they focused on what they were good at (sales and operations) and got someone else to do the techie jobs
• Focus on what is profitable: not on what is sexy. You couldn’t find a less sexy market than cleaning homes and offices – but it will always need doing and doing well. Is it profitable? Clearly – and as MyClean point out, there are now plenty of hugely well-funded start-ups trying to break into their market.
I think it’s a really interesting business story: a basic need and a very basic business. Yes, it was tackled in a new way, but that new way simply emphasised one of the key points I always try and stress through TAB – the fundamental facts of business will always, always apply.
PS Had my ex-boss from Diageo round for lunch on Saturday. What’s he doing now? Running a rapidly expanding cleaning company in North Yorkshire! So when you sell It’s Clean for a couple of million, remember who gave you the idea, won’t you…