INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Staying Optimistic After Catching COVID Twice and 80% of Your Business Vanishes
We talked to Ana Andres, founder of TidyChoice, about the cleaning business and this is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ana Andres: Over the past year, my husband, my son, and I have all managed to catch Covid twice! My son had no symptoms whilst my husband and I had only mild flu-like symptoms. We feel lucky.
At the moment, my five-year-old son Daniel is home-schooling and my husband and I are working from home. Like many, we are looking forward to schools reopening and lockdown ending!
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded TidyChoice.
Ana Andres: I grew up in Barcelona and am a natural-born engineer. When I was young, I was always interested in machines. I loved pulling them apart to study their complex, intricate systems and understand how all the different parts worked together. I also love traveling and lived and worked in France and the US before moving to London 10 years ago. After an engineering degree, I obtained a Ph.D. in Telecommunications Engineering and Computer Science. My career journey so far has included working in tech research, product development, and technology consulting. Then, I founded my tech start-up, TidyChoice.
TidyChoice is an online platform for domestic cleaning and housekeeping services in London. We launched five years ago and have been growing steadily ever since. I started the company because I needed to find a reliable cleaner quickly and could not find one. So, I decided to use my technological know-how to create an easy way to find reliable professionals online. Domestic cleaning is a very fragmented, traditional sector with outmoded practices, so I was excited by the commercial opportunity as well.
How does TidyChoice innovate?
Ana Andres: We never settle on our ways and are always looking to stay ahead of the competition. We are continuously looking to improve our processes and offer a better user experience on our platform.
We encourage everyone in our team to suggest ideas for improvements. We test ideas manually, run experiments and if the idea works well, we invest in tech and automation. My scientific background is useful when it comes to testing new ideas!
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Ana Andres: The first lockdown was a shock! Activity levels fell by around 80% in the first week after lockdown. We needed to take lots of action to survive the pandemic.
Creating Covid-secure services and building customer trust and confidence was critical. Clear and frequent communication with both customers and professionals was also important because there was quite a lot of confusion about the impact of restrictions on housekeepers working in peoples’ homes. We are grateful for Government schemes that helped us to plug a financial gap and to keep our entire team together. We were also concerned about the financial welfare of professionals so created tools for customers to pause bookings and make contributions to their housekeepers.
Like many other businesses, we had to adapt to remote working. There are many great tech tools for remote working, so we transitioned quite easily. As 2020 progressed, business picked up again and we are grateful to our loyal customer base who stayed with us throughout the pandemic.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Ana Andres: Our most important lesson during the pandemic was getting messaging right. When the first lockdown was announced we scrutinized government guidance carefully and correctly concluded that housekeepers could continue to work. However, our message was not good, and we received negative feedback from some customers. We had to send a clarification email. We could have been better at messaging. The most difficult choices are always about people. Having to cut hours and salary for some time was difficult.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Ana Andres: In the first 5 years of existence, TidyChoice headquarters moved three times as we got bigger. We are used to changing environments. Pre-Covid, our team worked together in the office but we have also been flexible about working remotely and using video calls. All our products and office technology are in the cloud. We were very well prepared for the effects of the pandemic on the workplace.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ana Andres: There are hundreds of cleaning companies in and around London. We have managed to grow steadily and become profitable. We have one of the strongest booking retention rates in the sector and this is the key to our success.
It is important for our revenue stream that bookings are retained over time and our high customer retention rate is unusual in a sector renowned for high levels of attrition. We believe this is because we offer great value for money and customers’ ability to browse vetted cleaner profiles and reviews online before choosing their cleaner. This is pretty unique. Our operations are hyper-efficient which allows us to scale. We have a strong technology focus and continuous innovation keeps us ahead of the competition.
Your final thoughts?
Ana Andres: My final thoughts go to all the people greatly impacted by Covid. For many professionals on our platform, the pandemic has been a tough challenge. We have also seen customers struggle. In these hard times, people show the best of themselves. Some customers have kept their service active and paid their cleaner even if the cleaner could not work. Such generosity fills us with optimism. I think that we will look back on 2020 as just a bump on the road.
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