Kwame Boler and Claudius Mbemba have a new idea that pivots off their five-year run with Neu, the Seattle startup that helped connect homeowners with housecleaners, specifically in the vacation rental space.
The break is a clean one, insomuch that cleaning is still the focus. But the co-founders will now be focused explicitly on cleaners with the launch of Spritz, a business-in-a-box tech platform intended to help cleaners manage the many intricacies of running their own operation.
Neu ceased operations at the end of 2021, and in an interview with GeekWire this week, the young entrepreneurs shared some of the hard lessons they learned managing a two-sided marketplace.
“Neu was a great business. And we had a phenomenal team,” Boler said. “But one thing that was really clear as we started building and started to scale was that there was a very evident cognitive dissonance between how we perceived the product and how a good portion of our customers did.”
Homeowners saw Neu as a cleaning service. Cleaners saw Neu as an alternative to an employer. And some Neu employees saw themselves as managers of cleaners, rather than the fact that those cleaners were Neu customers.
Coordinating the distribution of physical elements such as cleaning supplies and linens further complicated things.
“We will not have any more physical goods,” Boler said. “That’s actually something that excites us quite a bit. No more sheets and towels.”
“I think that’s the biggest thing, being able to simplify the business,” Mbemba added.
With Spritz they still want to bring housecleaning into the 21st century, leveraging technology and third parties to offload back-office functions, operations, logistics, and administrative tasks. They believe they can help housekeeping professionals with everything from scheduling to taxes for a fraction of the cost of building a traditional franchise or hiring a dedicated operations manager.
“A lot of housekeepers came to Neu because they didn’t want to start a business,” Mbemba said. “They wanted to jump on something that was already working and be able to be compensated for being a service provider.”
Mbemba and Boler have developed a strong appreciation for the work that housekeepers perform and they feel it’s a natural evolution of Neu’s model to want to empower them with Spritz.
The two are inspired by other businesses performing similar functions: Heard for accountants; Introwise for digital experts; and Collective for solo entrepreneurs. They see many parallels between Spritz and Squire, a black-led startup and tech platform for barbershops that also makes it easier to manage a business.
“No one has really built a product with [housekeepers] in mind and designed it in a way in which they could best augment that and position them for success,” said Boler, who is the startup’s CEO.
Boler and Mbemba also plan to tap into the Web3 phenomenon and create a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) at Spritz that makes all housekeepers stakeholders via security tokenization determined by user activity.
“The more positive the user behavior, the more tokens they’ll receive, with tokens tied directly to shares,” Boler wrote in an email newsletter last week. “This will also turn our relationship from adversarial to collaborative and remove adverse impact from the network effect. … This is also well-aligned with our mission, and we see the unique opportunity to disrupt the doomed dichotomy of service workers.”
Neu was selected for Techstars Seattle just before COVID-19 hit in 2020. The pandemic’s impact on vacation rentals and Neu’s business was immediate and devastating. In July of that year, Boler and Mbemba discussed pivoting to a broader cleaning operation, adding offices and on-demand sanitizing to the mix for a changing world.
Neu raised just over $1 million, and the co-founders believe their most loyal investors are excited about the change to Spritz.
“We have gotten some pushback, but for the vast majority, especially for those who have been with us the absolute longest, they’re commending us and think that it’s the best decision with respect to what we know and trust us to operate,” Boler said.
Neu had 15 employees and contractors at its height, and Spritz will start with four, including Boler and Mbemba. They’re in search of a strong product chief right now.
“It sucks having to let go of good amount of our team to be able to make this pivot. That was not something that we took lightly,” Mbema said. “We’re grateful for all the people who worked on Neu with us and got us to this point, because it wasn’t just us.”