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#12 – Revolutionizing the Cleaning Industry w/ Juan Carlos Merlo & Daniel Munoz (Clean ‘Em)

Clean ‘Em is a startup committed to revolutionizing the services industry. The company was selected to be one of eight finalists in the Student Startup Madness Tournament and will be pitching at South by Southwest this year. In this episode, I interviewed CEO Juan Carlos Merlo and CTO Daniel Munoz about their company.

Clean ‘Em started when COO Alan Aziz and Juan were surveying the mess in their apartment after a party. After searching the Internet and asking friends for recommendations for cleaners, they were dissatisfied with their available options, all of which were rather expensive.

After some research into the cleaning industry, they concluded that most cleaning services have fixed costs such as employee salaries, supplies, and transportation. They realized that they could find a way to reduce these fixed costs by creating an ‘Uber for cleaning,’ and the idea for Clean ‘Em was born.

Clean ‘Em allows people with multiple properties to have them managed and cleaned easily. It offers lower prices than anybody else and utilizes independent contractors rather than workers from domestic service agencies. The company has now been operating for five months.

Juan and Daniel see their company’s arrangement as benefitting customers with lower prices, as well as empowering contractors: “We grew up in Mexico, so we grew up with a culture of having a housekeeper, a nanny in the house, and she becomes part of the family…she lives with you, she’s part of the family. Coming over to the United States…we saw that there was a lack of respect [for cleaners] and they weren’t really getting paid for the quality of work that they do.” With Clean ‘Em, contractors get paid 30-40% more than they do with competitors and can choose their own schedule.

With their idea in hand, Alan and Juan needed a designer for their site, which is when they met Daniel. Daniel was a freelancer who designed mockups and websites for people before working with Clean ‘Em. “I came into Clean ‘Em with a design job of revamping the whole website…they were using Wix and sending a form [for cleaning jobs] …I came in as a designer, did a mockup, and then I coded the whole thing.” Daniel quickly went from contractor to equity holder and CTO of the company.

While Daniel considers himself more of a designer than a coder, he says, “What’s a design without coding? …You’re going to have to at some point in your designer career learn to code in order to put that product into the world.”

Clean ‘Em sees its market increasing rapidly, especially as it pivots to cleaning real estate listings and commercial properties. Airbnb has also created an enormous, constantly growing market for Clean ‘Em, as it has become vital for cities during big events; as Juan says, “Today there are 30,000 [hotel] rooms deficient in Austin for SXSW.” While hotels may be able to work on regular cleaning schedules, Airbnb listings have an irregular booking schedule, and Clean ‘Em fits this niche particularly well. “Every single week it’s different. You need a platform that matches that,” Juan said.

Juan and Daniel are optimistic both about the trajectory of their company and entrepreneurship in the future.

“You can now start a company without actually having money. The Internet and programming and coding have really democratized the whole entrepreneurship process,” says Daniel. “Entrepreneurship is just going to keep going up.”

Regarding the future, Juan says, “It’s not easy to wake up every day and be 100% sure all the time that this is going to work…Failure leads you to recognize what you need to do to succeed…we fail on a daily basis…you never learn how to shoot a three-pointer without missing.”

As global growth slows, “The real growth that this country is going to have is through productivity…70% of the GDP is services,” Juan says. Clean ‘Em sees opportunities in increasing productivity for customers, and after perfecting their cleaning services, potentially offering other home maintenance services in the future. “Some people say, ‘you’ve done so much,’ I’d rather see it like we haven’t done anything, we’ve done so little compared to what we want to do,” says Juan.

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