Home cleaning services are no longer only for the rich. As double-income families and single -person households become more prevalent, home cleaning service have become very common in many households.
Life Lab is a Korean startup that services Cleaning Lab, a home cleaning service where ‘managers’ who have received professional training are matched with households in need of help. Hyun Joo-yeon, CEO of Life Lab, is a working mother herself. Having raised three kids during her whole 17-year career, she feels the desperate need and importance of hiring the right person who is both professional and appropriate for her particular demands.
Before starting her own business, Hyun worked for Kakao, Korea’s tech giant that operates Kakao Talk, and established a Kakao-branded O2O cleaning service. Before long, as Kakao’s corporate strategy shifted, the department she was part of became vulnerable and eventually dissolved. She and a number of other team members came out of Kakao and started Life Lab, which had already attracted investment from Kakao’s investment subsidiary. Over the past five months after its official release, its monthly growth rate has been as high as 60% by only word of mouth, with a retention rate of 80%. It is expected to break-even in less than six months.
Platum interviewed Yeon-joo Lee, the CEO of Life Lab, to get a sneak peak into how Cleaning Lab satisfies both customers and suppliers of the service.
Explain your service, Cleaning Lab.
It is basically a home cleaning service, but a little different from the existing housekeeper system where housekeepers not only do the cleaning but also prepare meals and take care of children. Our platform holds a great number of vocationally-trained managers who provide the service so that customers can pick and choose the manager whose service they would like to use.
What is the strength of Cleaning Lab?
All of our managers are housewives who are 100% Korean and have been educated by our system.
Our price system is also unique. We assign different prices according to the size of each house. Managers can measure the size, assign a price accordingly, and decide whether to take the job or not. We made this option available because, when we were designing the service in the beginning, we listened carefully to the complaints coming from cleaning ladies in the existing system. For example, managers find out that the house is much bigger than the stated size. Some other companies apply the same pricing policy to rooms of different sizes which is very unreasonable. It is so obvious that the harder one works, the more compensation is given. So, we tried to set up a meticulous pricing policy according to how big the room is and how hard the cleaning will be.
How do you solve problems with the existing system?
The first thing is that we manage managers’ schedules. Considering both the current location of a particular manager and the location of the household that requested the service, we decide whether this work is adequate to give her/him and recommend the one that is closest to his/her location. Also, other factors such as pets or children are taken into consideration. Managers can pick and choose the one that best fits their preference.
The best part is that what makes the whole process so convenient is technology. On the mobile app, we give timely alerts when managers should get going to the workplace and also when to wrap it up.
In addition, all communication is done on the mobile app. That is, consumers can know beforehand whether a manager is visiting. We check everything in advance, match others, date changes, or refunds. I think this explains why our consumers never complain.
How do you see the home cleaning service market in Korea compared to other countries?
When it comes to the cleaning service market, China is performing impressively. Alibaba and Tencent have already invested heavily in several startups. In Japan, companies that used to do everything offline are transforming their business into mobile-centric platforms.
On the other hand, home cleaning services are not flourishing in the United States, as labor costs are so high. It is in Korea and China that we see record service demands.
When you were in the planning stage, was there any company that you benchmarked?
We did various case studies both domestically and internationally. I met a general housekeeping assistant to YWCA officials and heard a lot of stories. At the time of designing the business, the domestic market was operated mainly through the offline call center. Our model was different. So I made a lot of references to Chinese companies.
What does LIfe Lab’s future look like? Do you aspire to make Life Lab a leading brand in the cleaning service area or a comprehensive platform?
In a few years’ time, Life Lab plans to expand the horizon of its services to everything that needs to be handled in the realm of the household. To name a few: baby-sitting, pet care etc. That explains why the name of the service is Cleaning Lab but the name of the company is Life lab.
Have you ever felt that it is too exhausting to run a startup and raise children at the same time?
Those moments come when I am sick or something unexpected happens. Without my husband, I would have never been able to get through all these moments. He gave me full support starting a new business and my mother also gave me lots of advice and encouragement as she was a working mom herself. I am sometimes worried that I don’t get to spend enough time with my children. Fortunately, the older the kids get, the more they understand their mom.
Finally, please tell us the next step of Life Lab.
The cleaning service industry is growing, so we expect we will break-even in the beginning of next year. As I mentioned earlier, we will work on regional expansion and the addition of child care services. About five years into the future, we picture our service becoming a go-to platform for everything you need to take care of your house, including pets and the elderly.
（Top photo from Baidu Images.）
This article, entitled “Interview: Hyun Joo-yeon, CEO and a working mother behind home cleaning startup, Life Lab”, was written in Korean by Hye-in Seo of Platum, edited by AllTechAsia.