Down to its last £100 in November 2012, UK startup Hassle.com (then called Teddle) was at a crossroads: Exit the consumer space altogether, where it had been offering a local services marketplace, and try to flog its scheduling and CRM software to other businesses, or laser-focus with a new offering that lets you easily find and book a “trusted” home cleaner.
It chose the latter, raised a small seed round the following April from various angel investors, including Open Table founder David Pritchard, and, on the surface at least, hasn’t looked back since.
Today the company is announcing it’s closed a $6 million Series A from Accel Partners. Money it plans to use to expand across major cities in the UK — beyond London and Manchester — and Europe.
“We knew we had to take one thing and do it really well so we looked at all our services and picked domestic cleaning because it was the most popular on our site and had very little competition other than Gumtree and agencies,” co-founder Alex Depledge told me just over a year ago.
But a year is a long time in startup life. Since then the UK has seen a plethora of new companies move into the space. These include Housekeep, Mopp, whom we’re hearing is close to closing its own Series A funding, and heavily-funded and U.S.-based Homejoy, which crossed the pond last month. There’s also TaskRabbit, which offers domestic cleaners, and its many local competitors.
Meanwhile, Rocket Internet unveiled its own Homejoy clone, Helpling, which is currently only available in its home market of Germany, but, as is of typical of a Samwer enterprise, has big ambitions to expand elsewhere.
In other words, the domestic cleaning marketplace in the UK and Europe could be about to get messy, with no one startup yet to clean up.
The question is, will this be a winner takes all market or is there room for lots of players to co-exist? And how will Hassle, now armed with significant capital from Accel, differentiate itself from and compete with other well-funded competitors?
“Firstly, its great to have more people join us in this space. It validates the market and raises awareness amongst cleaners and customers,” says Depledge, in classic startup speak. “We were the first to bring this concept to the UK, which has helped us build loyalty with our customers and cleaners. Our customers have taught us a lot in the past year or so.”
Depledge also believes that home cleaning isn’t a commodity market. “Our major learning is that busy urbanites don’t want standard cleans. They want someone to clean their bathrooms or plump the cushions in a certain way. People have different cleaning quirks; the one size fits all approach does not work in this market,” she says.
That’s in reference to Hassle’s pitch, which includes an ability to recruit a regular cleaner, give cleaners specific instructions and tailor a clean to a customer’s unique requirements.
However, pricing is a fairly standard £10 per hour, and there is the option to book a one-off “deep” clean or a regular cleaner. After punching in your postcode, you are shown profiles of the available local cleaners on Hassle’s vetted platform for you to review, after which your request is put out to tender to the cleaners in your shortlist.
But, actually, Depledge doesn’t see similar startups, no matter how well-funded they may be, as Hassle’s primary competitors.
“We see the black-market as our major competitor and biggest threat as that is where 80-90% of Europeans currently source their domestic cleaners,” she says. “We are committed to (and constantly focus on) changing this behaviour and getting Europeans to find and book and pay online for a trusted cleaner in their local area.”
That focus appears to be paying off, if Accel’s backing is any indication. In a statement, Philippe Botteri, Partner at Accel Partners, comments: “We have been very impressed by the strength of the founding team and their passion for building a simple and exciting service for both cleaners and consumers. The momentum since launch has been staggering and we are very excited to support Hassle’s fast expansion across the UK and Europe.”