How We Bootstrapped a $20K Website into a $4M/year Business

When MyClean started 3 years ago, we did everything the hard way. The founders of our company are all non-technical – our CEO is a former derivatives salesman – and other founders had backgrounds in marketing and finance. We outsourced design and development for a cleaning website that allows customers to book appointments online, semi-automates scheduling, and emails cleaners their schedule. Until we hired a product manager a few months ago, there wasn’t a single full-time employee or founder who knew how to write HTML or open a .PSD. Using this simple platform from 3 years ago – the design hasn’t even been changed since then – we’ve bootstrapped our business into something to be proud of. Long story short – we hustled, cleaned and persevered.

Things were never easy. When our server crashed, we called our out-sourced developer in Canada and prayed he wasn’t at the movies with his girlfriend. When we needed to offer customers gift cards and keep up with the competition, we stuck some text in a random corner of our site. Though our site definitely never won a Webby award, it still brought in traffic from Google and converted ~ 7% of visitors into customers. Before the cleaning space was crowded and other competitors arrived with millions in VC money – MyClean managed to bootstrap a successful online cleaning business through sheer grit and integrity, focusing on excellent customer service and properly training our cleaners/employees.

That being said, we definitely iterated with our model before getting it right. Originally we tried an “uber” model and outsourced customer appointments to 3rd party cleaning agencies. The results were what you’d expect (almost all of our 1 star Yelp reviews are from those days). After trying that, we went back to the drawing board and decided to in-house all cleaners. We brought on a stellar VP of Operations, Ken Schultz. He shocked his in-laws when he told them he wanted to put his Ivy League education and law degree to work as the first executive hire at a cleaning company (without telling them he worked for pure sweat equity for 6 months because there was no money to pay him). While he fine-tuned the operations, our CEO Mike Scharf pounded the pavement and built the commercial side of the business through door-to-door sales. Meanwhile, our amazing customer service reps worked 6 day weeks to handle residential clients continuing to come in from our website. The stage was set for a real business to take off.

In less than three years, from September 2010 to April 2013, we’ve grown monthly revenue from $15,000 to more than $300,000 – 2000% growth! Though we may have possessed a website that looked like it was from 1998, we sure as heck could clean homes and offices! MyClean now employs ~100 cleaners and is on track to reach $4,000,000 in revenue this year. Years of doing things the hard way have forced us to focus on our main product – the clean. We’ve thrilled thousands of happy customers at their homes and offices, and it’s for that reason alone that we’ve been a successful company. However, we’re now at the point where we can truly invest in our technology, and we’ve hired a full-time product manager/dev team to launch a brand new site for us this month (more coming soon next week)!

As we continue to grow, we’re turning into more of a tech-oriented culture of conversion rates, page-load speeds, cohorts, and metrics, but we’ll never forget the foundation of our startup’s success: pure hustle, happy cleaners, and thrilled customers. Next time someone tells you that you can’t start a successful online startup without a technical co-founder on-board, order him or her a maid on MyClean.com. Just be prepared to do things the hard way.

Lessons learned:

Pick a big market. Choosing a proven $65B/year home cleaning market provided a lot of margin for error while growing revenues. In new or unproven markets, you can strike out much faster – think of the difference between Color vs. Instagram in finding product/market fit – despite the funding.

Turn hard things into easy things. Hiring a house cleaner is not rocket science, but it’s not as easy as ordering a book on Amazon. Building a platform that made the process easier was an opportunity hidden in plain site.

Focus on your strengths. Our founders weren’t technical, but they had backgrounds in sales, finance, marketing, and operations. As non-technical founders, choosing to focus on their strengths instead of role-playing Steve Jobs paid off.

Don’t focus on what’s sexy – focus on what’s profitable. Starting an online cleaning company 3 years didn’t sound sexy – but nowadays there’s no less than two Y-Combinator companies and many other venture backed startups in this space.

See how we became the best cleaning service in NYC on Yelp!

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23 Thoughts on “How We Bootstrapped a $20K Website into a $4M/year Business

  1. Congrats. Not very often we hear about stories of true grit and execution beating out the competition and winning.

  2. Wilbur on April 17, 2013 at 6:23 pm said:

    Can you talk about what was involved in taking it from an outsource-to-other-cleaning-companies operation to a we-employ-our-own-cleaners one? How does that affect your employment operations and costs, your taxes, what’s involved in hiring people, etc?

  3. Great article and commentary. As a technical founder myself I have a lot of respect for what you guys have done. You guys leveraged your strengths and worked with other talented people to fill in the gaps on your weaknesses.

    FWIW, the biggest weakness of technical founders is that we fail to do this ourselves! Check out http://joshpadnick.com/2011/04/the-technical-founder-strengths-and-weaknesses/ to see more.

    Thanks for posting.

  4. Good read; nice to hear about a “disruption” around something more or less tangible.

    First random thought: AirBnB could promote this to busy property owners of popular and high priced listings. Maybe add a cute “super clean!” badge to the listing. Not sure about the economics, but who knows…

  5. In-house cleaning staff doesn’t sound scalable.

    What went wrong with outsourced cleaners?

  6. Wow, good job, buys.
    Thanks for that motivation :-)

  7. Thank you Lelala, we’re happy to motivate and help all potential small business owners! Mike

  8. Hello Exim, it depends on your definition of scale but with the processes we have in place to hire, train, and develop our employee’s we can build a nice business. When we outsourced our core service (in our case the clean) in a subjective business like cleaning we ran into quality control issues.

  9. Thank you for the positive feedback and the suggestion Mike. We have tried to reach out to AirBnB a times but so far have been unsuccessful. If you have any contacts there we would love to chat with them :) If not, stay awesome! Mike

  10. Thank you for the positive feedback Josh and for sharing your awesome blog article with us. It looks like you have built an amazing business with Omedix and we wish you lots of continued success. Mike

  11. Thanks Eugene, we appreciate the support! Mike

  12. Great article. Helps in motivating me while I start a new company.

  13. Wow, what a great story, and inspirational. Congrats on all the success.

    What made you chose this market, and where did you go to research
    what a profitable market it is for yearly revenue?

    You mention finding a product market fit, I am interested in hearing more
    about that. Never even heard of Color until I read this article.

    ~Merlin

  14. How did you source your development team and was not having a technical person with skin in the game a detriment? Would you do that again? Could you replicate this experience today?

  15. Thats the sort of story aspiring entrepreneurs should hear more often than big funding/headliners from facebook. Thanks for the story, it helps me to focus on better execution.

  16. Thank you for the positive feedback Grant, appreciate it! Mike

  17. Hello Robbin, we used referrals to find our outsourced team. Not having a technical person was definitely a detriment and hiring Mike Brody has really helped us get to the next level!

  18. Can you explain how you get the word out? As sales and business side, what did you do to let people know about your new services?

  19. Man.. this is inspiring stuff! We just started a cleaning company in Toronto and hopefully we’ll grow that big like you guys. Congratz on the success and continue to keep it up! :)

  20. Nice article.

    What do you guys have planned for the future? Franchising?

    We are just starting out on MSC – but we have done something similar (built a system that helps us do the heavy lifting).

    All the best.

    John

  21. Saw your post on Hacker News about how you guys turned this business into a 4 mill a year business. Congrats!

    You should definitely change your blog’s permalinks/url structure to be more keyword rich!
    Instead of http://www.myclean.com/blog/?p=452 it should be something like: http://www.myclean.com/blog/we-turned-a-$20k-cleaning-company-website-into-a-into-a-$4-million-a-year-company

    It would greatly help your SEO.

    Also (salespitch)…
    I would love to help you save on your printed marketing materials.

    Please let me know if you need anything.
    Thanks!

    Sincerely,
    Chris Milas

  22. Hey Chris,

    Glad you liked the post. Thanks for the tip on changing our permalink structure! We’ll definitely look into it!

    Best,

    Mike

  23. Interesting and inspirational story, I would love to know more about MyClean, very extra ordinary idea turned into something huge.

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