The cleaning industry—an industry largely composed of historically disenfranchised groups such as women and people of color—is desperate for change.
With over 2 million housekeepers across the U.S., an overwhelming number of domestic workers live in poverty. Many of these workers barely earn enough to make ends meet. Unfortunately, this circumstance has been exasperated by COVID-19, where a significant number of domestic workers are either unemployed or experiencing a rapid decline in service requests.
Learn more about the current reality domestic workers face and the tech company, Neu, that is building equity by empowering domestic working women.
The Stark Reality for Domestic Workers Amid COVID
A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute illustrated how the coronavirus has revealed the ways in which domestic work has been undervalued and it’s workforce under-protected. While employers are taking steps to practice social distancing, a large number of domestic workers have been left without work and the looming prospect they may lose their jobs.
In addition, with a disproportionate number of domestic workers being women, many have struggled with balancing their careers alongside the needs of their households. This has particularly applied to working mothers who, in addition to supporting their families financially, have opted to stay at home to support their children as caregivers facilitating e-learning initiatives while a majority of schools nationally remain closed. However, while some housekeepers have this option many do not and and have had the looming need to find work safely, forcing them to work in unsafe conditions to survive and feed their families—typically without adequate protection.
Opportunity for Change In An Industry Ripe for Disruption
Given the stark reality faced by domestic workers, the tech start up Neu is rising to the occasion to increase opportunities for domestic workers.
Neu—a tech platform that provides quality cleans, on-demand—primarily supports two customer segments: vacation rental hosts (Airbnb, VRBO, and more) and cleaners (domestic workers, housekeepers, or others). As a socially-conscious company, Neu has committed to building equity and creating economic opportunity for historically disenfranchised groups with their mission to make cleaning seamless, safer, and stress-free.
The 9-person company, headquartered in Seattle, WA, recently secured seed funding bringing the organization to date to having raised $800,000. In addition, the company’s founders are recent graduates of the 2020 Techstars Seattle cohort. And while ripe for growth, Neu recently expanded to Phoenix, AZ and has plans to enter a third market in early 2021.
Why Now And Why Neu?
“As a computer engineer who moonlighted as a professional Airbnb Superhost, I co-managed a profitable business that couldn’t scale as we lacked a reliable cleaning solution… we would take turns rushing to clean our Airbnbs during our lunch breaks… failing to do so had steep consequences, ranging from losing thousands in revenue from a canceled stay or future bookings from bad reviews,” says Kwame Boler, CEO.
This eventually led Boler to co-found a short lived independent cleaning company; however, this exposure enabled both he and his co-founder, Claudius Mbemba, to gain a fresh perspective and empathy for housekeepers trapped in a perpetually stagnant industry.
Boler adds: “We found that there was an abundance of dedicated cleaning service providers, but that the vast majority struggled with balancing the operations of their business while possessing the versatility to support HR, marketing, sales, and customer support concurrently.”
Unlike other industries, tech companies had yet to introduce a product that best supported, empowered or enabled domestic workers. Essentially, Neu sought to unshackle cleaners from a system that, historically, has never operated in their best interests.
(Em)Powering through the Pandemic
While the coronavirus initially negatively impacted both the vacation rental and cleaning industries, the prioritization of cleaning resulted in hospitality/vacation rental companies like Airbnb introducing “enhanced clean” protocols, which in-turn increased demand for services like Neu, subsequently creating greater opportunities for domestic workers.
In light of the pandemic, Neu has enabled cleaners with PPE to have all the tools necessary to carry out their work safely and diligently. The company now provides masks, gloves, microfibers, and EPA-registered disinfectants effective against COVID-19. And to further offset cost, Neu makes vacuum cleaners and other cleaning equipment available for purchase with net-60 terms—or payment 60 days post equipment purchasing to ensure housekeepers don’t have additional barriers or direct out-of-pocket expenses. This, coupled with Neu’s flexibility for domestic workers, has been one of the reasons for its quick adoption.
Domestic workers like Suzi—a working mother who sources jobs via Neu— note that they like the platform for its flexibility: “Flexibility is important to me because I have five children at home and am married. It’s really important for me to be able to have a healthy work-life balance,” says Suzi.
The majority of these workers are the primary caretakers of their own homes and working with Neu allows them to maximize their time. With Neu, cleaners get to choose the days that they want to work, allowing them to plan their lives better and cater to other needs. For people like working mothers and students, Neu gives them a great opportunity to earn extra income at their own pace. Neu manages the entire operational and administrative tasks, which leaves only the service portion of the job to these domestic workers, making them more efficient and providing a better work-life balance.
The company’s impact also extends to over half (56%) of Airbnb hosts who are women where Neu provides the peace of mind that allows them to focus more on their homes and daily lives without having to bother about potentially losing revenue through poor cleans.
Megan, a California-based host with property in Seattle, has been able to use Neu’s technology to improve her business. Megan shares: “I love the idea that I’m able to tap directly into my Airbnb calendar and [Neu cleaners] just reliably are there and clean without me having to check in on them. We’re living in a global economy where you can work wherever. With my business, it’s been so nice being able to team up with Neu.”
Neu beginnings: A Brighter Future And Better Tomorrow
As many consumers strive for a more socially conscious organizations that create greater spaces for equality, companies like Neu are becoming increasingly important for disadvantaged groups to ensure that everyone, regardless of gender or race, has the chance to live a better life. By creating high-paying jobs in an industry primarily made up of women and people of color that have traditionally been underpaid, Neu is helping to drive much-needed equity in society. And as Neu continues to expand to more markets and sectors, more domestic workers will be able to take control of their lives through Neu’s financially empowering resources.
In Boler’s words, “We’re just getting started, but inevitably, we aim to build the world’s largest cleaning platform.”