Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey! My name is Neel Parekh and I am the Founder and CEO of MaidThis® & MaidThis® Franchise, a cleaning franchise that helps residential homeowners and short-term rental hosts (Airbnb, VRBO, etc) with their cleanings.
For the last 5 years, I’ve been running my local business completely remotely and living the “digital nomad” life.
I started from scratch with 1 cleaner in Los Angeles making $400 per week and now we gross over $100K/mo for our Home Office locations and more with our franchise locations. Since starting, MaidThis has generated over $10 million in total revenue while having a fully remote office team.
Now, I’m on a mission to help others achieve the same by launching MaidThis Franchise, the first cleaning franchise specializing in vacation rentals (Airbnb, VRBO, etc) cleanings.
We’ve been able to grow rapidly compared to many other local cleaning companies because of a few main factors:
- We made our niche focus on cleaning Airbnbs and vacation rentals, in addition to regular home cleaning, which is a rapidly growing industry. We became the first cleaning franchise specializing in vacation rental cleaning.
- Local businesses are often pretty old school and typically aren’t the best with marketing, especially digital marketing. We’re bringing new-age marketing tactics to this old-school industry.
- Remote work: we’ve been able to stay extra nimble and lean with having a global workforce. This was initially done out of necessity so I could travel, but quickly became a huge competitive advantage. Our office team works across 8 different countries.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I originally started MaidThis as a side hustle while I was working at a private equity investment firm. Like many people working the corporate grind, I was fascinated by becoming my own boss.
With any first product or service launch, you’re almost guaranteed to get some aspect of it wrong. You might be priced too low, not be addressing the right target market, or have the package all wrong.
I finally stumbled upon The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris, which turns out is basically the Bible for the digital nomad community, and decided I wanted to experience “location freedom”.
But my decision to start a side business wasn’t solely so I could quit my job and travel the world while still having an income—although that was part of it. It was also in large part a decision guided by my desire to provide financially for elderly parents.
I actually tried a bunch of different side hustles—creating an eCommerce site, blogging about pet hair vacuums (yeah, seriously), and more—before stumbling across a post on Reddit from someone who started a cleaning company. In the post, the author laid out the detailed steps he’d taken to get going. After reading through the post carefully, I thought “What the heck, I’ll give this a shot too”.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My first step in doing so was creating a website—a tall task for someone who lived in financial models on Excel and had no technical background. I bought a template for about $100, figured out how to host a website, and published a pretty crappy-looking website.
But hey, MaidThis was live!
My First Barely Functional Website in 2013. Logo made with Microsoft Word.
Then I had no idea what to do.
I spent all my free time scouring online forums and subreddits, messaging with others who were in the same boat with starting a local business. Little by little, I started to put the pieces together on how to run and operate a local business.
I developed our cleaning program purely by trial and error. I looked at what other local companies in our area were doing, did a basic pricing analysis, and built a rough idea of what clients would want. I then put this on my website as Version 1.0.
The fascinating part of my competitive analysis was that almost NO other cleaning companies were doing much with digital marketing in my city, and absolutely none with taking online bookings back in 2013. The customer service was largely terrible, compared to what you’d experience at a large company.
Even with my very basic website, I knew that we were somehow ahead of the game against the old-school local market.
I threw up a Craigslist ad, onboarded my first cleaning team (who I met at a local Starbucks for the interview), started Google Adwords, and crossed my fingers.
Within a short time, we got our first online booking.
Within a few months after launch, we started to get contacted by many Airbnb hosts who wanted cleaning in between their guests. These Airbnb hosts were often more tech-savvy and wanted to work with a company that would allow them to easily update/edit their bookings as reservations could change rapidly. I saw that there was huge potential in this niche, as the volume of short-term rentals turnovers could be WAY more than just residential cleaning, so I started gearing our services and offering towards this new niche of vacation rentals.
The subreddit that fueled my early learning;
Describe the process of launching the business.
Overall, it took me two months to get up and running, and all in cost me about $800 (website, marketing, hiring ads).
Local marketing is a hidden gem because you’re competing against local businesses only, not the entire world, so it’s a bit easier to manage. To find customers, I focused exclusively on digital marketing so it would be easier to manage as a side hustle.
My first customer was on July 13, 2013, which I remember distinctly because I snuck outside at my full-time job and started dancing behind the building.
With any first product or service launch, you’re almost guaranteed to get some aspect of it wrong. You might be priced too low, not be addressing the right target market, or have the package all wrong. So it’s important to know that there is a 99% chance that your first product or service will not be the same forever. So just launch with what you got, because you’re going to have to fix it later no matter what.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The real secret for local business marketing is to learn which 1-2 marketing avenues work best for your specific local market and hone in on those. Once you optimize those, then move onto the next and next and keep going from there.
For example, Yelp works fantastically in Los Angeles and Angie’s List isn’t great, but apparently, Angie’s List is way more popular in Chicago. Or Google Adwords is insanely expensive in New York but can be super affordable in San Antonio.
The one thing that remains constant no matter where you are is that online reviews are king. If you sacrifice short-term gains to keep your online reviews pristine, good things will happen (assuming your target audience is shopping online).
But bringing in new customers is just a small part of the game, especially for cleaning businesses. Client longevity is the name of the game, and that’s why we have a very strong retention strategy we call the “Front Door, Back Door” strategy. Get the customer in the front door with easy online booking, and then make sure you close the backdoor (by providing incredible customer service on top of a great product).
A couple of key aspects that have allowed us to retain clients:
- On a tactical level, there are steep discounts for recurring services and a very convenient tech platform that keeps very easy for clients. For Airbnb hosts, we can sync with their calendar and automate their cleaning scheduling, which makes the experience as hassle-free as possible.
- “The MaidThis Voice”, which is simply the personable, fun, and casual tone that we try to add to all aspects of communication. For example, if you tell us a joke on the phone you’ll get $5 off. Most local businesses seem to be either overly professional or lack personality, and we believe the more personable tone helps build immediate rapport with our clients and sets us apart.
- “You don’t win a customer for life until their first complaint”. Focus on customer happiness over everything else. It’s 10X harder to get a new client than simply retain an existing client. If there is an issue, we are always proactive and make sure the customer is happy.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
MaidThis has been profitable since the beginning and we’re continuing to grow.
In 2019 we were almost at $2M in annual revenue. The travel ban in 2020 made a huge impact on the travel industry, and thus the vacation rental industry temporarily took a hit.
Our focus has been on residential recurring home cleanings for now. We’re still extremely optimistic about the future of travel and the need for a service like ours and are gearing up for a big boom in the short-term rental market.
In 2020 we launched MaidThis Franchise to expand our business model to new markets in the U.S. Someone once called us “the millennial franchise” since we’re coming at this old-school cleaning franchise industry in a completely new-age way. I like to call us a “remote local” business, where we run the show from anywhere while having cleaners and one or 2 managerial staff on-site in the base city. Operations today are only limited by the range of the internet. Cleaners are at ground zero but our office teams are everywhere!
We launched our first franchise in Denver in late 2020, and are looking for more entrepreneurs to join the MaidThis ranks and build their own remote local freedom.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Local services businesses are highly people-dependent and relational based. That means one bad apple can have a huge impact on your business (and mental health).
For that reason, I’ve found that it’s doubly important to hire slow, fire fast. In the early days, we kept on not-so-great cleaners because we had no other option, we wouldn’t be able to take on new clients if we didn’t have cleaners. However, this ended up causing more problems (and gray hair) than solutions since we had to deal with the inevitable fallout.
Understanding that your recruitment funnel is equally, if not more, important than your marketing funnel is key.
Being in the right place and the right time to capitalize on the brand-new Airbnb market was also huge for us. In 2013, Airbnb hosting as a business was a pretty new thing...opportunists were creating new Airbnbs listings left and right, and everyone wanted to get into the short-term rental industry. We were the only game in town that focused on vacation rentals and therefore got an immediate boost very quickly.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Aside from the customers, the most important part of our business is the technology infrastructure. We are remote-based with team members in 8 countries and work so efficiently together using an extensive quiver of top-end applications.
We use a software solution called Launch27 as our online booking platform, which is mostly house cleaning specifically. It’s great for managing, scheduling, and handling the financial transactions of house cleaning (Stripe).
HelpScout is our shared ticket handling software of choice. This helps our remote team handoff support tickets and keep everything organized.
ActiveCampaign is our CRM, from where we store customer leads and send out email marketing campaigns.
Google Suite is the heart of our email, calendar, drive, meeting, etc.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
In the early years, as I was dreaming of location freedom, I became a frequent listener of the Tropical MBA Podcast, which is a podcast about lifestyle design and location-independent entrepreneurs. I eventually got involved in their entrepreneur group, which has been a game-changer for me.
Two of the most impactful books have been:
- The One Thing by Gary Keller: The premise is that the tasks you devote your time to are not all equally important. If you focus on the ONE single thing that can make the biggest impact on your goals, it will have outsized returns.
- Getting Things Done, by David Allen: I am not an organized person by nature at all. Getting Things Done is THE productivity book and helped me create my own productivity system. I’m now able to prioritize my time and get a lot more impactful things done in less time.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
You don’t have to go to this alone. In the beginning, I was running around in circles trying to figure things out, which involved hours on Reddit forums, getting involved in Facebook groups, etc. While I felt productive, in hindsight all of these online forums were really a case of the blind leading the blind.
If I had a mentor, coach, or system to follow, I would have saved a ton of time and money on faulty mistakes and accelerated my growth.
If you can time collapse your progress simply by paying to learn from someone else’s successes and failures, do it. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and money on trial and error.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
At this very moment, the first days of 2021, we’re at a good place with our internal team and gearing up for a big 2021.
However, we are VERY excited about the next several months and year or 2 where we are looking to expand franchising activities across the nation. This will entail finding franchisors and support team members who are a good cultural fit
At the moment, we are mainly looking for franchisees who fit our core values and are looking for the same freedom that we love.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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