Dr. Sebastian Schneider, Co-Founder of ExtraSauber tells us how customers book certified cleaners and special cleaning services on its online platform.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dr. Sebastian Schneider: We have come through this pandemic safe and sound so far. My wife and I have two little children; the younger one was born during the second lockdown in Germany in November. Compared to other parents with children who are already going to school, we are extremely lucky – at least we don’t have to deal with all that homeschooling stress.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded ExtraSauber.
Dr. Sebastian Schneider: Christian and I were best friends at school. We toured Scandinavia and Romania by bike and graduated from high school together. After that, we kind of lost sight of each other: I studied business informatics, Christian business education – but the entrepreneurial gene has always slumbered in both of us. Christian ended up in Romania, where he founded two smaller firms that still exist today, and then started working for a consulting company in Vienna. I worked for a Legal Tech startup after finishing my doctorate. During this time, we came up with the idea for ExtraSauber – an online platform where customers can legally and transparently book cleaners that have been checked by us in a thorough review process in advance. This made us stand out from the crowd since the black market for cleaning services, especially in the private sector, is huge.
Christian and you are from Germany; why did you launch ExtraSauber in Austria in 2014?
Dr. Sebastian Schneider: There were several reasons for this: First, neither of us lived in Germany at that time. In addition, two competitors launched in Germany with several million Euros of funding. Shortly before that, the industry’s pioneer Homejoy was founded, and Google invested a huge amount. We, on the other hand, wanted to set up our business largely without external financial help. In Austria, we were able to act and grow under the radar, so to speak. We quickly became the market leader there and are now also available in Germany and Switzerland. Homejoy doesn’t even exist anymore – we still do.
How does ExtraSauber innovate?
Dr. Sebastian Schneider: Our innovation slogan is, “Just do it!” We take fast actions and decisions. This means testing ideas immediately when they pop up and observing how the market reacts to them – instead of thinking them through to the smallest detail. If the prototype is well received, we expand and improve it gradually. When we founded ExtraSauber, we offered cleaning staff on eBay classified ads and even offline in local newspapers, for example, without having a big IT System running in the background like today.
How did ExtraSauber react to Covid?
Dr. Sebastian Schneider: We followed the exact same principle: When we noticed that the bookings were dropping immensely – in March 2020 they went down to zero – we quickly introduced a new concept: We started offering special cleaning services such as intensive and disinfectant cleaning, the cleaning of houses after renovation, pools, windows, winter gardens and parking facilities, to only name a few. We did pretty well with that: A one-time, major cleaning was easier to sell than a normal home cleaning, as customers were still too worried about the risk of contagion in the early days of the pandemic. This concept has also helped the cleaning companies registered with us to get through the crisis. We are constantly expanding this new idea. By now, there is almost nothing that cannot be cleaned via ExtraSauber.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business finances?
Dr. Sebastian Schneider: The good news: Corona didn’t throw us off course. We are definitely not a winner of the crisis. We recorded massive losses in our home market in Austria plus an almost complete standstill of our business at the beginning of the pandemic. However, Covid didn’t hold us back; instead, we utilized the crisis as a booster: We expanded in Germany and Switzerland, the growth there was higher than the losses in Austria. Sure, without Corona, we would be in a much better position. Nevertheless, we are grateful that we were able to manoeuvre our company so well through this crisis and are very optimistic about the future.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources?
Dr. Sebastian Schneider: Instead of reducing staff, we even hired new employees during the pandemic. The next job advertisements are already online.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Dr. Sebastian Schneider: We do not hide behind expensive hotlines. Instead, we can be reached by our customers personally at any time via direct communication channels such as phone and e-mail, where we try to offer the best possible service. But not only maintaining good customer relationships is important to us. We wouldn’t exist without the cleaning companies that register on our platform. For us, they are partners on equal terms: We help them wherever we can protect them from customers who do not pay and provide them with everything they need for professional cleaning. Last year, for example, we started our own online shop where cleaners can buy ecological cleaning products at a special price, which we now even manufacture ourselves. In addition, the first training videos for the “ExtraSauber Academy”, where cleaners can get trained to further increase their professional cleaning skills, have just been completed.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Dr. Sebastian Schneider: Before Corona, we decided to take out a bank loan. Of course, this is no grant in the traditional sense since we have to repay it in full. It still helped us through 2020: We were thus able to continue on our chosen path and continue to grow.
What are your final thoughts?
Dr. Sebastian Schneider: The pandemic was an interesting experience for us as a company. Now we are looking forward to better times that are sure to follow!