Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am James Hookway and I own and run Hangover Helpers. The business is an after-party cleaning company that started about 5 years ago. We don't just clean up your mess we also bring breakfast and refreshments. (Please note due to COVID-19 we have ceased the food and beverage services until further notice).
Monthly revenue about 3k a month with some months up to $7k during the busy summer period. After COVID-19 there is a big backlog of cleans here in WA so we are having to say no to cleans as not enough staff. We are about to hit our 500th clean, so on average we do 100 cleans a year (just on weekends).
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Both I and my wife had no professional cleaning experience but I am a qualified CPA accountant so understand how a business operates and my wife works in media.
We came up with the idea after hosting an event at our apartment. We woke up hungover in bed with the place trashed and thought how good would it be if we could just lie in bed and have someone come in and clean up the mess and also bring us breakfast and a Powerade. The idea came to reality in about 4-6 months.
I straight away started researching weekend cleaners and especially party cleaners and found a niche in the already saturated market. This business has always been a side hustle and has to this day still worked as an Accountant full time.
When we did our research was literally googling weekend party cleaners or Sunday cleaners and was very limited. It was also nearly impossible to have a last-minute clean for example you wake up hungover like we did and thought I needed someone to help as I can deal with this mess. My mobile has been ringing every weekend over the 5 years for people looking for last-minute emergency cleans (can get annoying) catering companies clean up their own products, they do a vacuum and mop and details clean as we do.
Correct, there are hundreds of cleaners the market is completely saturated and we did think there is a potential risk that people won’t pay a premium for our services but they do. To be honest I have a regular cleaner at my private house and I pay $68 for two cleaners on the weekend for 1 hour (2 hours of cleaning for two staff). We would charge double that. I guess people just love our service. We are friendly, happy to have a laugh, and engage with people. There is a gimmick factor but we also provide a great service, we only have a 5-star review of any many recommendations on our Facebook page.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The business is quite simple and cleaning does not involve any real training or experience, the main thing we needed to get right was the brand. We teamed up with a local web and branding company to sort out how we wanted the brand to look.
I did and still do clean parties. I have a huge beer pong party to clean this weekend for up to 300 people at a warehouse. I try not to clean but can be selective with the ones I want to do. At first, I did them all and gradually built up some great staff who I could trust to represent us.
I for one have never broken a glass which is weird as I am very clumsy. We occasionally do as we clean hundreds of glasses at each job, we always offer to reimburse but they are normally too hungover to care.
We also decided on the food we wanted to offer and drinks and teamed up with some local suppliers for the drinks. We only really needed some cleaning equipment so got some commercial equipment and eco-friendly products and we were good to go.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Once the website was ready all we did was launch our Facebook page to our friend’s and things went a bit crazy. The news got out fast to local radio stations and also TV and news stations so we hadn’t even done a clean yet and we were on the radio and TV it was crazy. It just happened overnight we still have never paid $1 in advertising or google SEO.
When we launched the page, one of our mutual friends worked on a major radio station she rang me and we were on live radio, the next day on local TV then Nationally not long after. Even went on Shark Tank which I applied for. People always want to do our story. I get Spanish TV shows emailing me for a video and we are some hard books as the best business small hustles in the world. It blows my mind. I even get students asking for info as they are doing an assignment on us. This company could be huge! I was having calls from all around Australia to the franchise and to set up nationally but to be honest we weren’t ready!
We had used all of our savings approx $20k for startup costs including branding, website, trademarks, business registration, cleaning products, and supplies.
I was still working full time and didn’t really know how to manage all these interviews and work and decide what to do with this business. Bookings were also coming in fast so I had to hire staff straight away and originally it was just me and some mates doing the cleans.
In hindsight, I have learned I should have taken more time to get ready before we launched and had staff and more money. I was unable to grow the business because of this and it stayed as a weekend hobby business to this day. I have set up in one other state only.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We get a lot of repeat business or word of mouth I would say nearly 60% which is huge for us. We find that people brag about our service at the party saying things like “don’t worry the hangover helpers will clean that up in the morning” this means at a birthday party of 100 guests we get free publicity!
So from this we know we need to make an impression and it starts with the people you hire as they are the face of the business. They need to match your brand and our brand is clean, friendly, and fun. I get to know my staff very well so I know which parties they are best to clean, what I mean is there is a big gap between a 50th birthday partly and a stag do.
You also want to make the whole booking process from start to finish as easy and informative as possible for the user. Our website is user friendly and gives you prices up front.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We had our biggest year last financial year but this year has been heavily impacted by COVID-19. Half of the country is nearly back to normal and the bookings are coming in fast but the East Coast is still struggling and restrictions are still in place.
We would still love to expand all around Australia but time/money still comes into play. There has been discussion to potentially sell but who knows. The business is fun to run and I still enjoy it.
The business is still profitable making around 20-30% and very low overheads.
We will start to look to employ some new staff and get ready for the busy party season coming up.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Yes, running a business is 24/7 and takes over your life. You need to make sure you are ready for that. With a Monday – Friday job most of the time you can clock off and go home and not think about it until the next day with your own business you can’t. You need to update social media, quote, invoice, contact staff, etc.
I definitely missed opportunities when we first began and didn’t capitalize on the crazy media attention we got. Other factors got in the way like having two beautiful children who take priority so the side business stayed on the side.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Nothing crazy things are very simple, invoice through PayPal, normal emails, and a great website. Costs are low.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
My business life working for different companies and seeing what works and what doesn’t.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Study the market well, be prepared for people copying your sh-t, and just be better than them. Don’t overdo it on startup costs as you can also add later on once you grow.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Always looking for awesome Hangover Helpers or a business partner. Email or call me on +61 403 619 094 or hit up our social media pages.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Discover the best strategies of successful business owners
Join our newsletter and receive our handcrafted recap with the best insights shared by founders in Starter Story each week.
Useful, convenient, and free:
Did you know that brands using Klaviyo average a 95x ROI?
Email, SMS, and more — Klaviyo brings your marketing all together, fueling growth without burning through time and resources.
Deliver more relevant email and text messages — powered by your data. Klaviyo helps you turn one-time buyers into repeat customers with all the power of an enterprise solution and none of the complexity.