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.