A Chat with Stacey Jacobs from TidyMe

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Gen caught up with Stacey Jacobs, founder of TidyMe.

After getting a taste of the startup landscape back in 2009 when Stacey was interviewing for (then) fledgling startups like Waze and Shapeways for Contagious Magazine in London, she decided startups were where she wanted to be. Fast paced environment + technology… Stacey was sold. 

Stacey left to join a fashion tech startup using data to predict and analyse trends in real-time. It was the start of the tech boom in London, where she shared a warehouse space on Silicon Roundabout. It was exciting, and fun. 

After returning to Sydney, Stacey helped to launch and build General Assembly Australia into a team of 15 locally over 18 months. In that time, the company globally grew to a team of around 300 and developed into the education company that it is today, one having a major impact on its students lives - something that she got to witness first hand.

Which led her to where she is now. After finding that there was no simple way to book a reputable cleaner online in Australia, Stacey saw an opportunity. she quit her job to build Tidy Me - giving our customers access to professional, vetted cleaners in seconds. In just over 2 years, TidyMe have cleaned over 25,000 homes. 

After initially bootstrapping Tidy Me, Stacey raised $750K through Airtree VC in March 2015 allowing her to build out the team working across Product, Marketing and Operations. They used the investment to accelerate the growth of the two sided marketplace, creating the best quality network of cleaners, powered by technology built to maximise efficiency and improve utilisation. 

In August 2016, Stacey closed a further round of funding led by Airtree VC and accompanied by The Adcock Group and a selection of private investors. The funding will accelerate our National expansion as we become Australia’s go-to for trusted cleaners.

TidyMe has literally saved marriages. They match customers with one of their TidyMe Crew in their area. They will become your regular cleaner so that they get to know you and the ins and outs of your home.

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


G: Hi guys. I'm here with Stacey from Tidyme. We're going to hear all about how TidyMe got started here in Australia - so over to you Stacey!

S: Hey Gen. Thanks for having me and so you know just to tell you guys a little bit about TidyMe so we're basically a two-sided marketplace connecting our customers with quality cleaners in their local area. So we started out in the residential side of the business and more recently have ventured into commercial and what we call Tidyme Work so yeah that's, that's essentially very brief what TidyMe is.

G: That's awesome. How did you guys get started?

S: Yeah so we so my background is kind of been in startups over in London and then in Sydney I helped launch General Assembly, so I'd always been kind of looking around at different ideas of different things to launch and thought a marketplace would be a really fantastic thing to kind of go into… main reason was because I like the potential to give access opportunity to work for a lot of people so came across this business model of cleaning and also identified in market that there was a really big opportunity and we launched it really bootstrapped initially, we've now been running for about three and a half years fuel the growth and building out the technology platform which was initially really just a basic … at the  backend and leveraging some tools as well to be able to do that.

G: That's amazing, and I mean, tell me about that bootstrapping experience. I mean with one shift we literally printed off posters and posted them at malls…and got lots of sign ups that way. What are some of the things that you did you know in day one to get started?

[Laughter]

S: Oh yeah, definitely stuff like that I remember! One of the most random things we did was paying people on Airtasker to go and put posters in apartment buildings in their local area with like tabs to sign up to TidyMe…

[Laughter]

Wasn't really quantifiable - wouldn't recommend it.

[Laughter]

And it was...kind of doing anything to see what's going to work and so yeah we, we basically launched it, really just looked at when I started I thought we'll see what happens if we launch this one and if it doesn't work in the next three months we'll move on to the next idea, and yeah three and a half years on it's still kind of working at this point. So we launched it and put out some ads and obviously with the two-sided market place making sure that you can balance that supply and demand, just put up some ads for crew who are our cleaners, the supply side …

G: Yep.

S: …and then they went out and we started in Facebook mothers groups…

G: Really?

S: …to look for customers yeah. So that was kind of that was really interesting and we I had an approach of, with the first 30 customers that I would meet every one of them, so after the clean …flowers and talked to them about their experience…

G: That's awesome.

S: …and that sort of…

[Laughter]

Yeah mostly awesome. It was actually - it was a really good it was a great way to meet our customers and find out who were going to be the best fit for our customers as well.

G: Yeah.

S And that way I think people really love that personal touch which is something we've tried to carry through even as we've scaled. But people really love that personal touch and so started talking about us on social media and that really helps fuel that initial growth.

G: And you as a founder I mean you've, as I remember, done actually cleaning tasks yourself so how important is it for founders to actually get the hands dirty, quite literally …

[Laughter]

…to get in touch with their customer base?

S: Yeah definitely. It was unintentional.

[Laughter]

And luckily I’ve only had to do a couple of jobs but you know when you've sold someone a service and then you can't fulfill that, I just went out there and got my hands dirty in it. Even at that stage it was so useful because I'd had this idea I have a bit of a background in design and I had this idea that people would be wearing, our crew would be wearing these beautiful linen aprons and carrying like supermarket baskets with all the products and then I trekked from Piemonte to Kings Cross in carrying one of these supermarket baskets and it was just the most uncomfortable thing… so that was about two weeks in and I learnt that we should supply backpacks instead. So … really …

G: …flushing and linen probably not a good match.

[Laughter]

S: Yeah, didn’t really work with … people by the time we got there, so yeah we've certainly shapes changed a lot of things since then but even now I think having a real connection to all of our crew and doing a lot of, you know we really focus on the community side of things with our crew. Even as we've got you know hundreds of people on the platform we really focus on having a really strong relationship with them and getting feedback on how we can improve our products and our focus has really been on making the best product for our crew which ultimately translates into the best experience for our customers.

G: Definitely and as a founder then how are you, I mean you've got a team now so how have you scaled your team? How did you hire your first person? How do you manage that culture?

S: Yeah it's been really interesting over the kind of course of so it's been about three and a half years now. Our first hire was probably the most important person in the, you know that's kind of shaped the business because it allowed me to at that point step away operationally, day-to-day and focus on things like our growth, focusing on the capital raising as well which just you know as any founder who's raised capital before, it just takes you out of the office for really extended periods of time and I actually really love capital raising, but it's, it's really difficult when you also have to be operational in the business so that was really, really important to us.

And then once we raised capital, building out a really, really strong technology team was super important because everything that we've done in the product even though everything is always focused around quality, it's really on the data side of things and how we can improve the algorithm for job matching and give our crew, as I said, the best possible experience of working close to their home so they can essentially walk in between jobs. And also having them get back to back schedules so that kind of the, the back end of our product is really the kind of heart of what drives Tidyme.

G: Fantastic and with your culture then within your team, how have you seen that develop and evolve as the company's growing?

S: Yeah it's been really interesting I think particularly going from the very early stages where we were looking for people who were kind of happy and get shit done kind of people, the shift has sort of gotten to you know we're a much more established company now, we're doing thousands of jobs every month. We've still got a very, very lean team we certainly focus on having everyone there for a reason and no kind of dead weight in the team so we've got a pretty lean team there but everyone who is super focused on results-driven activity so with everyone in the team has a kind of background in data and understands data and also people who are just really excited about solving the problems that we have particularly as I said in kind of scheduling utilization and then number one thing is quality as well so looking at one of the big things we're working on at the moment is looking at engagement across every single touch point of the business for the crew side and how we use that engagement to kind of drive the quality of the cleaning as well.

G: Amazing and you guys have a pretty in-depth dashboard for your data, for monitoring everything from your neck and … to live what's happening [Laughter] can you talk us through that?

S: Yes. Yeah so we've got everyone in the team has their own kind of in-depth dashboards but then we've got what we call the mothership which is our kind of like weekly and monthly dashboard. It's about a hundred and fifty lines and we look at everything operationally in the business so that we can identify precursors that might lead to issues particularly as you know two-sided marketplace managing that supply and demand but also looking for precursors in quality or anything that could lead to, really like any issues in retention and so that sort of goes across everything from both our marketing side, supply side growth and then also looking at all of the operational things that we have in the business so as I said operational engagement metrics.

G: Yep. And what other tools do you use to manage that supply and demand because that is so critical to a two-sided marketplace?

S: Yeah so we’ve custom-built pretty much everything in the platform so we've, we've got pretty silly names for everything but what this is called onboard-offboard, so we've got a like a relatively complex algorithm for looking at the growth of crew, we've also got a so we've got an application process it's all online, so we look at what's in the funnel, how growth on the customer side is going at that point and then also predicted churn and then predicted growth on, on the crew side and we do that on an area level as well. So yeah it's all kind of custom-built and, and constantly evolving and improving as well but right now it's working pretty well for us.

G: That's awesome and what does the future hold for Tidyme?

S: Yeah so I think we've, I keep telling people I feel like we're, because we've just got a couple of new people into the team.

G: Wow.

S: I feel like it's actually the most exciting time in Tidyme history at this point so we've kind of been through the, I'm sure there's lots of things in the future as well as we grow and scale and there'll be additional issues but what we're really proud of now is we've seen really consistent numbers for the past nine months we're pretty much at breakeven point as well so we've been…

G: Well done.

S: …able to kind of proof the business model, yeah thank you…

G: Huge there for a startup!

S: ...it's a really exciting milestone for us yeah, definitely. So we're right now really going into, now that we've had those solid consistent numbers in, in pretty much those 150 … and improving things in quality, we are now going into a capital raise early next year and plan to use that money to just fuel that growth and get into that growth stage of the business.

G: Awesome.

S: And that's across two things so we launched Tidyme Work because I manage this and operating it as a kind of separate business unit.

G: So what was the name? It just cut out a little bit.

S: Sorry Tidyme Work.

G: Awesome, thanks.

[Laughter]

S: So yeah we've kind of got the residential side and then the…

G: The work side?

S: Tidyme Work for commercial side and I think there's huge opportunities for both particularly over the next 12 months so we're already in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane but certainly plans to be national and then looking at international opportunities.

G: Amazing. Is there any particular country that you're looking, looking at in particular?

S: Ah there's, there's so many opportunities I think on our doorstep so we've, you know Asia in general and we're not quite at the point where we have a rollout strategy yet.

G: Of course.

S: But certainly looking to Asia as a big opportunity for us. Also because of the way that we've, kind of built the business and scaled it into Melbourne and Brisbane at this point and we've been able to centralize everything in Sydney, so everything is in our local headquarters so we don't need to have heads on the ground. So it will mean that we'll be able to scale that quite efficiently hopefully.

G: That's great. You know there's a lot happening, it's an exciting time to Tidyme, you’ve got lots of new hires coming on as well. How do you as a you know as a CEO manage all this with your headspace making sure that you're the best that you can be you know to guide the team and what do you do?

S: Yeah, so, well - I think that's about having a team that you can really trust so having people there who if I'm not in the office, I can trust that they're doing an amazing job and working really hard so working with smart and passionate people is probably the biggest thing that saves your headspace and saves your kind of, you know, your sanity I would say.

G: Yes.

S: On top of that it's the it's the boring regular things that you hear about of, like diet and exercise.

G: Yeah we get that.

[Laughter]

S: Exactly! No, but it really helps, right?

G: It makes a big difference.

S: That's fortunate but it does it makes a really, really big difference. So taking to make sure that you are focusing on your mental and physical health is really, really important.

G: Yeah.

S: But that really suits or having a team that you can trust to rely on so that you're not doing 18-hour days.

G: Yeah, definitely.

S: That's just unsustainable.

G: Yes, so with the expand, oh sorry with the, new hires, what's the makeup of your table? Do you have sales people, cleaners, devs? You know, what does that look like?

S: Yeah. So we have kind of three business units, so we've got product, marketing and operations. So those are yet the kind of focus, what we've tried to do is reduce the volume of people working in operations and really feel that by efficiencies and products.

G: Yeah.

S: So yeah those are kind of the three units at the moment and then the plan next year is to build those out with a data specific team working within operations as well but yeah always probably within those three buckets really.

G: Yeah, awesome. And moving forward then, do… how do you see the team evolving especially with expanding into new countries?

S: Yeah so the, the evolution is very much as I said still product heavy.

G: Yep.

S: Certainly it's all about having smart people in operations like where we are at this point is, we fortunately have very little firefighting to do, which was, which has evolved over the course of the business, so we can actually focus our resources in improving all of the parts of the operational funnel right? So that is essentially the way that we work is just looking at different product, projects or taking on one part of the business and how we can improve it significantly and breaking that off doing that in a project and looking at the data and then…

G: Evolving.

S: …sort of going back on it in a few months’ time and so yeah we're fortunate that we don't and I don't see us ever having to build a team whereby there's you know 50 people working in customer service so yeah the, the makeup of the business I think going forward certainly strong operational heads and we're hiring for something like that at the moment so they're getting to the final stages they're people in, in data analytics and then also, yeah exactly, and then also building up a really strong product team so we are really close to releasing updates of our crew app and then also releasing a customer app which should provide even more efficiency in terms of our customer service account…

G: Yeah fantastic and you know with the stage of the business do you have advisors and/or an advisory board or a board? Or do you have personal mentors or you know what network do you have around you?

S: Yeah. So we have a board so we have a pretty structured board. We've got two of our key investors have directors on the board and then myself and Riley who sort of, he, him and I actually worked at General Assembly together so he is chairman of the board and then works with me as an advisor as well. G: Great.

S: So that's been really, really helpful in getting us kind of to steer the business in the right direction and I think having their many, many years of experience and also all their experience in looking at other marketplaces as well so Airtree are one of our investors and they're very heavily invested in, in marketplaces. So they've been able to help us identify things potentially before we would have been able to, and as I said help us steer the, the direction of the business in the most, I guess the way they're looking at setting us up for the best potential growth and the best kind of way forward for the business. So yeah that has been really helpful.

Outside of that, I think, you know, you and I are friends and having the network of, sort of Sydney startup so it’s been, has just been so helpful, which I was fortunate to kind of have around me from General Assembly anyway, but any founders out there looking to start a business like go into a co-working space you know build a network of people around you because we, even businesses at different stages your… often facing similar issues and sometimes it's just someone to vent to and to say, “Hey I'm having, like not the best day” and particularly as like a solo founder I think that's really, really helpful for people.

G: Definitely and what are you using on the Sydney Startup Hub and how it's going to impact the community?

S: Yeah so I'm super excited I haven't actually been down there just yet but it sounds…

G: It’s Huge.

[Laughter]

S: …amazing, so yeah, I know, I'm so excited I'm going to head down there in the early Jan…

G: Oh great!

S: …there’s couple of our TidyMe Work customers moving in there, so … and fishies, but yeah except I think it's just going to have a really positive impact particularly bringing all of those spaces together each one of them have their own kind of culture and their own way of going about things but I think it's going to be really great to bring everyone together in one kind of melting pot together.

G: Yeah.

S: And just a centralized location for events and things like that as well.

G: Definitely, keeps it a bit more neutral ground rather than all …all that stuff.

[Laughter]

S: Definitely.

G: Do you watch podcasts? Read particular things or follow particular people for inspiration or insights? What do you look at?

S: Yeah. Yeah so I I'm like addicted to podcasts. I listened to podcasts from like the first time I wake up to when I go to bed, I listen to them to go to sleep which is not always really beneficial because you wake up and forget half what you listen to. But so many different yeah podcasts particularly I kind of dig into things that I'm particularly interested in, in the business at that point. So rather than certain people it's more around the topic so right now we're kind of particularly with the development of the apps we're looking at how we can drive engagement and more of that what I've been talking to the team about is like the solitaire feeling, so that, maybe you're too young Gen but like playing solitaire …

G: I remember solitaire.

S: …on your PC … like 90s…

G: Yeah I remember that. …snakes Nokia

S: …and the feeling when the cards come down. Exactly, yeah but the feeling when the cards come down in solitaire and that you know level of excitement and how we can bring that into our apps on the crew side so you know one of the big things is like them receiving five stars and receiving feedback texts from people so how we can bring that kind of excitement into that and bringing that sort of attachment. So yeah listening to a few different podcasts about that at the moment outside of that, Brad Feld, I'm like pretty addicted to reading his blog. One of the big set of mattress for us in 2018 is ICDC, so Increase Conversion, Decrease Churn, and I just think the way that he approaches things of looking at things on like a microscopic level but then sort of you know much wider level as well, it's just really, really interesting and obviously always bringing the data to the table as well.

G: Yep.

S: So yeah those are probably the, the kind of big ones at the moment but yeah always just lots of different areas and more focused on what we're learning at that point.

G: That's great and there are a lot of double sided market places around the world you know, all solving for different challenges, offering different services, products, etc., what are the ones that you are seeing that you're watching and going “Wow, it's pretty cool what they're doing!”?

S: So I think I would…

G: Besides TidyMe.

[Laughter]

S: I wouldn’t identify one in particular but I'd say a more across the ethos of what, how people are approaching things, um so businesses like, potentially Lyft is like one of these, but any two-sided marketplace that I think puts their supply side at the heart of everything that they do and every decision is made based on those possible experience for them is really what we're aspiring to do as well, because once you build a really strong community of people and evangelists and champions for your brand, that just puts you in that in the best possible stead and I think if you have that really happy supply side you're going to have really happy customers as well so rather than one market place it's more just that, I guess that culture that they're driving.

G: Yeah, that's awesome and I ask every one this so please forgive the randomness but if you could have any superpower in the world, what would it be?

[Laughter]

S: Oh that’s a good one… probably, this is a bit random, but probably to be invisible…

G: Really!

S: …I feel like it would be really interesting you get a lot of like, yeah, you'd get a lot of human insights from kind of you know sitting with people being invisible and being able to kind of see how they're interacting and what they're doing and how they're, even things like using your product or what the experience is like for our crew…

G: Yeah.

S: …you know, or for our customers, I feel like that would be the most useful. I don't know, what's yours?

G: Well it's funny because everyone I've spoken to comes back to you know, regaining time or speak …like reading people's minds or being able to kind of you know, know what people are thinking. Because it's all about interaction with people so it's interesting…

S: Yeah.

G: …you’d that being invisible to kind of have the same thing. Mine is time like if you can pause time so you can catch up or more of it or I guess the one thing you can't get back so that's kind of where I come from. [Laughter]

S: Yeah.

[Laughter]

G: Yeah.

[Laughter]

S: Well that’s a good one everyone with like more time, right?

G: So how can everyone support you more? You know, can they go to your website, download your app? You know what can they do?

S: Yeah definitely so any support for Tidyme obviously in terms of more customers or you know if you know some great cleaners definitely recommend them as well and definitely give us feedback, that's the one thing…

G: Five stars only!

S: …we thrive on as well, so we've got like …yeah, oh, no, no, I wouldn't put in bad feedback or like we'd like really as I said really focused on the quality side of things and we've got the highest quality ratings in Australia which we're super proud of, but I also like to receive bad feedback so that we can know…

G: Improve.

S: …how we can improve. Yeah exactly and it's, it's everything that kind of drives our decisions as well in here feedback from both the crew side and the customer side.

G: Yeah.

S: But how you could support us beyond that is we are always hiring for amazing devs so if anyone knows any amazing devs looking to kind of get into that space, anyone who's got kind of a background in logistics as well particularly in development of looking at job allocation distribution is super interesting for us

G: Yeah.

S: Or anyone passionate about solving similar problems to what we're solving, regardless of what area it's always interesting for us to meet with those people so yeah.

G: Definitely, that's amazing. Well thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it and guys, see you next time for …

S: Thank you.

G: … a next challenge, I don’t know who the next person is but it's happening.

[Laughter]

S: Thanks Gen.