To differentiate itself from its competitors, the British marketplace Hassle.com relies on a privileged relationship between customers and cleaners. Alex Depledge, CEO, analyses the market and describes the ambitions of the start-up.
Hassle.com is a local marketplace for independent housekeepers, launched on 1 January 2013 in London. Before that, me and my co-founders had created a platform with many different services: dog walker, school support, housekeeper, babysitter… But it wasn’t doing well and we weren’t getting the traction we hoped for. When we looked at the data, we realized that almost all of the people who visited the site were looking for housekeepers. When we looked at the competition in this segment, we realized that individuals either use cleaning agencies, which pay their employees minimum wage, are not very flexible, often offer poor quality service, and are complicated to book; or they ask their friends to recommend someone and hire them under the table. That’s why we created Hassle.com. The platform allows cleaners to work more and get paid more per hour. We pay them about 35% more than the agencies, but we charge clients the same rate as the black market. So the agents can choose the work they want to do, and the client can book quickly and easily, paying less than when they use an agency. Most importantly, customers can build a relationship of trust with local cleaners.
In Paris, 15.90 euros per hour, compared to 20 to 25 euros for a traditional agency. The agent receives 13 euros and we take a commission of 2.90 euros. Not to mention that with the tax deduction, the client only pays 7.95 euros in the end.
Why didn’t the other services on your platform work?
I think that all services can work in the future, but our execution was not good when we started. We needed to focus on one segment to understand the market, as we did later with the household sector: we asked ourselves what agents and customers needed. We worked on securing the process, payment, notices. Once the product is right, we can start adding other services, and that’s what we want to do in the future, as we go along.
What kind of services? Baby-sitting, tutoring? And why not plumber, electrician?
We are interested in service jobs such as babysitting or tutoring, the “care verticals”. For the moment we are focusing on cleaning, but if we see that a market is going to explode, then we can launch ourselves. However, we will not offer repair or plumbing services. Our agents are paid by the hour. When you have no idea how long the repair job will take, selling online is very difficult. Also, the risk is higher in the repair business, because if the electrician is not good or not certified, it can be dangerous.
We are in seven cities in three countries (UK, Ireland, France) and have tens of thousands of users.
Several strong competitors have also recently launched in Paris: the American Homejoy, which has already raised $40 million through Y Combinator, and the German Helpling, backed by Rocket Internet, which has just raised €13.5 million… As for you, you have raised 6 million dollars from Accel Partners. Your competitors already have considerable marketing resources. Doesn’t that worry you?
I would be worried if I thought there was only room for one player on the market. But I don’t think that’s the case. The market is huge! 85% of cleaning services in France are provided through the black market. A platform like Hassle’s gives power back to the cleaners, allows the government to collect taxes, allows customers to book easily and securely… It works very well and there is room for several competitors.
Homejoy and Helpling work like a traditional cleaning agency: you don’t see who your cleaner is until she arrives, you can’t see reviews of her, and you’re not guaranteed the same person every time. But we’re different: we don’t just sell cleaning, we sell relationships. You always get the same cleaner, whom you have chosen. You can view their profile, with their photo, their reviews. All our cleaners are independent. Also, we are the cheapest in the market and we pay our cleaners better.
Establish your position in Ireland, France and the UK
In France, we’re focusing on Paris at the moment, but once we’ve consolidated our position, we could move elsewhere, perhaps to Bordeaux or Lyon. The service works very well in the cities, not so much in the countryside. We are also continuing to expand in Ireland and the UK. Our strategy is rather to establish our position in the markets where we are already present before launching in other countries in Europe. This market is a local market, in which you have to be deeply rooted. There’s no point in having 10 cleaners to offer in each city: we prefer to have thousands in one city and become the dominant player there. But we will probably open other cities or countries next year. We’re looking at the Nordic countries in particular. We will also release our mobile application in January.
You need to acquire users, but also recruit maintenance workers. Doesn’t this risk turning into a recruitment war between the different platforms, like Uber and Lyft are fighting to recruit drivers in the United States?
Most of our cleaners build their clientele and go back to the same customers every week. We don’t do a lot of “one shot” households. So we’re not like Uber, where the driver picks a passenger, then another and another. On Hassle.com, after the third or fourth week, an agent has all of their clients and will mostly keep the same ones in the future. So we don’t have the same dynamic as Uber and Lyft: most agents stay on the platform once they sign up.
And because we pay better than our competitors, we easily attract servicers, who tell their friends: 50% of our recruits come through word of mouth. We get hundreds of new recruits every week. So we don’t have a problem recruiting.
We test their language level over the phone, then we meet them, do a background check and give them a household test. Then we call three of their references. They can then take three tests on the platform. If they pass, the agents sign up and can accept or decline as many jobs as they want on the platform.
They don’t get a bad grade if they turn down too many households, just like an Uber driver will be punished if he turns down too many rides?
No, our agents need flexibility. They often have to juggle several activities with this one, and we have a lot of mothers.
Alex Depledge will be speaking at LeWeb on December 10th, at 9:05am on the Pullman stage (“The invasion of the European Super Startups”) as well as on December 11th on the Eiffel stage (“Beyond Silicon Roundabout; Can and should the UK startup scene serve as a role model for the rest of Europe?”).
Alex Depledge is the CEO of Hassle.com. Prior to launching the startup in 2013, the Brit studied history at the University of Nottingham and then international relations at the University of Chicago. She started her career as a consultant at Accenture, where she stayed from 2006 to 2012.