How the Developers of Hello Alfred Created a Personal Butler
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Marcela Sapone, co-founder and CEO of Hello Alfred, thinks that having a little extra help in your life should be an affordable luxury for everyone. After all, “extra help means extra time, and extra time means the freedom to live your life doing exactly what you want to do.”
Hello Alfred is an on-demand service / technology company that gives its members a personal butler who visits their home each week and works with local services to complete their to-do lists.
Sapone is especially impressive. With chief operating officer Jessica Beck, she attended Harvard Business School then gained financial and client service experience while working at McKinsey & Company. In 2014, Hello Alfred won TechCrunch Disrupt SF, and since then has raised significant funding from quality investors.
Hello Alfred isn’t just about disrupting adulthood. It’s all about creating a better quality of life for busy people. Sapone admitted that the genesis of the idea came when she realized that after working long hours she wasn’t taking care of herself. As a busy executive, she worried about how she would juggle work-life balance and asked the advice of trusted friends about what to do. Everyone she asked said the same thing: “We had help.”
Sapone’s company is headed in the right direction and has the traction to open up spot markets across the country. With Uber and dozens of on-demand services paving the way, consumers are ready and conditioned for this kind of experience.
Here’s my take-away and 4 key business lessons any start up or well established business can learn from Marcela Sapone.
1. Only fools rush in.
Sapone’s approach to her start up is different than most venture-backed businesses. Instead of jumping right in, she and team did a lot of research. Over a six-month period, they picked a spot market in Boston and tested prices and services. They analyzed tens of thousands of entries on Craig’s List for demand signals, tested different web landing pages and took surveys. They finally launched after properly validating and nullifying findings.
2. Invest in people.
Unlike Uber, Sapone’s business plan was not about creating a human-centric company then building it as big as possible without caring (more) about the people who power it. The company has received attention for hiring its Alfreds as W-2 employees and offering a starting hourly wage of $16.
Hello Alfred has had a lot of sign ups but instead of charging forward, the team controls growth until they are sure they can properly service and operationalize a neighborhood in a cost-effective way.
3. Attitude determines altitude.
Don’t underestimate the power of a positive attitude. Marcela tweeted recently, “I’ve decided the most successful VCs I’ve met have optimism genes or waterfall dopamine levels #respect #positivity as a requirement.”
4. Remember the 4 S’s: sequencing, scaling, spending and speed.
Sequencing is about experimentation and doing things in order. Hello Alfred is not launching in every city at the same time for good reason. They are taking their time to figure out unique sub-cultures and needs in each area before they jump in.
Scaling is not focusing on fires -- it’s about what’s going to have the most impact. You need to scale the business and yourself, so it’s about coaching your people and delegation.
Spending is key. It seems like a lot of start ups rush out to spend a ton of money on putting their new name on a T-shirt. Why? Sapone’s advice is to be very careful with money and remembering that fundraising is an on-going challenge. Be wise.
Speed is about how quickly you need to hit goals or get to your next market. It’s about building barriers to entry -- because as soon as you put your idea out there, you’ll see competition.
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