BERLIN — When you describe Benedikt Franke's company as the Uber for housekeeping, the Helpling co-founder doesn't so much as raise an eyebrow. He's accustomed to the comparison.
Helpling is like an online central booking service for cleaning professionals. In a few clicks, you indicate your area, the type of service you're looking for (cleaning, ironing), choose a date and time on a calendar and pay. It's simple, quick and efficient. You can book a home aid in no time, for a single visit or on a regular basis.
"Uber is a good comparison but only as far as the service's availability goes," Franke says. "The difference is the market. Today, people and home care services aren't working very well. In Germany, 90% of that activity is undeclared. We want to change that with more transparent, more legal services of a better quality."
Beyond the black market, these types of services haven't really been challenged yet by the digital revolution. It's an area that's difficult to grasp. Clients are generally unaware of the rates and often prefer word of mouth to the Yellow Pages. But judging qualifications and skills of potential cleaners is a task that is neither easy nor practical.
"We want to make this model obsolete," Franke says. "We want to make home cleaning services more accessible, and thanks to our platform, you can book such service in 60 seconds." The company also vouches for the qualifications and insurance of those who do the work.
Launched by two Germans in March 2014, Helpling already has more than 50,000 customers around the world, including several thousand in France, making it the market leader. The pace at which the company has been growing is breathtaking. It already employs 250 people full-time and offers its services in 12 countries and more than 200 cities.
Source: Helpling But the start-up has greater ambitions. It announced on March 26 that it had raised 43 million euros ($47 million) from Lakestar, Kite Ventures, Lukasz Gadowski (a co-founder of StudiVZ, an early German Facebook rival) and Rocket Internet. It brought Helpling's total venture capital fundraising to a staggering 56.7 million euros ($61.5 million).
"We will improve the customer's experience," Franke says, "but also boost our customer service with the goal to offer a response in under 20 seconds. Home services rely on word of mouth a lot, so it's important we deliver an impeccable product."
Beyond that, Helpling will slow its global expansion "to focus on the 12 countries where we're already present." The point is to establish the brand as the leader, even as many competitors such as Hassle and Homejoy join the industry.
Looking to the future, Franke acknowledges he "sometimes thinks about opening up Helpling to other home services." But he insists he wants to "first focus on home cleaning." In a country like France, housekeeping represents 70% of home aid services.
Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.
MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.
These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."
In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."
The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.
Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.
NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.
The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."
Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."
The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.
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