Mopp founders Pete Dowds and Tom Brooks went from working in the city to taking on the cleaning industry with an innovative and simple model. Lawyer, Pete and trader, Tom have taken on the challenge of running a startup and done well so far seeing significant growth in the 14 months they've been running Mopp.
First can you give me a bit of background to yourselves:
We’ve been best friends since University, meeting in our first year at Sheffield. We’d always talked about starting a business together but felt it was important to get some solid business experience first. So after 5 years working in the City (and a few failed business venture ideas along the way!) we came up with the idea for Mopp and realised that was the idea that was going to fly.
So what is Mopp?
Mopp is an online platform to book a trusted cleaner for your home for a flat rate of £10 per hour.
What was the inspiration for it?
We threw a party at our flat around Christmas-time in 2012, and spent ages looking for a cleaner the next day without success. All the companies we called were cash in hand, had no next day availability and most wanted us to enter into a contract for a regular service. We started looking deeper into the market and saw a multi-billion pound industry that had remained resolutely offline as its customer base moved online - it was screaming out as an opportunity.
What was the tipping point for quitting your job and going to do this full time?
We had a lot of faith in the idea from the start, it just felt right (probably because we wanted to leave our jobs so badly!). We found a great way to get started was to build out a pitch deck to frame the business and go through the process of building a proper financial model to make sure the unit economics worked.
Building out a model takes time but is crucial because at the end of the day if the unit economics don’t work (e.g. customer LTV is lower than the CAC), you are going to fail. We then partnered with a developer from our old university and launched a scrappy MVP to the market within 10 weeks, and got our first customer within 3 days.
We were confident with a financial model, and after we saw immediate buy-in from customers we quit our jobs straight away to run the business full time. Personally, I don’t think it works to try and build a startup part-time. It is either all in or nothing.
What did your time working in the City teach you that you can use when building your startup?
Work hard and push yourself. 100%. Spending 5 years in the City may have had its negatives but it gave us a great grounding in working hard, surrounding yourself with super intelligent people and getting things done.
We made a conscious decision to take the positive aspects of the City with us to Mopp whilst shedding the pointless hierarchy and stupid office politics that always seemed to exist. Mopp is a meritocracy where hard work and smarts rise to the top. There’s no room for ego when you’re trying to build a successful business so ego-maniacs and non-team players don’t go far.
What have been some of the more unusual requests on Mopp?
All sorts! Off the top of my head, some of the more unusual requests we’ve had for our cleaners were to clean someone’s ears, to wash the inside of a washing machine, to clean up after a home birth, and to wear a French maid outfit… We get some pretty strange requests sometimes!
How do you recruit cleaners for the platform? Do they come to you or do you go to them?
It all boils down to trust and quality in the cleaning industry. Each Mopp cleaner will be entering a customer’s home and it is crucial that they go through a rigorous on-boarding process.
Mopp professionals initially apply online through the site, which consists of an online cleaning test as well as a formal application. We then check their references and get them in for an in-person onboarding session, and finally run a three-part background check with leading background checking provider, Onfido. Once all of this is complete, the cleaner is ready to go out for their first test clean.
You’ve been going for just over a year now, what has growth been like?
Growth has been far greater than we thought would have been possible a year ago when it was just Tom and I around our kitchen table! We have gone from doing one clean per day last April to now doing tens of thousands of hours of cleaning each month across the UK with a multi-million pound turnover run-rate. It has been a breakneck experience!
How did you get your first customers?
Our own network of friends and colleagues and good old off-line flyering! We had no capital to spend on other acquisition channels so these two channels combined with strong word of mouth kick-started Mopp. Flyering outside Canary Wharf tube station is a great way to learn how to sell your service (although brutal at times!).
Where do you currently operate and how quickly do you expect to expand into new locations?
We currently operate in most major UK cities, and will be nationwide by the end of the year.
What is your key competitive advantage over competitors?
A combination of technology, operational excellence, and great customer service. As a closed marketplace, we take significant control of the supply side of the business and this gives us a number of operational advantages. Building a bespoke tech platform for both sides of the business provides huge advantages over incumbent competitors who remain reliant on Excel and people power. Ultimately, algorithms can do in milliseconds what it takes people hours to do.
We also really focus on caring for the cleaners themselves. Our philosophy is that if you have happy cleaners, you have happy customers, so we really go out of our way to provide them with support and training. Without top quality and happy cleaning professionals, Mopp would not exist as a business so this is just as important as the technology and customer service aspects of the business.
How did you fund the business?
We bootstrapped for the first 6 months, financing everything ourselves. In June 2013 we raised a small amount from friends and family and took a loan each from Start Up Loans. We were then approached by multiple funds in autumn 2013 and closed an £800,000 Seed round in December with a leading European VC fund.
Startups are always looking for ways to market their product cheaply early on, what sort of marketing have you done?
We’re very data-driven at Mopp, and we focus on performance marketing rather than brand marketing. Each channel’s performance is tracked in every City we operate in and we are always looking for how to optimise each channel. We have also received some awesome consumer press on both a national and local basis which is great. The strongest growth driver however has been word of mouth. We have benefited from strong network effects on both sides of the marketplace, which helps us attract both customers and excellent cleaners.
How did you build your, let’s say, version one of the site? Did you have the skills or did you need to find someone else to do it? And if so, how did you find that process?
We actually contacted our old university (University of Sheffield) to find our first developer. He built the original site, which was basically a single booking page that we used to test the market. We then invited him to join the team full time to help build out the rest of the site and help us grow the company.
What was the biggest challenge you overcame in your first year in business?
Managing growth and building supply and demand simultaneously. Classic marketplace growing pains I guess!
Managing growth, not a bad problem to have! Good luck guys!
Be sure to follow Mopp's progress, here's there Twitter: @MoppUK
They also have an app and here's the app release rap video I found: