Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Amar Ghose. I’m the CEO/co-founder of ZenMaid. Our software makes it easy for growing maid services to manage their cleaners, clients, and schedules in one easy to use software.
While we might have started off slow (both my co-founder and I worked full time for over 2 years after starting ZenMaid) we now make more than half a million dollars a year helping maid service owners to achieve the freedom in their lives and businesses that we have (I’m currently writing this from Canggu in Indonesia!)
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve always been quite entrepreneurial. I started as a kid selling candy to my middle school friends actually. Despite that I hadn’t been able to create a real business that really stuck until ZenMaid.
In 2012 I came across a post on Reddit. A guy was starting his own maid service and documenting the entire thing. By chance a friend of mine saw the same post and started working on the technical side of the business (building a website and etc). My friend quickly realized that he didn’t want to deal with the people side of the business however. He tagged me in to help with operations and sales/marketing. From there I was quite quickly made an equal partner as he had yet to launch.
Don’t fall into the classic trap of spending months building or working on something, only to find out when you launch that no one is interested.
At the time I was doing sales for a tech startup so closing business by phone was my jam. From there I quickly learned basic man management skills to work with our cleaners.
Fast forward 1 year and I was no longer living locally. I’d moved closer to home (the SF Bay Area) for a much better day job. I was 400 miles away from our maid service and that caused tension with my partner. Ultimately I gave up my portion of the maid service (which shut down shortly thereafter).
It was at this point that another friend approached me about what became ZenMaid. He felt he could build a better management platform than the one he’d seen me using. And he was confident that I could sell and market the software given my skill set and industry knowledge.
Hence ZenMaid was born (initially named MaidDesk though I doubt that’s ever been mentioned anywhere publicly before now :-) )
While working full time (myself at a startup, my co-founder on his PhD at Stanford University) we began simultaneously working on the product and getting in contact with as many maid service owners and offices as we could.
Take us through the process of building the product.
My co-founder Arun was familiar with the coding language Python but decided after reviewing some of the existing libraries that Ruby on Rails was the right way for us to proceed.
… so he taught himself Ruby in ~8 days and got to work. I’m still baffled by this looking back on it.
Due to my full time work schedule I made calls between 5 am and 8 am on weekdays before going into work and all day on Saturdays.
It took almost 6 months to get a working prototype due to Arun’s PhD program at Stanford (he worked from 11 pm to 3 am most nights on ZenMaid). I spent that entire time calling maid service owners and offices. Due to my work schedule (1.5 hour commute to SF each day) I made calls between 5 am and 8 am on weekdays before going into work and all day on Saturdays.
We made the decision to focus our efforts on an easy to use calendar that specifically focused on truly recurring services (something that’s unique to maid services and housekeeping companies) and on automated communications around the appointments.
To this day that is still our bread and butter, though we’ve added many features and benefits since.
A lot of people have asked about our startup costs but we didn’t really have any due to our combined skill sets. The only expense we took on was once the product was live was ~$100-$200 per month for Google AdWords so we could get consistent traffic to our website and app.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We didn’t do much of a launch for ZenMaid as we didn’t have an audience to announce to. We paid for a press release service that didn’t do much but I did reach out to everyone I had been talking to when the software was ready. Our first customer came onboard for $1000 for life, paid over 4 months (we have given a few other maid service owners lifetime access for a set price but we quickly moved to a more traditional SaaS model priced monthly which now starts at $49)
We already had a landing page at this point as I was treating the business/product as if we were ready at least 3 months prior to the software being launched. I believe we initially used a tool called LaunchRock and then moved to WordPress with a theme quite quickly.
The ZenMaid WordPress page from December 2013:
Launch numbers (this was fun to look up in Stripe) :
We brought on our first customer on September 9, 2013 and ended that year with 5 customers (though 13 had tried and paid us for at least a month) so clearly there wasn’t much of a launch event
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
ZenMaid has always relied heavily on paid advertising (Google, Capterra, LinkedIn, Facebook) for a constant flow of leads however we quickly branched out from there to do content marketing which helped with SEO and a variety of other things.
We actually stumbled on this by accident when I took the keywords I had researched for my maid service and I shared them in a Google Spreadsheet which we hid behind an email gate. This was our very first lead magnet and to this day it still gets us more leads than anything else :-)
From there we built an extensive email marketing funnel that’s almost all quality content. Our goal is to never be forgotten by our leads because when they’re ready for our software, they’ll let us know. Essentially any maid service owner that signs up for our email list will receive high quality, implementable content for their businesses for almost two years, each email having a small, unobtrusive link at the bottom to learn more about the software. If they click this link they’ll get a couple more targeted emails. I set this up following Ryan Deiss’ The Machine course a few years ago.
Two quick examples of awesome content we’ve done would be The Ultimate Hiring Panel, where we interview 3 industry experts on their hiring best practices, and “Steal This Cancellation Policy for Your Maid Service”, which is exactly what it sounds like: 3 example cancellation policies that can be copy pasta’d into a maid service whether they use ZenMaid or not.
More recently we’ve added in extensive Facebook retargeting campaigns, also focused on quality content, that we use to nurture the leads we get from other channels.
And finally, what we’re best known for in the industry, is our Facebook group, the ZenMaid Mastermind. We built the first widely joined community (some existed before us but were quite dead, and many have appeared since we did it) and at the 2015 industry event we were the talk of the town.
More people knew us from that community than for our software though that’s changed since. It’s still where we get lots of leads, content ideas, and feedback on our software!
Building the Facebook group
The Facebook group actually happened by accident - I had a crazy idea that we could start a membership site and do it on Facebook so I launched a $19 per month subscription to our email list.
Two months later and after signing up a whole 3 (THREE) members, I realized it wasn’t the time or place (in hindsight this failure was 100% on me and had nothing to do with timing or anything other than my lack of experience)
We refunded the money of the members who had joined but left the group up on Facebook. Over time I started inviting people to join if they added me as a friend and were part of the industry.
Fast forward a year and we had 50 members who were starting to chat regularly when an awesomely epic thread appeared. I sent an email to our list letting them know they might be interested and 50 members turned into 200 overnight. We haven’t looked back since.
What was the thread? You know how they say Sex sells…
One of the cleaning clients caught the team lead and a cleaner having sex in her bathroom while they were supposed to be cleaning. To make matters worse the 3rd cleaner on the team in question was the WIFE of the team lead (yes, you’re reading that right)
Epic, hilarious, and very beneficial to our business.
Since that time we’ve built up the group with great content and discussion as well as making it a safe place for owners to let loose and rant (my approach was to make this a place online that maid service owners could get the help they need but also relax with a glass of wine at the end of a long day and chat with their friends)
These days we do regular Facebook Lives and feature many of the industry’s leading experts :-)
And all of this has led to speaking engagements for myself and partnerships with almost every big name consultant in the industry. It helps a lot when we have a bigger audience than they do so at some point there was a snowball effect where most influencers chase us rather than the other way around.
For example, we have a virtual summit coming up this year and, where most organizers have to chase speakers, we had 25 confirmed presenters within 24 hours of making contact with the first one.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We recently passed the half million dollar yearly mark and will be breaking the million dollar a year barrier in late-2020.
That will actually happen much sooner if we can accomplish the 3 primary goals I have in mind for ZenMaid going forward - two of which I consider to be “holy grails”
1 - To extend our lead as industry leaders.
It sounds weird to me to answer that but after 6 years of hard work and focus the truth is ZenMaid is now the gold standard in the house cleaning industry for software.
We have some very good competition but none are focused on our industry specifically which gives us a lot of advantages that we’ve piled up over the years (for example, we now employ 4 current or former maid service owners which puts our support heads and shoulders above other software who serve our audience)
2 - Negative net churn.
We recently changed our pricing to grow every month with our customers as they are more successful. That change has lowered our churn significantly but we do still lose money each month from our current customers. By the end of 2019 I’d like us to actually make more from our existing customers even if we continue to lose ~5% of them each month.
Software folk will recognize this as the SaaS holy grail, and we think it’s possible for ZenMaid :-)
3 - Paid marketing that pays for itself (I’m not sure what the right term is for this - any readers want to let me know in the comments?)
Inspired by Russel Brunson who actually makes money advertising ClickFunnels before people convert to paying software users … With our current lead costs my goal is to get a $97 or $197 info product that’s part of our email automations so that we can advertise the software and immediately recoup our advertising spend.
If we can achieve #1 and #2 simultaneously the sky's the limit for ZenMaid, particularly as a bootstrapped company. It’s the holy grail of marketing in my opinion.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Test test test would be lesson #1 as we essentially lit our business on fire overnight about 2 years back. We had the best intentions and it absolutely turned out for the best but we burnt a lot of bridges and lost almost 30% of our revenue because we didn’t do enough testing prior to releasing a massive update on our software.
Lesson #2 would be something I learned from Tim Ferriss which is “treat everyone like they can put you on the front page of the New York Times”.
A lot of our best partnerships and relationships have come because I simply cared more about the actual people than our competition a few months or even years before either we could help them or they could help us. We’ve had multiple customers sign up who currently pay us thousands of dollars a month who knew me 6 years ago when the company was starting but we weren’t sophisticated enough for their businesses.
On a similar note I’ve gone out of my way to help up and coming consultants, some of which became quite big years after and now refer us business left and right. And most consultants in the industry know they can approach me for tech or marketing advice if they want it. I’ll even fix problems for them (usually paying money out of my own pocket to do so) if I know it’s considerably easier for me or my team to do than for them.
Lesson #3 would be to simply Not Quit. Everything in our business these days sounds like flowers and sunshine (and profits) but I can point to at least 20 situations where other entrepreneurs would have thrown in the towel. The reason we’re in business and successful today was that we never gave up when things got challenging. It’s easy to run a business when things go well, it’s what happens when the sh*t hits the fan that actually defines you and your success.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use a lot of software as a software company so here are our daily ones:
Slack - for chatting when an email is unnecessary. Group discussions and etc. I’ve seen people mention this can be a big distraction but with a remote team it’s absolutely vital to everything we do
ActiveCampaign - Email marketing and automation, we’re known in the industry for our email marketing and current email leads will receive messages for approximately 2 years after registering so this one’s important fo’ sho
Intercom - I hate their pricing with a passion as it changes every month but they’ve done a great job of infiltrating every part of our customer process. We use them for support but also as a sort of customer dashboard (easier for us to find users with over X employees using intercom than anywhere else, for example)
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I listen to a ton of books these days (Audible on 3x speed) so there’s a lot to pick from but here are a couple that I think helped me a lot as I got started:
The Four Hour Work Week - the lifestyle dream was always my why after reading this book
Jobs by Walter Isaacson - this book completely shifted how I approached building the ZenMaid product and taking pride in many of the little details in our business I previously thought were unimportant
The Fish That Ate The Whale - Best entrepreneur [true] story I’ve ever read - everything about this man’s life is epic
The Foundation - a online course to help folks like me start software businesses. We went through this after picking up our first 5 customers and came out the other side with over 30
Straight Line Persuasion - a sales course by Jordan Belfort, who everyone knows from the Wolf of Wall Street. I was already in sales and this course took my sales game to a new level. Shortly after listening to it we had our first +$200 MRR day which at the time was absolutely massive for us
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The main advice I would give to both starting entrepreneurs and even experienced one is to focus on FEEDBACK LOOPS, and increase the speed at which you go through them.
A feedback loop is essentially asking yourself “How can I figure out if I’m on the right track as quickly as possible?” For ZenMaid we’ll run article headlines and outlines by our audience before we create content. We’ll do quick mockups of new features and share them first with our team, then with our champion user group on Facebook to find whether we’re on the right track to solve the problems we intend to. This has been absolutely invaluable.
For a new entrepreneur, don’t fall into the classic trap of spending months building or working on something, only to find out when you launch that no one is interested. This is why I spent so much time calling maid service owners while we were developing the software and getting as much input from them as I possibly could. And this was despite the fact we “knew” what we were building.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We try to keep our dev team lean and fast moving but on the non-tech side I’m always on the lookout for two types of people - entrepreneurial marketers and maid service owners.
Most of the ZenMaid team members work part time for us and have their own businesses I’m happy to help them build. Anyone who can help me to get more leads, or convert more maid service owners into active users, is going to have my attention.
For quite a few of our entrepreneurial team members their other business is an actual maid service in which they use ZenMaid. I can’t dogfood my own software anymore since exiting my maid service. But the next best thing is hiring our customers or potential customers to help with customer service, marketing, account management, and more.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Your website: theamaricandream.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/godblessamarica
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/TheAmaricanDream/
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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