On Tuesday, April 15 2014, OLC attended Pivotal Labs in San Francisco where Meetup group Startup Grind had a fireside chat with Adora Cheung from Homejoy. Adora talked about her story about how her brother Aaron and her started Homejoy.
P: Perri Blake
A: Audora Cheung
P: Tell us about your younger years?
A: I grew up with a fairly normal childhood. My parents moved every couple of years, so that was kind of difficult, but managed to get through it. I didn’t know anything about startups until I went to grad school.
P: What got you into coding?
A: My parents are both programmers themselves. My mom had the biggest influence with me getting into coding, but my dad also encouraged us (my siblings) to major in engineering. Some of did.
P: What do you think you learned and or mistakes you made with your first startup?
A: We weren’t working on a problem we weren’t really passionate about and that can really change the entire experience. If you’re not passionate about something, you don’t end up working as hard as you could/should.
P: Slide was your first startup, tell us more.
A: I was running product for all our FB applications. The FB platform evolved from games to a more social aspect. We focused on games and I don’t really like games. I was there for a year and a half and felt like I learned enough and moved on. As FB was changing so did the things users were doing on there.
P: What’s it like to cofound a company with your brother?
A: It was pretty easy going. Our skills complimented each other and things worked out. It could have gone the other way, but luckily it didn’t. We have an older brother and sister and WE know we can’t work with them.
P: When you first started, did start building something first or apply to a YC?
A: Pathjoy was what I started working on and we started building it first before we applied to anything. I wanted to make something that made people happy back in 2009. We eventually filled out a few applications and had a few interviews and we finally got accepted to a YC down in Mountain View.
P: How did the YC help you?
A: The program was a good time-box (a time frame to get something created). When you are given a time limit you tend to work harder when there is a deadline. There is also a network of massively helpful people who are all pretty willing to help you. We were able to use these people to help us make smart moves.
P: You had a journey between YC and fundraising, tell us about it?
A: It’s a long story, but to sum it up. After my first investor pitch I got 150k and I thought it was easy, I was 1 for 1. When it came to raising the next round, I had about 40 meetings with all the VC’s saying, “no, no, no.” I think the main reason was we didn’t have any traction. Being able to show traction really matters in these meetings. We went through about 1000 days of rough times (the dark ages). People say a startup is like a roller coaster, ours was like a peak then a massive massive drop, it was rough, but we eventually pulled through.
P: Take us back to how you came across the problem that made you create HomeJoy
A: It was very coincidental. Back in 2012 when my former startup was running out of money I had to take out a few credit cards to have some cash. I spent a lot of time at my brother’s apartment in Mountain View and it was pretty gross inside. I didn’t even want to use his bathroom. I would walk 3 blocks away and use a local spot to use their bathroom. One day my brother felt like it was time to clean his apartment. He wanted to find a cleaner but wanted to find a referral. If you don’t know many people or have any friends, it makes this harder. Without a referral, you can end up paying 40 - 50 bucks an hour, at that rate; I’d need to take another credit card out (joke). Aaron felt like there was a better way to find trust worthy people to clean the house. We thought we could do something better. So we started doing some research and we found that the big price margins were due to the operations. There were a lot of humans involved to make bookings happen in the cleaning industry.
We felt like we could make a platform for cleaners to find their own customers. We ended up building the platform over night. After getting a few clients, we had no cleaners. So, Aaron and I started doing the cleaning, but we knew nothing about professional cleaning. We ended up buying some books, but this didn’t work either. We then decided a professional cleaning service should train us. I ended up going to get a job at a cleaning company. Finding the job was even a struggle.
I ended up getting a job with a local San Francisco cleaning service and I learned how to clean.
P: After taking that experience, how did you start to accelerate?
A: After a few weeks of learning what I needed, I quit the company. It was exhausting and I had to spend a lot of time in traffic. After the cleaning job I would come home and work on the site and get a few hours of sleep and drive back up to the city early in the morning to miss traffic and sleep in my car until it was time to g to work.
We were getting more customers and cleaners in the door and it was all happening little by little. We counted on a lot of organic growth, but it was not fast enough.
After some luck of raising 50k from some angel investors, we moved the company to San Francisco where we knew it would have a better chance of succeeding.
P: Moved to SF, started getting busy, tell us what happened next
A: We had a team growing but needed more money and a larger team. I ran around the town talking to everyone I could.
P: What about TaskRabbit, do you think you are competing with them?
A: I don’t think we are that similar, but we kind of share the same concept of people’s time and having flexible work, but we are focused on a niche, not just any kind of task.
P: How much do you feel like you’ve been able to impact people’s lives?
A: We have thousands of professionals on our platform and I know some of these people are using our service to feed and support their family. Some of the cleaners are new moms or single mothers that don’t have time to work a normal job, so our platform allows us to let them take care of themselves.