Annabel Palmer talks antibacterial wipes with Tom Brooks, former trader and co-founder of MOP
WHEN I talk to Tom Brooks, co-founder of the online cleaning company MOP, he and his business partner Pete Dowds are on their way to Glastonbury. After all, as Brooks informs me later in our interview, “freedom is one of the biggest perks of the job”. MOP claims to be the first cleaning business that allows you to book and pay online, and its founders hope it will become a leader in its field.
Brooks, a former trader at Marubeni, and Dowds, a former solicitor at DLA Piper, met on their first day of university. Since then, they’ve been racking their brains for a business idea that would enable them to be their own bosses. Their lightbulb moment struck one Sunday morning last October.
The night before, Brooks and Dowds had held a house party, and they were desperately in need of a cleaning lady. “It was impossible,” says Brooks. “There was no online facility, each company we found was cash in hand with hidden charges, and there was no regulated vetting process”. They did some research and soon realised there was “huge” potential in the market.
They’ve stuck to the mantra that you should know your audience, aiming their business at young professionals who are “time poor, at ease with booking and paying for a service online, and who would rather be enjoying their free time than cleaning”. The company launched eight weeks ago, and initially Brooks and Dowds retained their jobs. But they quickly got the customer validation they needed to take the plunge. And “the trouble is, unless you really commit, you can’t make your business work”.
Over the past two months, they have closed an investment round, formed partnerships – including with flat and house share website Spare Room – and have 34 cleaners working for MOP. Although Brooks claims raising money has been the biggest challenge, each person they approached – largely “old contacts” from their previous careers – agreed to invest in the company. And even more impressive is that this round of funding took less than two months to complete.
The founders are, however, looking to raise £400,000 in seed capital this October, and success will no doubt rely on take-up over the next few months. They have had 164 bookings to date – largely through referrals and word-of-mouth – and are in the process of securing other “exciting” partnerships. Brooks knows the market is saturated, but he thinks MOP offers something its competitors don’t. “Being able to book and pay online appeals to young professionals, who have little time on their hands. And all our cleaners are vetted and insured, which is reassuring to customers.” In addition, MOP plans to develop technology that will match cleaners to their nearest customers, to avoid time-wasting travelling across London.
I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to put such efficiency savings in place prior to launch. “There’s a chapter in my favourite business book The Lean Startup that says you should get a product to market and do it quickly; then you can tweak it if necessary.” Brooks thinks too many companies spend too long working on the product and pouring over business plans. As such, MOP still uses a Beta site, with Brooks foreseeing a number of changes to its online operation in the upcoming months.
Nonetheless, the core business won’t change, and Brooks is determined not to be tempted to diversify too quickly. “MOP is about cleaning. We want to be the best cleaning company in London and until we’ve achieved that, we won’t deviate.” If Brooks and Dowds achieve their lofty prediction of £1.4m turnover in 2014, perhaps they will indeed succeed in wiping the floor with the competition.
CV TOM BROOKS
Company name: MOP
Number of staff: 4 (plus 34 self-employed cleaners)
Number of clients: 164
Turnover: Expected turnover for 2014 is £1.4m
Job title: Co-founder
Studied: Economics, Sheffield University
Reading: The Escape Manifesto, by Escape the City
Favourite business book: The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
Motto: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”
First ambition: To own a farm
Heroes: Jeff Campbell (founder of The Clean Team/Speed Cleaning and author of five best-selling cleaning books)