Marcela

Marcela Sapone

CEO & Co-founder at HelloAlfred

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON May 03, 2016

Discussion

Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
Hi - I'm Marcela Sapone, Co-Founder & CEO of Hello Alfred. Since winning TechCrunch Disrupt SF we've been on a rollercoaster building a company that is pioneering the next wave of the sharing economy. We make help accessible and automate your life. I'm a first-time entrepreneur and will probably be too honest about what that experience is like. I'm honored to be here -- ask me anything!
Thomas Stöcklein
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
How would you prevent your employees and customers from entering into direct employment arrangements and thereby cutting out the 'middleman' Hello Alfred?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@tomstocklein Great question. We were worried about this in the beginning too. Service platforms like Handy, HomeJoy, Care.com and Taskrabbit experience this challenge. However, what we've found is that we are more like Uber in this regard. When is the last time you asked for a driver's personal number to get a pickup off the platform? Probably never right? Why? Probably because Uber insures the ride, offers customer service when things go wrong and is your advocate. The same is true for the driver - they access benefits that only the scale of Uber can provide vs. individual customers can give. This is true for Hello Alfred as well.
How did you grow Alfreds costumer base in the first few months?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@sgfrid In the first few months we grew our customer base with dozens of experiments: offline postcards under people's doors, talking to people in Starbucks, reaching out to people on Craigslist and Facebook. Anything that would teach us something about the need people had and the things that got them to make the very considered purchase of asking for help.
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@sgfrid Over time, your product is your best marketing. Your execution is your best sales channel. Word of mouth is how great products and services grow.
Tino Salmuth
Tino Salmuth@tino_salmuth · student, LMU
What were your first marketing activities? How did you make your first costumers "aware" of your service?
Thomas Stöcklein
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
What lessons, if any, have you and your team learned from the collapse of HomeJoy?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@tomstocklein Thanks for the question Thomas. Many things - and I commend the HomeJoy team for putting a big idea out there. They were pioneers. It's not fun to "fail" - but you and everyone can learn from it. The entire on demand and sharing economy got a wake up call. I've seen so many great developments focusing on labor and quality and caring about the people that power the platform.
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@tomstocklein In the beginning, Hello Alfred had some trouble because people used to compare us to HomeJoy and didn't understand why we opted for W2 labor instead of 1099 contractors. They didn't understand why we were growing deliberately with unit economics that were positive instead of taking the 20,000 people who signed up off our waitlist and making the economics work later. I'm glad we took our tack. I believe you cannot scale things that are powered by people, without putting people at the center of your business. Reach is less important than quality. Great things grow slowly and then all at once. Take the time to do it right.
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
What's the strangest thing a customer has asked for on Hello Alfred?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@ems_hodge We have a lot of fun requests. Many of them include crazy fun wedding proposals. Hundreds of orchids, balloons, moving large objects. That or pets. We've been asked to find the blackest koi fish in NY and to take puppies up and down Manhattan ;)
Thomas Germond
Thomas Germond@thomasgermond
When HA is coming to France ?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@thomasgermond I went to high school in France, I would love to go back with Alfred. We have some cities to hit before we make it to the city of light. Let us know if you want to be involved ;)
Thomas Germond
Thomas Germond@thomasgermond
@mssapone Definitely. I'm bluff by the ambition of HA. I'll make a great GM in France ;-)
Zachariah Reiner
Zachariah Reiner@zsr5 · Product @Oculus
Who would you consider your core demographic and what are the biggest challenges coming up this year for Alfred?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@zsr5 our best customers are people who are busy - balancing a demanding career, being a parent, running their own business - and a little help goes a long way; another important factor we see in our happiest customers is there are two people who are managing life together and trying to make making work fair. Household Equality.
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@zsr5 Our biggest challenge this year will be deciding which highway to get on that supports our mission to have you Come Home Happy. We have some really exciting opportunities on the table.
Thomas Stöcklein
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
Hello Alfred is currently available in NY, LA, SF and Boston. What are your expansion plans for additional cities in the US and other countries?
Thomas Stöcklein
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
Based on your entrepreneurial journey so far, what's the best advice you have for other tech entrepreneurs looking to start up a company?
Your Alfreds use their own cars right? How do you handle parking and bad traffic within your system?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@sgfrid in certain neighborhoods yes. We've built predictive planning into our software. Each week our system is getting smarter. We also employ a lot of common sense ;) Don't drive on Marathon Monday in Boston! If it's raining take the local roads. More left turns than right (an old UPS trick)...
Asem Alsaadi
Asem Alsaadi@asemalsaadi_ · CEO, instaMek
@mssapone @sgfrid If Alferds use their own vehicle, does this not effect their employee status? Are they re-reimbursed for fuel, vehicle expenses, etc.. ?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@asemalsaadi_ @sgfrid They are employees!
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
What have been the biggest challenges to setting up Hello Alfred? How did you overcome these?
How do you determine the length of an Alfred visit?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@sgfrid However long it takes to get things things done right. Some weeks it might be hours others it will be much less. It averages out across time and users though.
David Senra
David Senra@readbydavid
What are some books you have read that influenced your thinking?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@readbydavid I go on book binges and then have long periods of cutting out any reading I don't proactively seek out. I love this push vs pull concept from Tim Ferriss
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@readbydavid here are a few books that are important to how I think about the world: The Nature of Design, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the why/aesthetics, Lunch with the FT to hear how great people think, Seven Strategy Questions & Management by Peter Drucker, The Power of Many by Meg Whitman, and EVERYTHING that Richard Feynman wrote or had written about him.
Hello Marcela, What is the best thing of helping people (With Hello Alfred)?
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Marcela! What advice would you give to your 20 yr old self? personally? professionally?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@eriktorenberg Read as much, do as much, experience as much as possible. It's your job to do things that make you uncomfortable. That is how you gain wisdom. It is your job to use everything you do as a learning opportunity and to see how things are connected. That is how you build creativity. It is your job to learn and to study as much about the world as possible - life only gets busier and you always default to your most basic level of training. Professional & Personal.
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@eriktorenberg Seek out opportunities that expire both professionally and personally. Life is a second.
Snah Desai
Snah Desai@s_haverford · Operations Analyst, ServiceTitan
What was the toughest decision you had to make when first launching HelloAlfred
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@s_haverford the first hard choice we had to make about @HelloAlfred was where to do it. NY or SF?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@s_haverford After launching the business, the hardest decisions often come down to people. Who to hire and also letting people go when it doesn't work out. You need a very special team to achieve liftoff.
Paul P
Paul P@pavlos1944
Hi. How much effort did it take to take-off ? Did you have to get users one by one at the beginning ?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@pavlos1944 It's very easy to get your first customers; it's much harder to get the right customers.
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@pavlos1944 In the beginning you will have early adopters who like to trial new things. It takes a while before you start to crack the "right customer code". So yes you almost have to go 1 by 1 and get to know their names and what makes them tick in the very early days. Logan Green from Lyft used to say "we had to fight for every inch of growth in the beginning"
Isidoros
Isidoros@isiyfa · Status: Busy
I've noticed the website's design and the overall process is very nicely done! Smooth colors, nice graphics, well-done CSS, everything is so beautiful and attractive! Was it like that from day-1 or it was something that evolved with time? Did you find that customers increased when you paid more attention to the design part of the business or it's just something complementary to the whole brand/biz?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@isiyfa We've always tried to have beautiful design that conveys a level of trust and attention to detail. It's important to me. That said, I made the first website, and the second, and the third. It took getting some funding before we could afford to really execute our vision for the brand with really talented people. And there is so much more to do!
Genevieve Jones
Genevieve Jones@genevievecjones
@mssapone Does HelloAlfred experience any payments challenges?
Is there one thing you have not imagined Hello Alfred to do?
Dag Kittlaus
Dag Kittlaus@dag_kittlaus · Co-founder CEO Siri & Viv
Do you think robots will take over as Alfred's in the next few years and if so will The voice of Marcela Sapone become the default voice?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@dag_kittlaus :) Only if it's VivAlfred. Could I audition to be the new Siri ?
Laurent Paoli
Laurent Paoli@laurent_paoli · Co-founder - DarDar
Hello Marcela, thanks for this chat! What is the standard profile of your clients? How old are they, what are their lines of work, are the mostly women or men?
Akshay Pardhanani
Akshay Pardhanani@akshay_p93 · Web Developer
Hi Marcela, Alfred is certainly a really interesting product! I notice on your site, you mention Alfred gets better with use. How is that? As in is there an underlying machine learning system that helps improve Alfred? If yes, then please can you tell us a little about it? Thank you.
Matthew Erley
Matthew Erley@matthew_erley · VP, Growth @Havenly
Hi Marcela! Any hints on Hello Alfred's expansion roadmap? What are you guys looking for the most, outside of population density and other common attributes, for new market decisions? Any less-obvious indicators that a market might perform well?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@matthewerley :) hi Matt - Density and busy urban living are key for our first phase of expansion. But look out for some powerful partnerships that expand our reach to many more geographies...
Matthew Erley
Matthew Erley@matthew_erley · VP, Growth @Havenly
@mssapone Looking forward to your continued success. Go get em'!
Thomas Stöcklein
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
What do you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur as opposed to working for someone else?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@tomstocklein Having a boss is a luxury. Really! I always say be an early employee vs. a founder. You can have as much impact and get out of some of the hard stuff.
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@tomstocklein What do I enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? Working on problems I really care about. Period.
Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee@dleesta · Product Manager
Where did the idea for Alfred come from? Did you see a problem or just wished that everyone could have a personal butler?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@dleesta Jess and I created @HelloAlfred for ourselves. We saw how stressful it was to balance work, life, play, people you care about and still feel present in your life. We all have long to-do lists. We wanted to figure out a way that we could make reliable, intuitive help accessible.
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@dleesta At the end of the day humans are the smartest 'computers'. Conventional wisdom says you can't scale people, but you can if you put them at the center of powerful, predictive tech.
Asem Alsaadi
Asem Alsaadi@asemalsaadi_ · CEO, instaMek
Contractors vs employees. Let's discuss! What are your views on the subject. Pros Cons and can there be a hybrid model? I believe your Alferds are employees. But how do you ensure they are efficient and how do you ensure they are not "slacking" off ? Is there a minimum quota they must meet?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@asemalsaadi_ Great topic! I've written a lot about it. In terms of "slacking off" people don't if they are proud of their job and their mission. http://qz.com/448846/the-on-dema... https://medium.com/@MsSapone/wor...
Asem Alsaadi
Asem Alsaadi@asemalsaadi_ · CEO, instaMek
@mssapone That's interesting. Getting people to be proud of their job and their mission must be a huge challenge, how does HA do it! And not having assurance of a certain quota must put all the risk on HA, how do you mitigate that?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@asemalsaadi_ It's not about quota it's about having a certain level of work each week. Put people at the center of your business. Make them the customer. That's how pride grows.
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@asemalsaadi_ Here are some super tactical ways to build a cohesive team around the mission https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/h...
Pierre-Marie Galite
Pierre-Marie Galite@tsunaze · mobile developer & advice giver
Between pre-funding and post-funding. How much did your daily life changed? PS: I'm talking about the life balance ;).
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@tsunaze Fun question - you know I think funding has less impact than I would have thought. Traction and the rate of team and personal growth are the major things that impact your psychology and therefore how you use your time. Being an entrepreneur is a full body experience - a lifestyle - I don't think about it as life balance - more am I being as successful, productive, happy, and grateful as I can be most of the time. Funding or no funding, you have to manage your psychology.
Pierre-Marie Galite
Pierre-Marie Galite@tsunaze · mobile developer & advice giver
@mssapone thanks 😊
Karthik
Karthik@karthik2502 · Grad student - Full Stack Dev - RA & TA
Do you think there's potential for a service like Hello Alfred in developing countries? Have you thought about exploring the Asian markets? Since hiring labour is not all that expensive as in the west!
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@karthik2502 The economics of help and expertise are different in every geography - even in every state. We want to set service standards and have others be inspired by them - whether they are on the platform or not.
Karthik
Karthik@karthik2502 · Grad student - Full Stack Dev - RA & TA
Do you see promise for personal assistants in other verticals? Say someone who takes care of all your pet care needs or someone who can assist a student with academic help? I can think of a variety of Use cases
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@karthik2502 Yes help is a basic building block of any service. That's why @HelloAlfred has a very big role to grow into. We want to be the system you use to power your home life.
alexandremayol
alexandremayol@alexandremayol · DayPass: hotel pools & fitness on demand
Hi Marcela, congrats & thanks for sharing here, aside Hello Alfred what apps do you use extensively?
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@jackdiver I use a handful of things 90% of the time. I love things that work and make life better: like citymapper, waze, evernote, spotify, uber, dropbox, swarm/foursqure, sonos, amazon, and hello alfred of course
Marcela
Marcela@mssapone
@jackdiver That said - I think we need to get off our phones. Shut your notifications off! The age of invisible, smart tech is coming. https://medium.com/@MsSapone/why...
alexandremayol
alexandremayol@alexandremayol · DayPass: hotel pools & fitness on demand
@mssapone thanks for your answers & medium post sharing, totally resonates with us as a tech user and for our venture (we're into hospitality 😉 ) and focusing on humans service interactions , concierge like. the tech - human balance is a great challenge, the noise and its growth pace is so high these days, who should be in the driver seat? tech or user? benefits versus costs ? very long debate but let s try to be on the good side then, all the best for Alfred.