A Chat with Noga Edelstein and Elke Keeley from UrbanYou

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Gen caught up with Noga Edelstein and Elke Keeley, founders of UrbanYou.

No more missed appointments, or calling your cleaner or gardener wondering if they’ll even show up. All professionals using the UrbanYou platform have been through a rigorous screening process so you can trust them to do a great job every time.

Elke Keeley, a communications strategist and Noga Edelstein, a commercial lawyer met while working at Yahoo!7.

As busy professionals, they were frustrated by the time consuming process of sourcing and booking quality home help. This led to their ‘aha’ moment and in 2014 they launched UrbanYou, an online platform which allows customers to quickly & easily book household services online – making it just as easy to get your house cleaned, as it is to buy a book on Amazon.

“We are giving Australians the gift of time through UrbanYou,” say Elke and Noga. “Life is to be enjoyed on the weekends, not spent doing household chores. Let UrbanYou trusted household services network take care of it.”

Watch the video here or look below to read the transcript:


G: Hi everyone. We’re alive again today, I'm with the amazing founders of UrbanYou but because we are in the Fishburners dungeon, I'm going to hand it over to the lovely ladies to introduce themselves. So, who the hell are you?

[Laughter]

N: Nice to meet you, this is our first Facebook live, so this is very exciting. So we are the founders of UrbanYou, I’m Noga Edelstein and Elke Keeley. UrbanYou is a two-sided marketplace to book trusted, pre-screened cleaners and gardeners in real time on demand. So we take care of the entire transaction through from discovery and pricing through the scheduling and payment. So we're making it quick and easy to get stuff done around your house. So my background is in… I was a corporate lawyer to start with and so I've worked in you know a lot of media and technology organizations and in executive roles and it was at Yahoo that I met Elke and you know we all know the…

G: … meet again.

[Laughter]

N: Yeah!

[Laughter]

You know what we saw and what I've seen in all of my roles, all too often, between Sydney and London and you know at Yahoo, it was busy people everywhere trying to get stuff done around the house and they would take a day off work to let the tradie in and invariably the tradie wouldn’t show up and you know we knew there had to be a better way to solve this problem and we’ve both been on teams responsible for building and launching global technology products and we knew that there had to be a better way. And then UrbanYou was born. I might hand over to Elke to tell a bit about her background.

E: Yeah sure. I'm a mar-coms specialist, with you know … years of experience and worked both in-house and also agency side so felt the pain of both. Technology brands such as Samsung, Apple Microsoft have really taken profiles and just used technology to really expand them out as well. So jumping in from…is very much an incubator for startups. I mean there’s just that culture, that vibe of just …an idea and being really agile and moving …. to embrace that entrepreneurial spirit and yeah, dived in head and feet, everything else first.

[Laughter]


N: Yeah, I mean, we literally quit our day jobs, invested 15k in savings and just did this.

G: It’s incredible. So what was the decision-making process if I'm kind of going from that corporate life to you know…
[Laughter]

N: We were excited. We decided that we didn’t want to get paid!
[Laughter]

And no and then that’s actually, that’s the reality. You go from a high paying job, corporate rich to earning no-money startup, you know, for quite a while. But it's around, you really being passionate about wanting to solve that pain point that we have experienced you know. Working in that high-pressure environment and needing to get stuff done around the house and needing to juggle work and life and there just wasn't the resources around to get that down and you know it was at that time that Uber was taking off and … is coming and you know you could push a button on your phone and you know get anything delivered. It seemed crazy to us that you could go on Amazon and by a book but you couldn't, like order service. Like to get a service you had to spend hours on Google reading reviews, you had to wait at home and hope that somebody turned up. There had to be a way that standardize these offering, to make it accessible…right? And so yeah I guess it was that you know, passion about solving that pain point for us sort of made us take that jump and…

G: What was step one for you? No one really knows where to start, still …continue, right?
[Laughter]

N: Yeah and you know what, when you actually like ….overwhelmed by the problem Elke actually …. Clearly… we just break down half my task …

[Laughter]

E: It was our secret.

[Laughter]

G: So when …

[Laughter]

N: And you know we’ve spent time looking at all the different ways to solve the problem, and all the different technologies that were around and how it was being solved internationally. And you know for us, that on-demand experience was where we thought this, you know cleaning and gardening home services needed to go because you know we, we wanted as a consumer to just be able to, literally in, push a button and know somebody trusted is going to turn up at our door and they’re going to come when they say they’re going to come and they’re going to do what they say they are going to do and I wasn’t going to have to worry that 6 o’clock on Monday morning, “I’ve got to …to get …for my cleaner…which is always you know…” and it was just going to work. That’s, sort of I guess that was the beginning, like figuring out what system we wanted and once we kind of had a grip…we spent quite a lot of time…

G: Did you build the site from day one or an app from day one? Or how did you approach the technologies?

E: We didn’t do anything at first, it was very much just basics so workers just decided to test them out…

G: Did you put it together yourselves? Or found somebody?
[Laughter]

N: A bit of Both. Learned to code.

[Laughter]

G: I know right!

[Laughter]

E: We don’t have any … but we literally launched by ….our network I think within half an hour we got our first booking and we were like “Who came and do that?” believe it or not, that person is still with us...

N: Yeah.

E: …as a client.

G: That’s impressive.

E: But that, and that just sort of, it just took off. Then we found quite a few sort of …through there, customer …some exciting technology coming out in the next couple of weeks, which we're very excited to say… and …

N: Yeah and I think we've really taken the approach on the tech to learn before we build. So we were very conscious about doing things the hard way, at the beginning because, you know what your customers want and how they’re going to want it and how are your systems going to work, it makes no sense to spend a lot of money building a platform until you know, know how things work. So at the beginning we did everything …
G: There’s so many hurdles to start right?

N: Yes!

G: $40,000 on the landing page and you’re like “What!”

[Laughter]

E: Yes.

N: Yes. And at the beginning, we did, we talked to developers, “How much to build this …system?” and we were like, “Well firstly, we can’t afford that - and secondly, what …I think it’s going to work.” And so we stepped back and “what do we need to start?”, like “what are the basic things we need.” And it was really just a landing page with a form …”Tell us what you want and we’ll organize it for you” and we tested lots of different services so at the beginning we had planning a garden, handyman, we had…

E: Take care.

N: Take care, we had travel, like …travel concierge… all these things that people don’t have the time to do.

E: Food delivery.

N: Food delivery… And what we realized exactly …what … was regular … I think people need done around the house…regular basis, the cleaning and the gardening and that's where we focus on at the moment.

G: So from this testing and computing along the way, what has been the biggest learning for yourselves that you would suggest to any other startup who is getting started that they should really think about? That’s a very broad question so …
[Laughter]

E: Know your market. So we thought we knew the market …the market is definitely still a part of it but we were so focused on mums…

G: Yep.

E: And we realized that this market was so broader and much broader and so it would be very …to be actually change the product offering when your option is gone, and we opened two internship, we've been very, very fortunate about joining, for you know, for being like… see a player profiles… being part of the springboard program and just attending mentoring events so just be a sponge of information, yeah.

N: Yeah, that's right and you need to know what, like you don't know everything and find people who can help you on the journey.

G: So this culture then, it obviously is very important within your own business…
[Laughter]

How do you know also how do you then, you know create that kind of same passion and begin your own culture?

E: Choosing the right people at the right time. Yes we've been really fortunate we found, we’re very proud of our team, we've got a fantastic…

G: …hey are listening.

[Laughter]

E: When we get back.
[Laughter]

We’ve been really careful about …we’ve been recruiting and that culture is definitely key component, to finding the criteria before you bring someone onboard. Also bringing people onboard at a right time, keep them motivated you know feel like they're part of this journey …. making sure we’re being very transparent in where our vision is of the business and how we plan on getting it… realize they actually are harder, the highs the lows we're all in the trenches as we stay together and there's just that you know …

G: The startup is in …
[Laughter]
…and we’re sitting in the dungeon.
[Laughter]

E: …look you know, we have fun. We work them hard but we also sustain. We have a lot of fun, we joke… we laugh…

N: And it's also I think empowering people like hiring people that you… smart…
[Laughter]
…but hiring the right people you know ….then just trusting them….what they do best… It was definitely … you know now you know we have the same goals as us and like ….being creative…
[Laughter]
But yeah, where everyone’s …to do ..that I think … Yahoo… I think it was… opportunity to …anything that you wanted to do so I was a lawyer but like I live the marketplace ….anything that you wanted to do, put your hand up and like “Please come and help!” and so, recognizing people had skills beyond their job title, it’s really great.

G: And you found that really being useful from day one of the business …right?

E: … hands on, yeah. Well we've this ….

G: … the entire business.

E: Absolutely, yeah.

G: That’s great. So you had some phenomenal …how long have you guys been…

N: We launched in 2014 so yeah, it’s growing really fast. The last year in particular is being phenomenal for us. So you know…

G: You’re using some kind of metrics?

N: Yeah so we’ve been growing double digits month on months, you know we’re …in the next year. We've done over three and a half million dollars in sales through the platform, over 25,000 services in people's homes. Yeah and you know is …in Sydney and Melbourne and we'll be … across Australia by the end of the year. What we're really proud of is our retention, so customers, you know this is a recurring revenue model you know as a marketplace …in our current funding round, existing investors back us 50% like you know …they just see the potential based on how impressive our unit economics are and customers you know once we have them… is super low and so yeah it's exciting like having raised a bit of money now, we can really accelerate that growth.

G: And what was that experience of raising money? How did you approach? How did you find the right people? You know, all the fun stuff?

N: Yeah…

E: Improved.

N: …it’s improved.
[Laughter]
It’s not fun. I don’t think anybody really enjoys raising money but…

G: There’s this weak perception that you get to take this home.
[Laughter]

N: Yeah.
[Laughter]

E: Look I think we’ve finessed our pitch very differently this time…at springboard where it was very much honed …you know and for so long we were storytelling through sort of emotional benefits of service that we’re offering, it is this time we just nailed and you knew our numbers you know that…

N: We placed around in two weeks …is amazing yeah and we were blown away ourselves… it was great but you know it just allowed us to not… I think in the past wasted a lot of time on fund raising and really stumps the business because you are so distracted by, by the fund raising that you can’t just focus on growth and now, you know having that backing … we can just accelerate the business without losing all of that time and energy on the fund raise but you know it’s interesting because …. Unique challenges around fundraising ... and I think having the backing of springboard and ….has been very beneficial for us. There's a lot of actually you know additional opportunities for women founders in Australia with these organizations because you know actually there are clubs men can’t join.

[Laughter]

I mean, we get access to the highest level CEOs and decision-makers in any company if we want. So you know for example we’re launching a corporate benefits program so you know we've seen and I think this comes from our experience of being corporate employees that you know people want access to benefits outside of the office, they want meaningful contribution to their work-life balance and so UrbanYou is able to deliver that because we can provide cleaning in your house, you don't have to spend your weekends cleaning and so we've signed onboard … and 1,700 … where they're offering our services to the ladies and so you know being able to get … right decision makers at those companies, it's like really hard for a set up to do so that's where these organizations like Heads over Heels can make a massive difference.

But to go back to your original question, it is harder fund raise alright because you know the statistics don't lie and only 3% of startups are women founders you know there is …businesses are started by women so there's definitely an unique set of challenges there but you know … we believe in what we're doing and you know the growth tells the story and yeah…

G: That’s great so with unit economics, obviously the two sided marketplace, trying to scale that with just … is mission critical right?

N: Yeah.

G: So how did you control your first appointment from day one to where you are now? I mean …

E: The infamous tripod …
[Laughter]
That’s one of our business calls, you’ve got to balance the tripod with one leg short, it will, you know, fall off the hills.

N: You see it go up and down. So that is one of the biggest challenges of the marketplace, but we have a model of ours that you can use and pricing that is definitely a way to control supplies so you know like Uber has surge pricing, we definitely had surcharges that you know, high at times so … Sunday you know we'll do it… big or small ….so you know for example on a Sunday ….provide a job is much harder but if they are paying more, then they are much more open so you can control it in those kinds of ways …you need to be really careful to grow supply …demand so if you have too many …that aren’t getting …they don’t get enough work, they don’t engage with the platform … they switch off ..get them back on so you need to really sort of go like this …it'll be a time so …….goes up …supplies …it’s hard, it’s hard but …..you need to get enough work to stay engage, but …also …like more liquidity in the marketplace and you can fill those openings faster and consumers get a choice of…

E: …incentivizing our …incentivized our …rather than actually …they are taking all the prime work …really went to get those jobs you have the highest rating so they will always go and do their absolute best to always … that's really helpful …and also …being passionate about ….for that reason… they also get recognized every time they actually do a good work …

G: That’s fantastic.

N: Yeah and quality for us is pretty …. So I think that the, you know one of the key …for these kind of marketplace, I would say is while technology is critical as the …of it it's actually a service delivery in the home and so that trust is critical and we're Elke and I are going to be able to really, differentiate our, our company is that we understand that challenge of having somebody in your home that you don't know and what trust is required to make that happen and so you know for us we feel that quality control, that curated marketplace is absolutely critical and if you get that piece right, it's so fulfilling because customer, the suppliers do the best job that they can do, the customer is very happy and they refer you and that’s sort of fulfilling, yeah.

G: That’s fantastic. And are there any startup that you look to for I guess ….the 6-12 months ahead to get advice on leadership for teams, or you know, you can just growth hack, really …

N: Yes, I guess there's a … thing, so the community is super important so springboard community and having that cohort we went through definitely is great …Head over Heels, obviously Like Minded Bitches is a great support community…
[Laughter]

But also we've been actually very fortunate, and strategic that we’ve chosen investors who have expertise in the marketplaces and so they have a you know stable of companies that have been through similar things to us so for examples they are also …obviously Mad Paws and so you know we definitely network with that community and share learnings and that's been really important for us yeah.

G: That’s fantastic and so managing a team you know, trying to scale a business, financial, you know all the rounds of raising money, how do you go to work together to kind of support each other? Make sure you get your mental health like your headspace …work on constantly.

E: Yeah, time to get wine.
[Laughter]

E: Having a co-founder is, it’s great because that way you, can serve ….especially in ….completely hands on …and even now we consider to divide and conquer, you know to really …focus on areas businesses and we also bring very complementary skills which has been fantastic so we haven’t have to outsource, we can actually …house already and let's face it there's times where numbers are on a high, I’m on a low, also vice versa and we can pick each other up, we seem to work quite well, but if one of us is going down …

N: Yeah.

E: …the other one somehow seems to be up.
[Laughter]
Can you pull me…
[Laughter]
So we pull each other back up. You know, it’s good to have someone who you consider, just balanced…

N: I think that’s critical you know because you know, you partner and you found like it’s very cool and very quickly …
[Laughter]
…and so having someone who is like as interested in all the little details is important. Someone you can bounce those things off and yeah, like you said, just to know that you can go on a holiday and there’s someone there that's got your back.
It’s 24/7 as a startup and also as a marketplace in particular because it doesn't stop, like it's, you know, people are booking 24/7 and things are happening all the time and someone always needs to be alert to what's going on and so obviously as we scale, we can hire people to help us do that but especially in those early days when that was, that was us watching the emails, the bookings coming through at midnight or 1 o’clock in the morning  whatever and you know things happening. You need someone else to help you along that way…

G: With all this massive growth in what are you hiring for? How are you going to build up the team?

E: We’ve got some great roles, actually at the moment you know. We reluctantly sort of replacing, you know some …people which we will miss …but they're moving on to other …but we've got a head of growth, who'll be driving all the acquisition and innovative strategies to do the growth….That's a pretty ambitious targets but we're on track so keen to hear someone who can come onboard for that and also a Head of Ops… as well so it’s who's in charge of all the … the operations, the Customer Service, the processes so if you know anybody please get in touch, go check out our website, we've got details on you know, about that, we’ve got that blog and also Careers page there.

N: Yeah and it's interesting because I think you hire the right people at the right time for the growth stage in a business and you know as you go through different phases you need people with different skill sets so I think UrbanYou is at a really critical point right now, we're going through massive growth and some… things happening in our company right now and it really have now the opportunity to hire, you know for that next phase of the business and that's great, you know it's obviously sad to say goodbye to people…

G: Yeah.

N: …who’ve been part of our family but it’s a great opportunity as well for the company to move into that next phase.

G: So how do you as founders keep learning as well? Because as the business changes you hire different people ….skill sets then how do you stay relevant?

N: Look you know, and this is I think is something that's also harder for woman, to be fair you know because early mornings and that is with you know you've got kids and it's hard, but …
[Laughter]
But no, look, you know, it was…Hello Miriam, hello.
[Laughter]
Yeah, look, we go to as many, you know events as we can as a part of the sharing hub which is you know community of sharing economy companies. Actually … Mad Paws, Spacer…

G: Blys, one demand massages.
[Laughter]

N: Yes, oh we had them, they just came to our office. And when we got …massage and it was awesome, it was the best thing…

G: …puppies, babysit a puppy…
[Laughter]

N: You just you stay and connect with the startup community and I think there's so many more resources now for that you know, the Sydney startup groups …then as I said Like Minded Bitches, lots of ways now to stay involved, get connected with people and I think it's actually just getting out of your comfort zone and making sure you do to take those opportunities and you know continue to learn and you know General Assembly courses we've definitely done our share of those yeah.

G: That’s fantastic and the Sydney Startup community gets a little … a lot of support depending on who you’re speaking to …
[Laughter]
What are your thoughts you know … startup coming in, getting started? How open is everyone? Talent you know, what do you think?

N: Oh look, it's yeah I think there's definitely, we found it great. I think it's definitely segments within the community that are more attractive… different types of businesses, different types of people, sure, so I guess for us we’ve been entrepreneurs, you know to the springboard, the Heads over Heels … been great for us but in general Sydney Startup has been very supportive I think the, you know a lot of those guys are our customers… look and I think the biggest thing for us actually with these communities is you know when we get out there and talk about service and people realize, you know this is a curated marketplace, this is a trusted person that’s been vetted thoroughly, that's going to come to my house on time for a reasonable amount of money and I'm not going to have to have any hassle, people book it and then they tell all of their friends and this is actually the best way for us to build the business, it's just telling people about it and then getting them to spread the word because once they try it, they’re massive advocates of ours and so yeah we found the community to be incredibly supportive.

G: That’s amazing and with the community… over the last couple of years corporates are getting more heavily and heavily involved ...reinvesting, mentorship access to just desks or whatever, how have you been working with corporates and how's it benefited the company?

E: …rather than actual sort of, being part of that, we agree … it's just like we agreed it's definitely great  to see them actually you jumping in on the innovative you know mind and also you know if they see the space, I mean we've … the NRB space and she's pioneering the women floor so you know you're getting into innovation so look it's, it's a move, it's happening and it’s about time!

N: Yeah and you know you've got Slingshot now and a lot of these accelerators …so many corporates now starting accelerators right and that's really supportive I think at the beginning of the first one probably on the ranks of every day in Telstra yeah and that's really spurred a lot of businesses to get involved. Yeah you know and we've spoken with companies like Spotless that have innovation agenda and you know are really opened to companies like ours, you know speaking with them and showing them what we can offer and how we can revolutionize their business and that's, you know it's, it's grown. So many opportunities.

G: So where do you look for, for information to …. you know obviously keep opening yourselves up to different ways to approach things…podcasts, general assembly courses…what else is there?
[Laughter]

N: I listen to podcasts …
[Laughter]

E: On a daily basis.

N: So Masters of Scale is what I listen to at the moment, Reid Hoffman. You know just so many learnings. And I think from everyone that you listen to, you take one or two things but I definitely find I can use those learnings like almost instantly and if you pick the right sort of … you can… the great thing about podcasts is you can… pick the right one for the issue that you're basing it on and learn it from someone who’s been through it. So that's definitely a channel… I think you know we go through as many seminars we can, I went last night to see actually … the … of Airbnb Australia and Uber Australia was speaking and that was just an amazing learning …yeah, yeah. Just to see the journey that they've been through, the different ways that they faced it and you know that journey of scaling, you know Uber from 600 employees to 16,000 employees in a couple of years …

G: It’s incredible. And you’ve read the … obviously day one looks very different…

N: Yeah.

G: …now is there any difference? What do you recommend?

N: Well at the beginning it was a …startup…things. The one I’ve read recently which I think I would recommend to any founder is The Hard Thing about Hard Things, which is really good but really just theory.
[Laughter]
Yeah, what about you?

E: No.
[Laughter]
I haven’t got time. I get a lot of …articles have come through … different resources so that’s …feeding off of this podcast.

G: …Summarized version.
[Laughter]

E: Yeah.
[Laughter]

G: So some of the hardest …I mean you’re always going to learn lessons …evolve in the company, right? So what are things you wish you knew day one …two-sided marketplace today?

N: I think don't underestimate the scale that you need to succeed I think you know in a way it's good being a bit naive because it is probably like taking on that challenge without really understanding it’s probably the best thing to do, but no I think the scale that you need is quite significant and not under estimating, like really understanding where you're going to get your customers from so really investing in how, what channel is going to work, what channels are out there, really sort of having that nailed before, like even before you think that product, like you know where are the customers going to come from… yeah which is like …very important…

G: It happens a lot.

N: It happens a lot you know and I think that …product is almost less important you know the if, if the idea is there and the people respond, then you can build the product and match their needs, but …you know Elke and I, because we bootstrapped this, we have done every job in the business, we’ve taken every role ourselves so we know …

G: …gardening …
[Laughter]

N: Elke has a channel on realestate.com.au …

G: No way!
[Laughter]

E: Yes I actually have …
[Laughter]

G: …the latest …
[Laughter]
…understanding your customer right?

E: I think it is, you know …you know…takeaway is … your foundations right …get out there and actually do what your consumers wanting you to actually do and then be on the inside to understand what parts of your team … experience before you start building out those teams. I think scaling too fast without having those foundations …down, the quality is just going to be thrown out of the window, you’re going to be spending more time trying to pull things back into this, then you will actually… run with it.

N: Yeah and I think you know that whole learn, you know knowing every business is really important because …

G: And call BS on the lies right?

N: ….understanding what pain points are in each part so you know I think, like if you're not the one taking those customer service calls and if you're not speaking to the customers and understanding what it's like to deal with a customer, whether something's gone wrong or you’re trying to book …if you don't understand what that's like, how are you going to build a product … to solve their need and so as the providers we, you know called providers to get our first set of providers to do that for some time and if you don't know what their objections are, why they, why they're interested in it and what's working for them, how are you going to build a marketplace to serve their needs. So you really have to do it from the ground up I think and, and I think just to the point of like the scale that you need to succeed, I think it's important to choose a really big market and household services is a really big market. So Australians spend like $13 billion dollars a year outsourcing their home and garden services alone and if you expand that to home improvement, it's like $600 billion dollars a year and, you know, outsourcing is increasing in a massive rate. Australians are very willing to exchange money for time so you know and actually it was interesting at this talk last night that Sam McDonagh from Airbnb said that Australia is the most penetrated market in the world for Airbnb.

G: Wow.

N: So we're huge adopters of technology …so this is market for us, yes the scale we need is messy but the market is there, the opportunity is there and you know it's, you know it's within reach, we can get there in Australia and we can make this a massive …but massive business in Australia. So you know that's important. Make sure that you're attacking a market that has the potential.

G: So what can people do to support you both to get there? Go to the site?
[Laughter]

E: Well first of all, obviously those roles we’re recruiting so if you know of a absolute killer growth manager, I would love to find out. Also the Head of Ops role. If you have other contacts into, you know …corporate benefits program and you feel that these are the mover-shaker… you know service love who's in touch with the right you know HR leads or senior leads in there and we’ll take from there. Always check us out, check us out and, and it will put us, our code up in a second to give you a special offer …
[Laughter]

…on feedback yeah we would really know when you do check us out you know if there's anything good, bad, ugly, everything else just let us know. We …improve in the last week …yeah…

G: Yeah, it’s very true. Lucky last question, I ask everyone this so apologies in advance. If you had a superpower, what would it be?
[Laughter]
It’s a tough one.

E: …too sexist…
[Laughter]
Must be at different places at one time.

G: Yep, yep. That’s a good one, I can understand that.

N: I’d just like toe be able to like, not need to sleep as much.
[Laughter]

G: There’s always time to …

E: Yeah.

N: Yeah, more time in your days, so that’s …you need more time in your day.
[Laughter]

E: Yes.
[Laughter]

G: Well thank you very much …

E: Thank you.

G: Thanks for coming on

N: Thanks Gen.

G: And I look forward to how UrbanYou goes.

N: Thank you so much.

E: Thanks guys.

N: Bye.

G: Bye.