Maids In Black: An Entrepreneurial Dilemma (Tech Or Non-Tech?)

What would happen if someone who knew & loved tech applied what he knew to an unsexy, non-tech business?

Rohan Gilkes noticed that he and his friends could buy and pay for just about everything online through sites like Amazon. But when they tried to book local services like house cleaning, it was like taking a trip back in time to the pre-Internet days.

So he created Maids in Black, a cleaning service that lets customers book, pay for, and rate maids online.

Rohan Gilkes

Rohan Gilkes

Maids in Black

Rohan Gilkes is the founder of Maids in Black, a cleaning service that lets customers book, pay for, and rate maids online.



Full Interview Transcript

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Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the Founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart, and I’ve got a friend of mine here with me today. What would happen if someone who knew and loved technology applied what he knew to an unsexy, non-tech business? Rohan Gilkes noticed that he and his friends could buy and pay for just about anything online through sites like Amazon. When they tried to book local services like house cleaning, it was as if they were taking a trip back in time, to before Internet days. That’s when he built his site. He created Maids in Black, a cleaning service that let customers book, pay for, and rate maids online. I invited him here to talk about how he did it. Rohan, welcome.

Rohan: Thank you, Andrew. I appreciate it.

Andrew: What kind of revenue is Maids in Black doing right now?

Rohan: The last month, October, we did $70,000.

Andrew: Get out. Even more since you and I had dinner in D.C. a few months ago.

Rohan: Yes. More than double since we met.

Andrew: Unbelievable. All right. I said you took technology, and you applied it to an old-world business. What kind of technology did you build on? What’s the platform?

Rohan: The platform is good old word press. I rebuilt everything in word press, and built out with all types of accounting and reporting and scheduling. It was all done by word press. We just add modules each time we need an improvement, and that’s it. [??]

Andrew: What are the key features? Because most people will hear word press, when it’s suggested to them, and if I say consider building your first version at least on WordPress. They go, “WordPress? That’s a blogging platform. It can’t do what I want.” So, what kind of features does have? Even though it’s built on the word press platform?

Rohan: OK. We have real time scheduling. The client comes online, they can see right away what times are available and book it. It goes into a database that allows us to then assign that client to one of our cleaners. Then, we assign the client, but it goes out to all the cleaners, their respective jobs. We have it set up so the cleaners receive a text message 30 minutes before each job, as all fired from word presses at all. We have email reminders going out. We have accounting, kind of an accounting report that shows my sales and profits for the month. I can run it by team. We have our discounts, our Paypal is integrated. Everything is all, it’s a lot going on back there. I’m stuck with word press. At first I was thinking about maybe moving over to something else, but it does everything that I want.

Andrew: Unreal. You’re a guy who actually tried so many different businesses. I still have, since I typed in Evernote while we were talking at that dinner in D.C., I have a list of some of the businesses that you started. You were looking for your entrepreneurship opportunity. Online dating, what was your online dating site that you launched before Maids In Black?

Rohan: So, I launched And, it was kind of a play-off of the daily deal sites. So, we would feature one person each day. Send out an email to all the people that subscribed, and they could come on and contact that person if they were interested. And so, just kind of like that. You didn’t have to come on and do profiles like a typical dating site, it was like a one person per day feature.

Andrew: What happened to that business?

Rohan: I felt like getting into the monetization stage was going to be long and difficult. And it was one of those businesses where I liked the idea, but I didn’t think about monetization before I started, because it was kind of a sexy idea, for me at least. And, I got some traction. I ended up with a few thousand subscribers in a few weeks with the help of some larger companies that were helping me out at the time. And, I kind of realized that to make my first dollar was going to be a long time away, and I needed something faster because my goal was to quit my job by summer.

Andrew: Why did you want to quit your job? You were working as an accountant for Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac is a big institution. Being an accountant is a job you should be proud of, and here you were trying a bunch of ideas looking for an entrepreneurship opportunity that was risky instead of a job that seemed safe to me.

Rohan: I wanted freedom then. That was the number one thing. That was the only work that drives me. I want to be free, and I felt that while I enjoyed accounting, and I enjoyed my role, I had been doing it for ten years, almost ten years, that I wanted more control of my time, the ability to be anywhere. Like, right now I’m in Denver. I’m going to be in Austin in two weeks. And just that ability to have full control of my time. I felt I could not do that without becoming an entrepreneur, without just working for freedom this whole time.

Andrew: And Freddie Mac at the time was going through a bunch of stuff. It was a VP who committed suicide, you told Jeremy, our producer?

Rohan: Yeah. Yeah, we had a VP, a well liked VP, really good guy, committed suicide. Since then you’ve had another VP brought up with charges, it was pretty public. It was chaos at the time as well.

Andrew: Yeah.

Rohan: So, I knew, [??]would say that it’s risky to be an entrepreneur, and jobs are more stable. But, I see it completely the other way around. It’s riskier to depend on a job and depend on an employer and safer to actually be able to make your own [??]. And so, I had to get out of Freddie and try something for myself.

Andrew: You also tried affiliate programs, programs where you promote other people’s products and you get a cut of the sales or you get paid per lead that you generate. How did that go for you?

Rohan: Actually, at the time it was going OK. I was doing, at my best month I probably was doing a thousand dollars per month. My biggest hit was I was an eBay affiliate for portable cement mixers. And, it was crazy, so I started doing my research. And I wanted to become – I wanted to find a key word with very, very little competition, which has been my whole push in business. Like, what area can I go into and completely dominate? And at the time, everybody was pushing iPhones and those type of things. And I figured, let’s do cement mixers. But then, let’s sell just regular cement mixers. Let’s do even nichier product. Let’s do portable cement mixers. So, I was ranked number one on Yahoo for portable cement mixers. And, I was doing pretty well. And then, Yahoo changed their software. I was using something called BANS, Build a niche site. I’m sure some of you readers might have heard of it. And Yahoo changed the way BANS integrated, and it was an entire mess. All my sites stopped working, and there you go. I left my thousand dollars a month to nothing.

Andrew: Unreal.

Rohan: Yeah.

Andrew: That’s the thing about affiliates that, as an affiliate you often don’t have a business that you can just leave to run on its own. It feels always dangerous.

Rohan: Dangerous, yes. You can always take a hit from Google. You can take a hit from the provider, which in this case was eBay. So, there’s always a hit around the corner somewhere, I think. It’s scary.

Andrew: Were you also blogging at the time? Was that another idea?

Rohan: Yeah, I started to blog this 365, where it just talks about 365 things to do in D.C. It was fun. It was really fun actually. I would go around and do some crazy things I had never done before, and just blog about them. Actually, that blog kind of actually helped me with the Maids in Black project because through that blog, I got to meet a lot of D.C. bloggers. I was able to leverage my relationships to promote Maids in Black when we launched.

Andrew: All right. We will find a little bit about that, because that was really helpful early on, when you were trying to promote yourself. You are trying all these businesses, waiting to hit with something, determined to hit with something, and then you end up building this site. How do you go from doing those to suddenly hitting on this site? Had something to do with helping someone, right?

Rohan: Yes. My home cleaner at the time, a lady, her name is Pilar [SP], she was cleaning my home for the past 3 or 4 years. She knew I dabbled online. She knew I built websites. We would always talk when she came by. She knew I built websites, and I did Internet marketing, and so on. She asked me to build her a website. I said, “Pilar. I could build you a website. It will be expensive, and it will be nice-looking, and so on. It would just be like a brochure, because at the end of the day, unless you have someone to market it, it will just sit there and get maybe one or two people per day. Nothing will really happen. How about we do this: I will build you a website, and I’ll market it. I’ll do all the promotions, and I’ll just find you jobs. So, you don’t have to pay me anything at all. The jobs will pay you what you currently request to be paid for your jobs, and I’ll just charge more. Kind of position ourselves to a higher demographic, a higher market, green cleaning, organic cleaning, and so on. Let’s give it a shot.” So, she was like, “Yeah”. There’s no risk on her part. I took all the risks, all the costs, and built a site, and here we are.

Andrew: You also got to own it.

Rohan: Yes. I own the site.

Andrew: But she had no risk. The reason that you knew this would pay off is because you had a roommate who was an electrician, and you did something similar with him. What did you do with him?

Rohan: Yeah. I did actually the same thing, but for him, it was more of an affiliate program with him, I guess. What I did for him, I also built a site, I kept it, I owned it, but I would send him leads. He would pay me $20 per phone call, per qualified phone call.

Andrew: Just a phone call, not a sale of someone who wanted an electrician, but just someone who said, “Hey. I’m looking for an electrician.” Told him about the job, and he said this one is qualified.

Rohan: Yes. [??] for that. I use a service called ‘If by Phone.’ It was to track all my phone calls. I could see how long he was on the phone. If it were a garbage call, he would probably hang up in like 5 seconds, or 10 seconds. If it was a real call, where they are kind of discussing the business and kind of figuring out if their project would be one that he would be able to take on, it would be 3, 4, 5 minutes, 10 minutes. I just run a report at the end of the month. He would go ‘Yes. This turned into a job.’ Or what happened, we go over it. That worked. That worked.

Andrew: The service is called “If by Phone,” right? If people want to try it for themselves.

Rohan: Yes.

Andrew: When you say it worked, how well did it work?

Rohan: I ended up doing about $1000 a month again, with that. It’s fun to think that at that time I was ecstatic with $1000 per month, because it was like I was making little hits here and there, but there was nothing really exploding. It also worked for him really well. While he was paying me $1000 per month, I know for a fact that he was doing an additional 6, 7, $8000 based on the calls I would generate for him.

Andrew: Wow.

Rohan: Yeah. That was also another thing because some of the keywords, and the strategies I used to drive people that were looking for electricians locally, I was using the same strategies for people that were looking for a cleaning service. It’s all these things I tried, even though nothing really exploded, it was all experience and learning for the thing that kind of worked.

Andrew: One thing that you did that validated this idea for you is what the person that’s listening to us right now is doing. You read other peoples’ stories, listened to interviews. My friend Neil Patel had an interview with a guy who was doing a cleaning service. You are moved by that.

Rohan: Yes. Yes. There was another guy doing a cleaning service on Facebook. I follow Neil Patel on Facebook. Every day or two, he posts something about, it’s from his blog, I would just go over and check it out. There was one guy on there, he featured that started up a cleaning service in another city and made it work. So given my experience at that time, and my thought that I could dominate locally in what would be an unsexy market, I felt I could give it a shot. So, I gave it a shot and tweaked a few things here and there, and it took off beyond my expectations.

Andrew: I can see that, and it just keeps growing. So we said it was on WordPress, but it’s not just standard out of the box WordPress, right? Because one of the first things you did was, you went to, did you go to Scriptlance and you look for a developer, did you know this [??]? Why did you need that?

Rohan: Okay. Yes, so, I had a developer that I found on Scriptlance. But I had been using him for like a year and a half before I started Maids in Black. He helped me with all his other ideas, so everything else I did, I also did on WordPress, because I understand it and it’s easy. You can get started really, really quickly. I can work the back end really, really easily being a non-techy. So even a dating site was built on WordPress. But yes, I found him on Scriptlance, and he was top ten rated for WordPress developers on Scriptlance. And since then we’ve developed a really good relationship. I felt like the PayPal integration, some of the other things that would’ve taken me some additional time to do it myself. Just leave it to him and he knocks things out in a few days because he’s very good. So we worked together on all of my projects.

Andrew: You said a few days. Let’s be more specific. How long did it take for the site to actually be launched?

Rohan: The first, we were done in two weeks. A little less than two weeks, because I had him find a theme that looked kind of like what I wanted the finished part to look like. So, it’s like a $35 theme. Yup, $35 for a theme forest, I’ll never forget. He tweaked it. So he tweaked it, changed the colors, changed some of the layouts and so on, added the PayPal integration, added the booking form and that was it. We were ready to go. In about ten days, I just wrote all of the content, uploaded the content and the site was ready to go in no time. So, we launched on November 3rd. Andrew: Super, November 3, 2011?

Rohan: Yes.

Andrew: 2011, alright. Almost exactly a year ago today. Today you and I are recording on November 20th.

Rohan: Yes.

Andrew: People will see it after Thanksgiving or whenever they happen to download it.

Rohan: Yes.

Andrew: It’s about a year, a huge win. I got to tell you, everything that I see that your site does, I feel like could be done with just [??] and WordPress and [??]forest. You didn’t even need a script to be done, but you got your own script, very basic, basic stuff he put together for you. What did he charge you for it?

Rohan: My first iteration was $450.

Andrew: $450, that’s it.

Rohan: That included the theme.

Andrew: OK, all right. You know what? You’re better off your own unique, your own proprietary script then. That’s unreal. So alright, you have that, what did that first version look like? What was the theme? What did you want from the theme?

Rohan: I wanted to have a video on the front end, which is very, very rare from midsights. I wanted it to look, to appeal to the younger social media demographic. People that would read [??], that would read Mixergy. We kind of got there, but we weren’t all the way there. Because it still had the traditional cleaning service feel and colors as well. There was a green, and then kind of like, when you think of organic green or whatever, it was that color. So, it did its job. We launched on November 3rd, it was like ten in the morning, and by eleven in the morning, in one hour we had our first job.

Andrew: Really?

Rohan: Yeah, our first job. I’m telling you, I was in shock. We got it by posting on Craigslist.

Andrew: You got it by what?

Rohan: By posting on Craigslist.

Andrew: Oh yeah.

Rohan: So, I posted on Craigslist, and I will never forget what the actual Craigslist ad said. It said, the title was, “Don’t click here for cleaning service”. And then when the person clicked it read, “I see you marched to the beat of your own drum.” Sooner we, open a line in 60 seconds, that was it. Somebody clicked on it, booked eight $139 straight to my PayPal, and I got a PayPal notification. I was like, ‘Wow.’ That was it.

Andrew: I want to find out how you had this, how you even hired cleaners to do this you could depend on. Let’s take a step back. This site, did you copy the site that you saw on Neil Patel’s blog? What about the design, the feel, did you?

Rohan: There were some things that I knew worked. I have to say yes. That site was heavily inspired by that site. I knew that the video worked. It worked right away because you almost never see a maid site with a video introduction. You would typically see that with space camp or something like that, not typically a maid site. So, I knew I wanted a video. I also knew that I liked the testimonials on the front page, how they were changing, and so on. So, I did take some things, the things I felt like were the strongest things from the site, and made some tweaks to adjust them to the current [??] I was going for.

Andrew: All right. Another thing that you did was, just looking at my notes, and we were just having dinner that time, but I still kept taking notes. Here’s one of the things I wrote down. You started telling people that you were going to leave your job. You of course told it on reddit, which is where my mentor Bob Highler [SP] saw you and said, ‘Hey. You got to interview this guy.’ You even told people day to day. Why did you do that?

Rohan: OK. I did that because I feel like goals in general, they’re only dreams unless you announce them. I may have come across that somewhere. If I have, I can’t remember, but I’ve adopted that. If you have a goal, it’s only a dream or idea or something out in the ether, unless you actually tell people. You got to tell as many people as possible and be accountable. That’s what I did. I said it on Twitter, I posted it on my Facebook page, I told all my friends, I told my mother. I told everybody that I could that this is what I’m working towards. That would keep me accountable every single day to be doing at least one thing to get there. That’s kind of my personal philosophy.

Andrew: The dinner that we had was with Andrew Wu [SP] and Angela, who have since gotten married. You told them to. Was there ever a fear that, “What if I tell them I’m going to quit my job, and I’m still not there? Or I did tell them I’m going to quit my job, and I’m still at this job? I’m such a loser.” That kind of thing can really drive you forward, because it makes you feel like you have to. It can also be debilitating because you feel like, ‘Whoa. I told everyone, and I can’t do this. I’m such a failure.’ It magnifies those insecurities and fears. Did that happen to you?

Rohan: I felt like I’m only human, and I had those fears as well. At the time when I was telling Angela, and I was telling Andrew and everybody else, I felt like at that time I was prepared. I felt like I had all the tools to make it happen. That kind of diminished the inherent fear that I would otherwise have, to kind of make those declarations public. I felt like I had all the tools at that time. It was a matter of finding the industry and going after it.

Andrew: The reason you had all those tools is because you did that test with your roommate. You said it works here, I can find another place where this works.

Rohan: Yeah. I did a test on my roommate, and it worked. I did the dating site, which kind of helped me with social media and helped to get things done on Twitter and Facebook. I did the blog, which helped me build these relationships with other bloggers and be able to learn email marketing, and so on. Affiliate marketing has really taught me ad words and helped to keep my cost down, and keep my ad words campaign honest, and to do it in a way where I’m not losing money every day. All these little things I did, which only make a few hundred dollars here or there, or [??] here or there. At the time I was starting Maids in Black, I was like, ‘OK. I pretty much have the entire tool set.’

Andrew: I see. So, they might have felt like failures to some other people back at the time, but to you it felt like you were just arming yourself. One more thing that you learn to do with each one of these businesses that didn’t exactly work out. How did you find the cleaning people who are going to go and take care of your customers?

Rohan: I started with Craigslist.

Andrew: [laughs] Basically, you are barraging Craigslist. Taking people who wanted cleaning service from Craigslist and fulfilling their needs with other people who wanted jobs.

Rohan: Exactly. So, on Craigslist I would do one of two things. I would go on there and find people who were offering their cleaning services, and I would say, “Well, hey, I see you’re offering cleaning services. We’re looking for folks that like cleaning services.” And tell them our story. And if the money worked out and everything else worked out, we would give them a shot. After our background checks and so on. And then also we’d post ads on Craigslist. Like, we’re looking for cleaning teams and here are our expectations, and let’s see what could happen. So, Craigslist was [??]. Yeah.

Andrew: Did you have any, in the early days, any issues with people you were hiring because you’re just learning how to hire. You were kind of desperate to get cleaning people and didn’t have enough jobs to keep someone working full time. So what was that like?

Rohan: Hold on one second, Andrew. I need to…

Andrew: Is that your phone ringing?

Rohan: Yeah.

Andrew: Go for it.

Rohan: I’m going to turn it off.

Andrew: Silence it. I got to keep the video going, but we’ll just let you silence it. You’re in a hotel room right now in Colorado.

Rohan: Yes.

Andrew: And, thanks for working with me to make sure this worked, this interview worked from there. So, did you have any horror stories in those early days when you were working with cleaning people?

Rohan: Oh, I’ve had horror stories, yes. I’ve had you name it. I’ve had cleaners show up to clean the home, and the client isn’t there. We’re supposed to leave the key under the mat, but they locked the mat inside the home. The client comes home from work and can’t get into the house. I had to hire a locksmith, emergency locksmith, so you already know what that cost is like, to go open the door for the client. I mean, I’ve had broken things. And also, in the beginning, hiring folks off of Craigslist and running them through a background check, it still only tells you so much. I could assign them a job and who knows if they’re going to show up or not. So, I’ve had folks just not show up. You name it, I’ve probably been there. And it’s only by learning and improving how I vet cleaners and being proactive about certain things that we’ve got to the point where things are running a lot smoother now.

Andrew: Were you insured in the beginning, or were you just getting started and so you could take the risk?

Rohan: When I first started, I only had one cleaner. That was P.R. And then she would work with her cleaning team. So, she owns a cleaning business, so it was her insurance and [??] at that point, yeah.

Andrew: Ah, that makes sense. Yes, speaking of horror stories, I’m looking at you on yelp, and I see tons of positive reviews. In fact, you’ve got, what is it – they’ve go five stars overall, so you’re four and a half stars here. So, people clearly like you. There’s one woman who says something about her cat.

Rohan: Oh, yes.

Andrew: OK. What happened there?

Rohan: You don’t even have to finish that one.

Andrew: She gave you one star. What happened?

Rohan: What happened? The cleaning team showed up, I guess the cat was being a cat, just hanging around. And they decided to lock the cat in a closet, I think, which, of course, you should not do in the first place. And to make things worse, they left the job with the cat still locked in the closet. I know. So, automatically, the lady called us enraged. And I tried my best to kind of, to apologize first of all, and to try to make it up to her, which we always try to do. Mistakes will happen. That was a really bad one though. But, yeah, she went to yelp, and that was a one star.

Andrew: She said, “They promptly refunded my money and seemed genuinely alarmed that their employees were so careless as to shut up my pet, but I’m moving on to another cleaning service.” I got to tell you, I don’t agree with you. I think it’s fine to put the cat in the closet, or least as a cat owner who’s had cleaning people in his apartment. Put the cat in the freaking closet. Remember to let him out at the end. I’m fine with that. In fact, I would put my dog in the dog crate just to make sure that he’s out of the way of the cleaning people and then let him out. And I would never think to go and complain if that happened. I’d let the cleaning people know next time, let him out. But, I don’t know. I guess people, it’s her cat, and I don’t blame her. But, man, it’s so difficult with people. One of the reasons why we don’t go to these unsexy local businesses, Rohan, is we don’t want to deal with customers on such an intimate level. We don’t want to deal with employees on such a grand scale as you do.

Rohan: Yeah.

Andrew: What do you do about that? How do you come to terms with the fact that you’re such a people intense business?

Rohan: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. If I could be doing this in another industry I’m just delivering widgets and all the widgets are already quality screened before they leave the office. Or you have your ten widgets, and you’re good. That would be awesome. That would be perfect. But, knowing that the customer service has become now market and knowing that we can in this business, we have no choice but to provide really, really good customer service. But, we do have a choice, but we’ve chosen to try our best to provide really, really good customer service and see that as time cost and a money cost of marketing. And so, I guess that’s kind of how I look at it now. We have no choice but to do it. But, it is difficult. And I have days where I’m pulling my hair our, what little I have left. But, it’s just part of the process at this point, and I kind of have accepted it.

Andrew: Speaking of [??] the other thing you told me when we talked in person was you look at your competitors one star reviews. What do you do with that?

Rohan: That’s actually what I did when we started. So, when I went out, I really wanted to start this maid service, but I wanted to be better than, I wanted to dominate. I wanted to be the number one company providing cleaning services in the DC area. So, I went on Yelp, and I looked for all the one star reviews I could find in DC and across the country, really. I figured that I would find a lot of the same things. And, when I find these things, these would be issues that are industry wide problems. And so, for example, a one star review would be the cleaning service didn’t show up. So, all I have to do to be better than that person that didn’t show up is to show up. And to also let the customer know beforehand that we have some guarantees in place for when we show up. The cleaning service is late. So, all we have to do is be on time. It’s not really that complicated, but it just helps us to infuse our marketing and the way we communicate with the client by saying, “Here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s our guarantees. We’re not going to do those things that cause all these other people to get one star reviews.” And that was kind of it. It became part of our marketing.

Andrew: And so, you would market, what was the 200 percent guarantee that you offered? What was that for?

Rohan: Yeah, so our 200 percent guarantee, I just got an idea from this guy Terry Marshall, he’s an online marketer, where he said that you’ve got to have the strongest guarantee. And, straight off the bat, some of the other reviews would be like, the team came to our home and they didn’t do a good job. And we called them, and we couldn’t reach them again, and they kept our money and never returned. So, we flipped that and said, “OK. If we come and you’re not happy, we’re going to send a team back for free to redo it. And if you’re still not happy enough to refer us to your friends, we’ll also refund your money.” That’s our 200 percent guarantee. You’ve probably seen on yelp, we’ve had to do that a few times. And there was one lady, she left a review on yelp for us, where we actually refunded the money to her office, we brought it to her job the next day. And she actually said on yelp, she gave us maybe two or three stars because of the customer service follow up. Because, you can’t always control what happens with the maid service. I can control what happens in the office and how we treat the clients as a follow up.

Andrew: I see. And the reason you knew what to attach that 200 percent guarantee, you knew what to attach it to because you looked at what your competitors were getting low ratings for, and you said, ‘Ah, that’s where people are worried. That’s where we’ll give them the reassurance.”

Rohan: Exactly.

Andrew: You did other things to instill trust in strangers, because you were just getting started. The business is barely a year old at this point. So, one of the things you did from the start, you put a phone number on your site. How did that help out?

Rohan: So, I always thought that to try to make it as easy as possible to contact us. And, I had got that idea from Zappos, so as you’ll see, as I’m building the maid service, I’m also looking at all these companies that have really good reputation for customer service. I’m trying to get ideas from what they do and to implement them at the local level. So Zappos, they make it very, very easy to contact them. The telephone number is on every page of the website. And, I feel that if the client doesn’t call you just knowing that they have the ability to reach you quickly and so stress straight off the bat.

Andrew: OK. Let’s not overlook that sentence. That’s what I said at the top of the interview and that’s what keeps coming up as you build your business. You want to take these online ideas that online businesses use and it’s so invisible to them because it’s common practice . . .

Rohan: Right.

Andrew: . . . and bring it to local businesses where it’s just foreign.

Rohan: Exactly, exactly.

Andrew: You told Jeremy that you always thought that finding clients would be a problem, but that hasn’t been a problem. Why hasn’t finding clients been a problem? That’s a problem for all of us.

Rohan: Right. I feel like I happen to be in an industry where it is high demands and where is also high demand for repeat service. So one client [??] one client and book a job the first time chances are we’ll be at that client’s home again in two weeks. That is one part of it.

Another part of it is we make it very, very, very, very easy to do business with us and I think that is such an advantage that people that are looking for immediate satisfaction. Like they’re looking to order something and have it show up the next day. Those type of people make up a large percentage of our customers. They come to the site, everything they need is laid out. They know how much it costs, they know if we are available the next day and what time we’re available and it only takes one click and it’s done. And so I feel that kind of really puts us ahead of our competition.

And I feel that, you know, some of the things that I’ve done like marketing nationally it puts me ahead of the competition as well. Like, you know, the competition they’re hiring like an ad words marketer who may be charging them per keyword and they can only run like maybe 10 or 15 keywords because each additional one cost money. I can create a spreadsheet and run like 2,000 or 3,000 keywords and really, really go after the market. And so I feel I also have an advantage with marketing because I’m fully, fully invested in the marketing as opposed to . . .

Andrew: . . . marketing for me? What’s worked for you? You told me about Craigslist, but . . .

Rohan: Yes.

Andrew: . . . Craigslist stopped working at some point because it was getting spammed with other people who were just constantly posting ads in there.

Rohan: Yeah.

Andrew: Were you doing that, too?

Rohan: No.

Andrew: OK.

Rohan: I was trying to post one ad per day, but now it’s just too crazy. So we do zero Craigslist at this point.

Andrew: OK. I actually . . .

Rohan: Yeah.

Andrew: . . . did a course with someone on Mixergy who admitted that at one point he had people all over the world just posting ads for him on Craigslist that helped him going and then once they shut it down, they shut it down.

Rohan: [??].

Andrew: So you did that. You talked about ads, what else did you do to get customers?

Rohan: So yeah. So Google Ad Words and we also, so is Google Ad Words [??] Yelp . . . [SS] . . .

Andrew: Yelp ads or just Yelp natural results?

Rohan: Yelp natural results because like we’re ranked number one so, you know, that’s killer and also Yelp paperclip ads as well . . . [SS] . . .

Andrew: That’s Yelp. Oh you do do that. How effective is that?

Rohan: Yelp paperclip works well. It actually converts better than Ad Words probably, you know, ad words if we’re doing it is 6%. I think Yelp is doing 12% convert so it’s really good. But we got a lot more traffic on Google of course so . . .

Andrew: OK.

Rohan: . . . we end up getting more clients in Google, yeah. But the other thing is social media.

Andrew: Yes, let’s talk about that. That’s what you learned from the previous businesses and it helped you get started in the beginning. What have you done there with social media?

Rohan: OK. So I mean social media was really what kicked things off for us. So when I started because I had all these relationships with bloggers, I created this 12 days of Christmas giveaway where for the first 12 days of Christmas, December 1st through December 12th, we had 12 BC blogs give away prizes from BC companies, restaurants and so on.

Andrew: All 12 on each day promoted one company that was going to give away something?

Rohan: Yes.

Andrew: OK.

Rohan: Yes, but all 12 would actually just help the, 11 blogs would help the 12 blogs that actually had the contest running under a site. So it was one . . .

Andrew: Oh, I see. So the contest would be on just one site and then all the bloggers would promote that one page and then on that page was a contest for the one business?

Rohan: Exactly.

Andrew: OK. So the incentive for these companies that, for these sites that are promoting is on one of these 12 days they’re going to get a burst of traffic, lots of local recognition, got you and something to give away. Got it.

Rohan: Yes. So, I came up with that idea. I contacted eleven other blogs and they were like, “We’re on board.”

Andrew: Who’s the biggest site?

Rohan: The biggest site was, was another 365 Things to do in D.C. site. And, they’re owned by a larger marketing company and at the time, they had 50,000 Facebook fans in D.C. So, because I was a person who came up with the idea and got it going, I was able to position the free cleaning for Maids in Black on the biggest site with 50,000 Facebook fans. So, and this is what we did for 12 days. At the end of that time, so in order to enter the contest, you had to Tweet it. Post it to Tweet and Tweeter, about it. And, so you would Tweet, enter the contest. Your friends would see it. They’d want to enter. So, they would Tweet to enter. And, then it would just grow and grow and grow and grow. So, over the twelve days we had more than a thousand retweets of the contest. We had like thousands and thousands of previews. My traffic jumped by probably 500%. It was insane and the restaurants, they were happy. I was happy for Maids In Black because we got a quick jump and so like social media is what really kicked things off. Better than Craig’s List. Better than Google. That’s what really kicked things off for Maids In Black.

Andrew: How did it impact your search engine authorization?

Rohan: I think it did because by the time the contest was over, we were. We are a free site. And, remember I had just really launched a month before. So, all those tweeter links, all the links on other blogs. We got mentioned in the Washington Post about it. All those links being fired at Maids in Black and the blogs. It was crazy. It was a PR [??] by the time we were done.

Andrew: And, there was something though, along the way, that depressed you. So nice high from that. Great big wind using social media to raise your profile in the area to get some customers. You’re building this business up and then something happens with one of your teams that depresses you. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Rohan: Yeah, well, I think. Here’s what I think it is. We had one of our teams quit. And, it was actually our best team at that time. Our best team at the time quit on us. I almost can’t remember the circumstances under which they quit. But, they quit on us. It was coming up to Christmas time. We already had fewer teams than we needed to get through the holidays and that was a big blow. So, we had to, I think, reschedule jobs at the last minute. Cancel jobs. And, it was really going to be the time where I felt I wouldn’t make the most money possible right before Christmas. So, you know, at that time, if there were a time that I was going to stop doing this, that would have been the time.

Andrew: You actually considered not doing it anymore.

Rohan: Yes. I considered not doing it anymore.

Andrew: Because the people part of this really takes its toll, I imagine.

Rohan: Yeah.

Andrew: It does.

Rohan: I’m stressed sometimes because there’s so much going on and so I spend a lot of my time just outing fires. And, if I were to be free enough to spend more time at just doing the marketing, it would be awesome. [??] and I could come up with more ideas. I’d run around. Get more clients. Run the metrics and do the things that I enjoy. But, that’s like maybe 5% of my time. You know only like 5% that’s spent. You know, dealing with teams. Keeping them motivated. Dealing with clients. Having them understand when we make mistakes, when we’re stuck in traffic even. Whatever else. So, yeah, the people part of it is 95% of the business.

Andrew: And still this is what Warren Buffett might call a moat around your business. The fact that a lot of people don’t want to get into a business that’s so people intense means that you reduce your competition. A lot of people that do want to get into it can’t compete with you on day one because over time you’ve established relationships with cleaning people. You established procedures for what happens when even the best cleaning people who you work with end up having trouble. You establish relationships with customers that all adds up creating this barrier to those in competition with you.

Rohan: Yeah, I think that’s true. It’s not an industry where you can, like, your typical Internet marketing industry where you can throw up a landing page that your Google Ads go in and throw some traffic at it and see how it converts. That would be awesome, but it is not the case, so there’s so much more going on. And, I was, I said on Reddit, it’s really, you can’t even look at it as I’m running a business. I’m more solving a million tiny problems that are never ending. But, at the end of the day, if I just try to fix a problem one problem at a time, and really, really fix them before I go on to the next one, I think that I can continue to do well. But, yeah, it’s a never ending list of needle picks we have to solve.

Andrew: And you did solve this. You’ve brought them back on board, right, this team that left you?

Rohan: Yeah.

Andrew: You also, to make sure that people were doing the job that they wanted, as individuals being held accountable and the way that you as a team were held accountable on yelp, you created something that I talked about at the top of the interview, which is a rating system. What’s, can we actually give this to the audience? I know it’s kind of a private page on your site.

Rohan: It’s kind of a private page on my site, yes.

Andrew: It’s not meant for your customers to see. Should I include it or not?

Rohan: You can include it, but I don’t think, don’t include the actual link.

Andrew: OK. I’m not going to even say the link here. I saw it. Describe to people what basically is going on on this page.

Rohan: Right. And to keep with my theme of applying things that you would find Internet companies doing to local unsexy business. I got this idea from 37signals. They do Basecamp, Highrise and so on. A very popular site, really, really good folks over there. I currently use Basecamp now, and it’s awesome. So at 37signals, they made a blog post where they would let their clients rate how happy they are with their service. And, so what we do, when your teams go out, at seven p.m. each day, the clients receive an email that asks them to rate their experience with the team. Before we used to send out surveys, but the survey completion rate was maybe three or four percent if that high. But, with this email, it’s three faces: a smiley face, another face that’s kind of a blank face, and then a third face like a frown. And, the clients can just click one of them to indicate their experience with the actual cleaning teams. And that click has accumulated over time to create a percentage. So, for any team we can look and see what percentage of that team’s clients were happy with their service. And that’s how I can see the teams are doing really, really well. If you’re over 90 percent or actually over 85 percent or so, you’re doing really well. And the teams that do well, they get most jobs. They get what you would consider the better paying jobs. They get more recurring jobs, so it’s actually easier work. So there are all these incentives for the teams to go out and do a really, really good job because the customer is going to rate them every day.

Andrew: And one of the reasons why I didn’t want to give this publicly is because anyone who sees this would say, “Oh, these guys are cheating. It’s not the most statistically important number, because I see one person, for example, had only two ratings. And then they had 75 percent grade or something.” Or one rating and it’s 75. It’s basically, you’re just getting started, and the more data you get the more accurate it becomes. This point it’s not the most accurate, it’s just a good indication of where things are going. Also, this page says “some text here”. So, it’s clearly not meant for the public. It’s just you guys using it internally. But, it tells us what you’re doing, and it shows us how you’re evaluating your people. What else? You mentioned Reddit. I’ve got to circle back and talk about Reddit. What were you doing on Reddit?

Rohan: So, I decided, I guess it was back in June or May, I decided to talk about my experience on Reddit. I’ve been a part of the Reddit community for a while, and I’ve got a lot from there. So, I felt like this was an opportunity for me to give back a little. And, so I went on the entrepreneur sub-Reddit and gave a talk about my experience, how quickly I was able to replace the full time salary at my job, and decided to do a walk through, a step by step process that would show folks how it is, how easy it is to get into the service business with very, very low cost, and to do things in a smart way and dominate some local industry. So, I went through did like a from idea to launch in 30 days. And laid everything on Reddit. And it became really, really popular. And started a sub-Reddit for it. And so, it’s been fun.

Andrew: Were you doing this in real time?

Rohan: I was doing this in real time for another business, for a lawn service, yes.

Andrew: Because you said, and this works for a maid business. I took a business that was very offline and put it online. I could do the same thing. In fact, you and I, I think it was just before the summer, I talked to you and I said, “You got to come on and do an interview.” And you said, “No, wait until this business goes.” It didn’t go so well. Why not?

Rohan: Well, it didn’t go only because I stopped. And I stopped because Maids in Black just was doing so well for me financially at the time and still is. That, I needed to pivot and put more energy into Maids in Black. I had to spend time improving our systems. I turned off all the ads because I was getting more clients than we could handle. And I tell people all the time to if they really push for three or four months, it would be doing something crazy. So, I still feel that the process that I did to build Maids in Black, I could also duplicate it with the lawn service. And it’s still there. It’s built [??] and if I only have the time, I could launch that bad boy. But, I just decided to pivot back to Maids in Black because it was obviously taking off.

Andrew: And overall, your thinking is what you did by taking a business that was way offline and way out of touch with modern Internet based technology, let alone with mobile. If you just take that business and you add some of the stuff that you and I and everyone listening to us knows, like WordPress, maybe a little bit of mobile, etcetera, then it can take off. And so that could apply to lawn care. It could apply to pool cleaning. It could apply to anything that we have, pet walking maybe, pet sitting maybe. That’s your philosophy. You tried it out here on Reddit, and then you said, “I’ve got to come back.” You still believe that this is possible. You’re hoping that someone listening to us might do this. You’ve even talked to us, to me and to the team, about teaching a course on Mixergy about how to do this if people are interested. In fact, let me say this, anyone who’s interested in anything, who wants to teach something, he’s really learned a lot, as you guys can see. He wants to teach something. He’s not sure what you guys are curious about, and he’s not, from what I understand, going back to Reddit, because that must have taken a lot of time. But, he’s open to teaching something. So, if you tell me or even tell him or let us know in the comments what you’d like to learn from him, he could come here and do it. He could teach somewhere else. What is it that you guys are curious about that you’d want him to teach you how to do. Let us know in the comments, via email, directly to either one of us, and we’ll find a way to do it, the most popular or in demand thing.

Rohan: Definitely.

Andrew: Yeah, right. I can see suddenly you’re perking up. When I ask you about certain things, I see you’re, “Oh, don’t ask me about depression.” I say this, I see the enthusiasm.

Rohan: Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Andrew: Why do you like to teach? Why do you want to be distracted by teaching?

Rohan: I don’t know why, actually. Because people ask me, why go share everything on Reddit or why do this? And, I could come up with a few reasons. I don’t know if any of them are the real reason, because when I first start posting on Reddit, people were like, “Oh, so, we can expect affiliate links anytime now.” Or something. They thought I was in it to make money off of Reddit or whatever. Still not a single affiliate link. So, I haven’t done anything like that. I feel like there are a couple of reasons that I can think of. One of them has to do with just raising the level of the industry. So, right now, the cleaning industry, just like local industries in general, is a lot of exploitation. There is terribly segmented. It’s an industry that needs some improvement. And just locally in general, electricians, plumbers, cleaning, the whole home service provider is like, there are a lot of problems to be solved. And I feel like in sharing my experience I can maybe try to help lift the industry in the whole. I know that’s kind of like, what can one guy do? But, I feel that there is some opportunity for other people to come in and improve the experience, and improve the reputation of the industry. That will only just help me as well. I get a lot of clients. They’re so surprised. They send us an email, and we respond in ten minutes. And they’re like, “Thanks so much for responding.” when that should just be a normal thing, right? That’s all. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m so like into sharing my experiences. And also I feel like there a lot of people that are just stuck. And they were like me two or three years ago. They have dreams and things that they want to do with their lives and they’re just stuck. And they’re stuck in a job that they hate, going to and there are a lot of opportunities that are not really, really capital intensive and you don’t have to be super, super smart to pull it off and I don’t lose anything by sharing. It feels good so I can share and get people going. So, those things I think are.

Andrew: You guys came a long way. When you were growing up, you were selling. What did you used to sell as a kid?

Rohan: I was selling lettuce. Growing up we used to sell, I told you, this is like my first affiliate program. So I was like maybe eight, nine, ten years old. We used to sell lettuce. So, there was a lady in my neighborhood. She had a lettuce farm and back home, on Sundays, you eat lettuce 100% guaranteed. It’s part of the meal. So, we would go to her home, get the lettuce on consignment, go out on our bikes, door to door and sell it. And, you know, for each one we’d make $0.25 and you know, we paid her $0.75. So, we’d sell it for $1 and we’d make $0.25 on it. And I did that, happily, on Saturday mornings I was so happy to go sell my lettuce. So, I’ve always felt I’ve always had, as crazy as that sounds, I’ve always had that bent to kind of be creative and just to do something beyond a nine to five like stable, corporate safe job. I was inspired. I just, I didn’t always have the tools to pull it off. Like I wanted to make this level of freedom and do whatever I wanted to do with my life. That was it. True story, bro. True story.

Andrew: For real? This was in Barbados?

Rohan: This is in Barbados. Yep.

Andrew: Let me do a quick plug and then I want to ask you about one other thing. Jeremy asked you a whole bunch of questions in preparation for this interview and the last question that he asked you was what did we miss? And, I want to ask you about your response. Don’t worry if you don’t remember it. I’ve got it here. I just want you to dig into what we missed because if it is important and we didn’t ask it, it’s important for the audience to hear it.

And the plug is, of course, guys, if you’re listening. What happens at Mixergy is we have interviews, hundreds of interviews and I really urge you as a premium member to go through listen to those interviews. Have them as like a background music in your life because the stories, like the one you just heard here today will impact you. An idea that you heard here today, I guar-freaking-antee you is going to impact you at some point in the future. It’s not like you’re going to sit down and say “Rohan did this and I’m going to do.” Maybe you do it. Maybe you don’t. But you might find yourself with an opportunity that you wouldn’t have noticed before because this conversation sensitized you. You might find yourself doing something as you build your business because Rohan sensitized you. We didn’t talk about how Rohan drops off a bottle of wine when he goes, has his cleaning people when he goes to serve a client. That little touch shows up on Yelp. I guarantee that little thing is going to stick in your mind. You’re going to say, “What’s my bottle of wine? What’s the site like Yelp where I can go look for someone who has just one star or my competitor? See where they get a star so that I can learn where they fail so I can see where I can succeed.” One of those things are going to stick in your mind, help make your life better. I guarantee it. I guarantee it. And as a premium member you get access to hundreds of interviews where these opportunities just keep coming into your life. Just listen to them on your road trip over the holidays. Listen to them on your commute to work and you’ll see things happen.

And we also have courses which are exclusive just to premium members and I hope Rohan and I will get to do a course. You guys tell us what you want to learn, but we have dozens of entrepreneurs who come on to teach you how to tell stories in a way that will make you more persuasive. How to build a team of people outside of the country if you can’t yet afford a full team in your office? How to find out sources? How to find revenue? How to make calls and bring in customers? All those things other entrepreneurs know and I ask them as friends of mine to come here and teach it to you. No ulterior motives. No affiliate links in there. Nothing except they want to teach what they are especially good at and if you’re a Mixergy Premium member you get access to it all and I urge you to go in there and just find one or two that speak to you today and listen to them. And, if you’re not go to and sign up. You will see a major impact in your life. I guarantee you. And, if you don’t, of course, we’ll give you your money back and I will say in addition to the impact you have on your life, you’re impacting thousands if not some point in the future, hundreds of thousands and I hope millions of people will listen to Mixergy.

As a premium member, you’re supporting the work here, making sure we spend a lot of time to get good guests. Rohan did not come the first time we asked him. It took him a while because he’s running a business. Once he did come, we didn’t want him to just come on here and hope that something good is going to come out. We did our research, we did our pre-interview, and premium members fund all that. I say this all the time, and I’ve got to say it again, thank you for being a premium member if you are. You’re helping to keep this thing going and I hope it’s going to have impact on your life. As I said, more and more people, I’m dedicating my life to make sure that more people get this, and thanks to you, I can do that.

Rohan: Yes.

Andrew: That was a little long. I got a little passionate there.

Rohan: That was awesome. You deserve to be passionate. You’re doing some awesome work.

Andrew: Thank you.

Rohan: You deserve to be passionate about it. You build it, man, you build it.

Andrew: Thanks. This is a dream of mine as a kid to be able to do this stuff. We didn’t talk about the fact that for a large part of the time, you had a job while you were building this business. That meant, for example, you were in a board meeting once, and what happened?

Rohan: For most of this ride I’ve been employed. I was in a board meeting and we had one of my emergencies. We had an issue, I can’t remember now what that issue was, but I had a team texting me continuously. At that time I had no idea about customer service or anything, from beginning to end. I had to run out, tell everyone that I was going to the bathroom, call the team back, figure out what was going on. I went to my computer to do something, I can’t remember what, and head back to the board meeting. When people say, “I have a full time job and I don’t want to quit my job and take that risk.” I say don’t. Don’t quit your job. There are no guarantees in starting a business. If you’re working a full time job, there are ways that you can be creative to make it work. I used to wake up at 5:30 and I would work until 8:00, get dressed and be at work at 9:00, work at lunchtime, get home at 6:30 and then work until midnight. I did that for months. I happen to be single so, maybe, it makes it easier for me in some ways, I have no kids. Things can be done. You may work on the weekends, you may work on Sundays. I waited until I was making almost twice as my regular job before I quit. I was scared, really, I was afraid. I always talk about having fear and being realistic and rational. I was afraid so I kept waiting and waiting and I kept putting it off until I finally thought, I cannot do this anymore.

Andrew: It’s an inspiring story. Congratulations on how far you’ve come. Every time I have notes on you, they go out of date because the business gets bigger and bigger. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Thank you for doing this interview.

Rohan: Thank you. I hope people get a lot out of it and I hope I wasn’t talking to fast because my accent comes out a little bit more when I get excited.

Andrew: Let it come out my friend. If anyone got anything out of this, you know what I always say at the end of these interviews, if you get anything out of my interviews, or a blog post that you read, or even a book that you read, find a way to connect with the person who you got that value out of and say thank you. I remember there was one guy who I thought would not want to hear thank you. I interviewed Dan Pena. At the end of the interview I happened to mention that he’s doing an interview from his castle in Scotland, and if anyone in the audience happens to be in Scotland, go visit the castle, I thought there were visiting hours. He gives me this look like, “Don’t send people into my house.” I think he even said, “I have security to kick out riff -raff. ” He’s the guy who said he flew out to choke the guy who he wanted to fire because he was so mad at them. Literally, flew out to choke him.

I thought, if anyone sent him a thank you note, this guy is not going to respond, at best, or he’s going to say, “Why are you polluting my inbox?” Not only did he not do that, but I’ve been watching people email him and watching his response because he CC’s me or BCC’s me on them. They send him these long emails about how moved they were and he responds to every point in red letters point by point and helps them out. I’m not saying people should expect that from Dan or any other guest. What I’m saying is, nobody hates being thanked and if you’ve got any value out of this interview, find a way to say what I’m about to say to Rohan which is, I want to thank you for doing this interview.

Rohan: You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.

Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for being a part of it.

Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.