Laundry, dry cleaning, shoe repair. Those are typical errands on a working professional’s to-do list, or at least they are on mine. Only for one week this month, I didn’t have to do them. I had my very own butler for that.
New York actor Tyler Gardella tackled my usual chores and tidied up my apartment on a couple of set "service" days. He works for the New York startup Hello Alfred (that’s Alfred as in Batman’s butler). The company currently offers its service in New York City and Boston for $25 a week.
“Imagine coming home and everything is done for you; we’re just taking all the cognitive load off of your plate," describes co-founder and CEO Marcela Sapone. Sapone and co-founder Jessica Beck hatched the idea while they were students at Harvard Business School in 2013. “We were taking a break from very hectic careers in finance and consulting and we were laughing about the fact we used to buy new shirts every week because we never had time to go to the dry cleaners. It was always closed when we got off work."
They went on to start a business that solved a problem in their own lives. In 2014, they won the TechCrunch Disrupt startup competition in San Francisco. Now, they say there are 100 Hello Alfred butlers working in a few thousand households in New York and Boston. The company has more than $12 million dollars in venture capital funding and plans to expand to other major cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C.
Here’s how it works as a customer (Note: Hello Alfred let us try out the service for no charge for one week; we paid for all of our services). You get instructions and the basic supplies including laundry and dry cleaning bags during a welcome meeting. You tell the Alfred butler how you like your apartment and where things go, and moving forward, you enter all your instructions in an app. The regular menu of services also includes buying groceries, setting up home cleaning, picking up prescriptions, and mailing packages. “Off-the-menu” services are available for a fee. You leave your payment information and a set of your keys with the company.
Sapone says there’s insurance for when things go wrong. For me, the one snafu was a package that wasn’t mailed in the time frame I requested. The company apologized and credited me $10 on the $55 postage.
As for the hiring process, Sapone says the butlers are carefully screened with the company accepting only 3% of the applicants. She says reports many are stay-at-home moms or people in creative fields, like Tyler, who is an actor. The Alfreds are paid $18 to $30 an hour, and they are employees.
"We first started with contractors, because it was easy," Sapone tells us. It removed all the administrative burden. It was cheaper. We could hire and fire at whim. [But] we realized the quality of our service came down to the people who were going to be in your home. They are our product. If we’re going to invest time and training, that’s an employee relationship we want."
Sapone said they adjusted their business model to make it work, saying that “you have to plan things a little bit better; you can’t just do things on demand" -- meaning expansion will happen only when and where there’s a concentration of enough clients to make the process efficient.
Sapone says they’re putting the brakes on their own growth, to help reach the finish line: "The end goal is to be a brand inside the home that you trust to help get things done. We want to be the operating system for your home."
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