Neel is the CEO and Founder of MaidThis Franchise, which is a cleaning service for Airbnbs. What's unique about Neel's company is that the operations are done completely remotely.
Neel has been traveling the world for the last 5 years while scaling his own business and is now franchising this "remote local" business model to motivated entrepreneurs.
On the show, Neel shares how he started MaidThis.com, and why he quit his lucrative finance job to start a cleaning business..and how he has never looked back since.
You're listening to the strategic freedom podcast with David Lahav. Learn the best tips and tactics to increase your profits. Expand your mind and build the freedom you desire in your business and life. Welcome to the show.
David: All right. Welcome, everybody to today's episode. Today I have the pleasure of interviewing and hosting Neel Parekh. Neel is the CEO and founder of franchise which is a cleaning service for Airbnbs. One of the unique things about Neel's company is that the operations are done completely remotely, and I can't wait to dive into that and learn how that is working. Neel has been traveling the world for the last five years while scaling his own business and is now franchising this remote local business model to motivate its entrepreneurs. Welcome, Neel.
Neel: Thanks, dude. Thanks for having me.
David: Yeah, awesome. Really glad to have you here! So let's just jump right into it. Neel, how did you get started with ? How did the idea come? I would love to hear the story behind this.
Neel: Yeah, sure. So it's always been my life's passion to start a cleaning company. That's how I got started.
David: Of course, yeah.
Neel: Now, so... the early days have. So we'll start off right after university. After university I started working in finance in Los Angeles, I was working at a venture capital firm. I enjoyed it. I think the team I was working with was very good. And I learned a lot from there. I always had that entrepreneurial itch, of trying to do something and trying to start something. And combined with that I had this idea in my head that I wanted to quit someday and just travel with a backpack for a year, something like that. So yeah, I mean, while I was working, I started and tried a bunch of different things in terms of businesses that I could just do as a side hustle. The whole purpose of why I originally started these businesses was to hope to have income while travel that was the original genesis and even trying to start a side hustle. So everything I was trying was what I thought would be quote and quote, remote. Meaning like e-commerce dropshipping microblogging any of the traditional online businesses what I was trying, and yeah, one day I was on Reddit. David, do you know reddit.com?
David: Yeah, absolutely.
Neel: Best time-waster in history. But for me, it worked. So I was on the subreddit, entrepreneur and the top post was this guy who posted how he started a cleaning company and he posted the steps in it. So amongst a bunch of other things, I thought, you know, what the heck I'll try this out too. And it started working right so we started the booking here and there and started to grow and grow and grow. I even see this was... you know, I think seven years ago or six years ago in that's when the Airbnb really started to come up as the business model, started getting more and more calls from hosts who said, “Hey, do you guys do vacation rental cleanings?” And at first, I said, “No, we don't.” Then looked into more. It was a very viable business model. It's been a while testing and seeing what this wanted and tweaking a lot of our systems and then a couple years after that is when I stopped doing it part-time and started working full time, quit and after - a one way trip to Colombia. So that was the genesis of this.
David: Amazing! Love this story. There are so many great parts here that I also resonate with personally.
Neel: Well, David, maybe you could tell them where we met because we met on the road actually.
David: Yeah, we met in Bangkok. Yeah. And I think you were just giving a presentation about the awesome company MadeThis that you created and I remember staying with you after the presentation was done and asking you a bunch of questions and, and connecting afterward.
Neel: I remember this. I think it was 2018. Right?
David: Yeah, Something that, you know, I didn't know before which is really interesting. This is started as a cleaning company and then turned into a vacation rental cleaning company.
Neel: Correct. Just niche down. So we still do both sides of it, but, you know, with any type of business as you know, you got to pick a niche and really hone down on it and specialize in it. So we decided, after a lot of trial and error to settle on the vacation rental niche.
David: Mm-hmm. And how did people react when you were like, “I'm quitting my I'm assuming, you know, like, pretty luxurious VC type job finance job to start a cleaning company.”
Neel: Yeah. It was a mixed bag, I guess. I mean, naturally, my parents are worried, right? They're saying, “What are you doing? You're quitting this high paying job to start your own cleaning company, and you're gonna go travel while you're doing it,” like, “What are you possibly thinking?” But they were very supportive, whatever I would try to do, even though that was their worry. Besides that, honestly, it was kind of cool just to have a community, the community where you and I met in the dynamite circle with it with a group of people who were kind of doing something similar. I didn't feel too much like an outcast, surprisingly, which is weird because when you say like that “I quit a VC job to start a cleaning company.” It does add a little bit strange, doesn't it?
David: Absolutely. And I've gotten a lot of the same kind of confused looks sometimes because I was working on a startup that didn't work. And then from there on, I started focusing more on the locksmith company. So again, a lot of people in the tech world kind of looked down at service businesses and especially ones that, you know, might on the outside, seem boring, like cleaning or locksmith companies. And I guess this will be a perfect segue into talking about the remote local concept now, which both of us really love and maybe to kind of intro that concept I really liked loved in your story, that one of the reasons you started with this is because you signed intrapreneur doing this successfully, and then gave it a try. And I'm assuming how many different things do you think you've tried to before this? For the business?
Neel: 10 at least
David: Yeah, It was the same on my end. And then you try this. And you got some good initial results, good initial feedback. So what did this business model allows you to run it remotely?
Neel: Yeah. So, by the way, the reason I created as remote local was by necessity. I mean, you had to realize that my Why when I started, the reason I did, it was two things. One, I wanted to travel for a while and have businesses support me. And the other part was, financially, I wanted to help support my parents. So that was the reason I started any side business. So with the first one in mind with me wanting to travel, I had to create this business in a way where it could be managed while I was on the road. So based on that, from the very beginning, we had to put a very heavy emphasis on the systems in order to be able to have it run remotely. So naturally, the cleaners are actually local where all the cleanings have to happen. But the team was spread across about eight different countries. So if a cleaner calls or customer calls, That gets routed to my team in different countries. We all communicate with each other on Slack. I actually flew out and met some of my team in South Africa a couple of years ago. So it's truly a global team. And we just manage everything through digital means like Slack.
David: Amazing, and what one of the things I love about this is how the way you run the business against very similar lines to how we run our business. You're bringing very high tech advanced concepts into industries that in many ways, the competition can be yours behind it.
Neel : Yep! And honestly, like I never want to go work and start a business in like a quote-unquote, sexy industry like tech or AI, like. I just want the boring, dirty stuff, because I think that's what makes the most money. That's what's most prone for disruption, like, Home Services. That's awesome, right? Because the people and the people you're competing against, especially in a localized market, they probably don't know what they're doing as well as maybe someone who's a little bit more educated in marketing does. And it doesn't mean a need to be very, like, top one percentile of marketing, because the people you're competing against just maybe aren't going to be up to that skill anyways. So I love the boring, sleepy industries. And what you said is perfect is you could just inject a little bit of new agents, a little bit of New Age marketing tactics into this old industry, make a lot of cash. So I think it's a perfect place to be.
David: Absolutely. And I'm curious, so, you know, you started this business from basically nothing from scratch over the last seven years. So I know that you've created a lot of amazing systems and learned a lot of valuable lessons that now enable you to run the business really successfully, and the franchise move and taking on new franchisees. What have been some of those key, insights or lessons that you learned along the way?
Neel : Sure. So, in terms of systemization?
David: Yeah. And maybe kind of a follow-up question to that would be, why would someone buy a franchise versus start their own business from scratch?
Neel: Yeah, good question. Look, I started my own business from scratch. That's because my perception of franchising was you put 100 grand and you have to have a storefront, you have to have a bunch of vehicles, you have to have like a lot of overhead and those expensive to start. That's why I started something that was just my own. Now what we're bringing into the franchise world is, I believe something very different from that, where it's, hey, you don't need to invest like 100, 200 grand into starting a business, you can do it very lean, which is what we're doing. We're doing a very lean, we're teaching all of our systems, we put it in a playbook of pretty much exactly what I did to scale a business and selling it to someone. So the reason there's two different types of people, and there's the type of person who probably should buy a franchise, I think, which is, if you want to skip a lot of the early headaches. I don't know how much money we've lost in trial and error. 100 thousands of dollars in trial and error. So pretty much what we've done is taken all these lessons and systemized it. So I think the concept of time collapsing, you could time collapse your success, the success you might have in five years, maybe you could do it in three years instead. So if you look at the dollar amount, you say from that in the headache, it is worth the upfront investment. And there's the other type of person who might want to really start their own brand and do it by themselves, that's totally fine. It's just it's a different mentality with it, you probably do a little bit more trial and error, but you have your own brand as well. So I think it's the two different types of people. I think, at least for our model, I can't speak to every other franchises model, is very conducive to systems, and being able to kind of do what you want with the business. The reason we set it up and the reason I set it up as I did was because I wanted to be able to not have to work in it 48 - 60 hours a week, and I wanted to be able to at least back then travel a bit more. So there's a whole playbook of systems and things to follow. And a lot of the key was that key to that is over the years simply by necessity. We had to create good systems documentation because everyone worked remotely, everyone is across eight different countries, you can't just tell someone to walk over to this and tell them what to do. You have to have a really, really good playbook and a really good system to make sure that anyone around the world can understand it. So I think that's probably the key is making sure the training materials and the operations manual are top-notch in order to make sure your team anywhere could just pick it up and go.
David: Absolutely. And you know, we work with a lot of service business owners, and I would say that's the number one challenge or pain point that a lot of our clients a lot of other entrepreneurs that I know have is that they haven't been able to transcend being the owner-operator, being on 24/7 having everything run through them. And what I really like with other franchises, I would say it's pretty much the same like with most franchises, when you buy a franchise, you're buying yourself a job it might be a high paying job, but you still have to be there 24/7. And what I love about the concept that you're introducing is you can own your own business and get all the systems. Because that is really the benefit of a franchise, you get a system that works that you can just implement. You don't have to spend all the time and effort figuring it out. With MadeThis you're also giving them the freedom that has been baked into this business model.
Neel: Yeah. And that's, honestly, our ethos has made this and kind of why all our team works at what they're doing is that the exact word is freedom. Not just for us, but for our customers, for the cleaners, for the team members. We're all working and hustling hard, because everyone wants to help someone else achieve their level of freedom. For example, a little bit off-topic from what we're talking about the systems but it's something I'm passionate about, like our team is completely remote. So through MadeThis because it's a remote team. One of our team members in South Africa, he's able to homeschool his kids because he can live in the mountains and the school system there is not that great. So, through this, he's able to achieve freedom of living wherever he wants to be able to homeschool his kids. I have someone else in Panama, who's working literally around in the jungle because that's where she wants to live, it gives her a little bit of freedom to be able to do that, take care of her family. That concept of freedom going from my team members, to the cleaners to the franchise owners. That's basically our whole purpose. And kind of why we're over here. It’s developing a freedom and like you said, a lot of that freedom develops because of systems, right? Stricter systems and better systems result in more freedom for everyone.
David: Absolutely. Great. So going back to the other part of that question. What would you say is one of the big challenges that you kind of had to overcome on your way of growing the company?
Neel: I would say a place. We wasted a lot of money. It's not firing quick enough. I'm sure you get to us that David is at the beginning, where you have someone and you're desperate to have in our example cleaner. You have to rely on this cleaner no matter what and maybe you're the owner-operator and you're into developing systems and it feels so painful to say “No” to a job. So you keep a bad team member in order to get something done. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Where it just cascades because like, I need the cash. We're going to take this job, yes, not the great cleaner, but we're still going to do it. I think ...
David: And what happens, what happens when you do that?
Neel: Then the cleaner messes up, the customer complains, we lose a customer, I have to deal with it because I'm the owner-operator. It just cascades all the way down. Especially if the owner-operator you have to deal with yourself. It's not worth short term gains of keeping bad team members because you're sacrificing long term stability in terms of actually being able to build your team and pull yourself out of the business. So step one is don't keep you bet you should probably sacrifice a little bit of sales in order to get rid of bad people on your team because they can be a cancer. Would you agree David?
David: Yeah, a hundred percent. It's really hard to do because we like to chase after the growth and try to get as profitable as possible. But over the long term, it's much more sustainable to have a really great team and work at that great team's capacity and hire, not compromise on hiring. So you're talking about firing, but also growing too quickly compromising on hiring, brings you back to this loop of chasing the problems that employees are not great to create for you and for the business.
David: Exactly, exactly. And, David, I'm not sure how many of the listeners here are just starting their business already have the product niche set. One thing which we didn't do well, at the beginning, was really honing down or marketing towards specific niches. So, you know, as I said we do the Airbnb audience. We also do rent and residential, that's already two niches. And it's already kind of hard because I need marketing dollars are spent two different ways if two sets of systems. So we've figured it out over time, but it is very difficult to not do everything. And I think at the beginning, especially year one, year two, you wouldn't take any jobs which come someone says for us. “Can you do carpet cleaning?” “Sure, yeah, we'll figure it out, we'll figure it out.” Someone says, “Can you do warehouse cleaning?” “Yeah, we'll figure it out, we'll figure out”. And after a while, you get cash, but it just becomes more of a headache. You don't know where to devote your dollars, you didn't know how to develop a strategy. So advice I always give people at the beginning when they're starting businesses really, really niche down. Because then you’re marketing dollars your focus, your attention can go much further. So I know there's one franchise I'm forgetting the name, but they only do gutters, only gutter cleaning, nothing else because during the 08-09 crisis, they were doing a lot of different things, making good money. And then because they're spread so thin, they lost everything. And now literally, they only do gutters, which is one very simple thing, but they've exploded in growth because if someone thinks, “I need my gutters cleaned,” they're just going to call that one guy. So that's something which is very, I think, a lot of people at the beginning don't do is niche down, because it's scary, but the reality is.
David: And it’s counterintuitive. You're thinking, “Oh, if I only stick to this industry or this niche, then it's going to limit my business size.” But the truth is that when you're starting out, it's actually the opposite. When you're focusing just on one thing, you're able to grow the business much quicker and build the right sales marketing operations just around this use case, which enables you to grow much faster and bigger than you would otherwise.
Neel: Exactly. So one example would be let's say even in the cleaning space. If someone started to move-in move-out cleaning company, right, that's how they did move-in move-out cleanings. Now, if they contact all the property managers moving company, junk removal companies, and say “Hey, we only do move-in move-out cleanings, you should partner with us.” Will that company partner with them or a company like MadeThis which does not do that. They're going to partner with the move-in move-out company. So now, because that's all they do, and ever knows him for that they're going to get referrals, they can be able to focus on it, they could cater their package more towards move-in move-out cleaning, so it could be something like, “Hey, we're gonna include damage reports for you, because we have the capability to only focus on one type of service and one type of customer.” So all these doors open up as soon as you niche down and pick a niche. At the beginning it’s scary, right? You try a few things, few different things out, and then see what sticks and then dive into it. But that's a solution.
David: Absolutely, yeah, I think this is a really, really important lesson. So Neel, I also want to dive into the franchise a little bit. So what made you go into franchising versus, you know, for example, replicating the business model that you found is successful by yourself?
Neel: Yeah, sure. so, we've expanded, so we're in LA, Orange Canyon and we're also covering the Bay Area, and we may go to other places in California. David, as you know, local business operations is intensive. Right? If anyone says it's super easy, that's a joke. It's not the hardest thing in the world. It's not rocket science, but it's not the simplest thing. And especially with, well, we are doing in terms of vacation rental cleaning reviews matter. For the host, all they care about is a five-star review. So there have been competitors who've tried to expand nationally in a very Uber-type model. And it kind of flops because this isn't like driving a car, you actually need to have very good cleanings very good attention to the customer to make sure the customer gets a five-star review. That needs to happen on a local basis. And in order to expand rapidly. You need the franchise model because you need to have very good quality and I think a local service and someone who's there is always going to beat out a company like the Uber for cleaning companies as at least as it relates to Airbnb cleanings because it needs to be very specialized in a lot of focus. So that was a reason and the reason that I didn't want to do it myself and expand nationally is because the same thing is like it's easy to have someone there doing a great job rather than me or my team overseeing the entire country. I think the quality would suffer.
David: Absolutely. And the second part of it which I also, you know, when I sometimes think about franchising The Locksmith Company. By the way, I'm sure a lot of other service business entrepreneurs that I've talked to all have this dream of franchising, which you are implementing, which is amazing. So great work on that is also like the speed that you're able to expand with the level of quality that you're talking about. So if you try to open 10 locations, you know, next month, most likely the quality is going to suffer. But if you find and really driven entrepreneurs, that are really into this and want to build, you know, they're their dream business, they're going to make sure the quality is there, and you can still support them with everything that they need in terms of the process, the systems, the marketing, etc.
Neel: Yeah, and honestly, the support part is the part I'm excited about the most. I just kind of going back to what I said before about an ethos of helping people achieve whatever level of freedom they want. I think for me, that's what would give me the most fuel filament is helping other people achieve what they want to do. And just by making the most kick-ass support system possible for them, helping them coaching them saying, “Hey, this is how I did it, avoid my mistakes, just replicate what I'm doing over here,” figuring out with them. I think, for me, that's what excites me the most about the franchise part.
David: Love that. And I'm curious, you know, so I'm looking at, one of the models I'm working with is business acquisitions. So we already acquired a couple of locksmith companies. And now I'm working on a deal with a company in the automotive space. But, you know, hearing about what you're doing makes me almost want to say, “Hey, Neel, how does it work? If I start a franchise?” And you know, I hope Denver isn't taken, because I am interested in that. So how does it work? How does the process work?
Neel: You mean if someone wants to buy a franchise?
Neel: Yeah, so we're gonna be pretty picky with who you're working with. Because we want to make sure they're the right type of person for their company culture. It's a long term partnership, right? You're going to assign sign and start a business for at least five years. So you want to make sure that we like each other step one. The actual process is you hop on an intro call with someone on our team, that's a good fit. You go to the second step, which is a concept call, which we'll go over the business and see, you could ask questions regarding the business model of the industry. Then in the middle, there's a homework quote, and quote, you know, figuring out the territory size, asking questions, filling out questionnaires, and then we go into what's called an FTTD call, which is to discuss the actual financial document or, sorry, the legal document and talk about all the finer points to relate to franchising. Then you're going to do a meet the team, meet my team, who's probably, who are going to be the support people at the beginning. Then you do a day in the life where you get to see how it is to actually run the franchise. The whole process is geared towards a mutual evaluation. So, pretend David, if you're a franchisee prospect, I'm evaluating you the whole time. To make sure you're going to be a good fit, and you should be evaluating us, because like I said, “There's zero point for me to sell.” If it's not going to be something you want to do a year from now, there's absolutely no point. So I want to make sure it's going to be fit for you. And this is really what you want to do. And I've actually talked to leads and I said, “Don't talk to a bunch of other cleaning franchises,” because if you come back over here, I want to make sure you know what you're doing. Go talk to every competitor, I don't care, I'm pushing you to do most of the calls for you just go do it. Because that's the only way it works. There has to be a successful partnership. It's usually between a one to four-month process, probably to get set up. And then it's about two months to launch. Which point, you know, we have a full launch coach and launching program. At least for the first handful of franchisees, there'll be individual coaching with me to get them set up and up and running for the first 12 months. So it's a pretty in-depth process to get set up.
David: Awesome. Love it. I also love that you're telling people who are interested in this “Go and talk to other cleaning companies because I want you to make the choice to work with us and see the kind of benefits that we're able to provide for you that maybe are not available in other places.”
Neel: Yeah, absolutely.
David: That being a real win-win. Yeah. So you know, another really interesting thing in your story that I also resonate with because with Lahav Media as a remote company, and then our locksmith companies, we have footprints on the ground, but a lot of it is, is being able to run remotely for me, I also have an operational partner who's taking care of the operations and loves doing that. And then for me, I love being more in the business marketing side, which helps me also being remote and you know, being able to meet you in Bangkok or spend some time in Bali every year. But I feel that this concept of remote local isn't being talked about enough and that most entrepreneurs are very similar to your story for me as well. I started an e-commerce, affiliates, tried a bunch of stuff that didn't really work for me until I started the locksmith company. And again, similar to your story with MadeThis saw very quick results. So why do you think the remote local concept isn't being spoken about that much yet?
Neel: First of all, don't tell people about it. So we could do. Which should keep secret?
Honestly, the reason is because when people think about the high scale, they want to be able to tackle the entire world at once. And with that, if you think about starting a local company, you think, “Oh, well, I'm just pigeonholed into this one market. And that's it. The franchise world has already figured that out. Most franchises are individual locations, right. They kind of already know that. But if you don't need a physical storefront, it's kind of in-between, right. It's like most of franchising is the physical storefront, then you have e-commerce on the other end. And just because of technology right now, that's when you have something in the middle. So I think it's only very recently or something like this is possible. I think we eventually will see more of these concepts coming up being remote, truly remote local. Yeah, I think just the old school way of thinking is, “Hey, you want to scale you have to target the whole world with e-commerce drop shipping microblogging, something like that. Or if you want to go local, you need a storefront.” So it's kind of a recent thing, in my opinion, and that's why,
David: Yeah, absolutely. And maybe another force that's becoming more and more active here. So I think I'm already seeing this wave of more people like you and I, who are younger driven entrepreneurs. Younger compare to, you know, the average service business owner who's 55 or something. So yeah, I'm seeing a lot more people actually, from a sometimes tech finance background, besides to consciously go in the remote local or service company. Because they see the value, they see that with the experience that you have from maybe running an e-commerce company or being a consultant or a strategy consultant. When you take that locally, and you're just focusing on one city, one part of the city, you will be able to be the number one, hands down. And that's pretty much saying, “Hey, your chances of success with this business are going to be really, really high versus if you just start a tech company or a startup where your chances are really, really low.”
Neel: Yeah, it's almost like why reinvent the wheel? I suppose it depends on your end goal. If you want to come up with a brand new idea that's novel and take it out to market and do everything. You could obviously do that, right. You could go with the tech San Francisco VC route. But if the path to success is already shown to you, why not copy that? Right? And that's a lot of what local companies, you don't honestly need that much geography in order to make a lot of money. You know that exactly. You're only in Denver and you can make a lot of money there because there's just a lot of business to be had. You don't have to go to like 10, 15, 20 locations, you can make a lot of money in one small area. Yeah, I think I completely agree where there's enough to be had and if the path to success is already made for you, what's the point of reinventing the wheel?
David: Absolutely. And what's really great here as well, is that the limits to how big you want to grow, right and for me, personally, that's not such a big thing for me, similarly to you the freedom is much more important than the money part of the money is great, right? But it's freedom first, but even someone who's more money results-driven. Very similar to what you're doing now. There is the opportunity to franchise and with franchises, some franchises have thousands of locations, a lot of franchises have IPO in the stock. Right? So even the limit of how big you can grow a local service company is just in our heads.
Neel: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. which like I said, “Hey, don't tell these tech guys about it. Because I think it's a completely untapped market.”
David: Absolutely. Great. So yeah, Neel, love, love having you on. Thank you so much for sharing what you're doing and all these great insights. Anything else you'd like to add?
Neel: No, I think it's great. I mean, I especially if you have a home service business, I mean, the sky's the limit right now, I think it's such a Greenfield opportunity, especially if you bring some small New Age tactics, especially around marketing to this industry and really nail down your niche. sky's the limit. So I think it's a fantastic place to be.
David: Absolutely. And that's exactly why we're having this podcast. I want to be able to show more entrepreneurs like you to the world and show them this option exists, and hopefully, this will make their lives better, more abundant, and with a lot more freedom than they might otherwise have. So, Neel, thanks again for being on the podcast. where can our listeners find you?
Neel: Well, that yeah, I mean, if you want to contact me, just email me, Neel@maidthis.com. You gotta MaidThis franchise as well. You could contact us from there. And yeah, thanks for having me, David. It was fun. Hopefully we'll catch each other in Bangkok some time.
David: Absolutely. I would love that. Thank you.
Neel: All right. Take care.
David: Thanks for listening to the strategic freedom podcast with your hosts David Lahav. If you like our show and want to learn more, check out lahavmedia.com\podcast or leave us a review on iTunes. Join us every Thursday morning to listen to the next episode. See you then.