We tried the startup built by 2 Harvard students that does your chores for you -- here's what it was like

Marcela SaponeAlfredCofounder Marcela Sapone

Marcela Sapone and Jessica Beck hatched the idea for Hello Alfred while they were at Harvard Business School, and found that working gruelling hours wasn’t conducive to keeping their apartments clean.

The apartments were a total mess, Sapone tells Business Insider.

So the pair decided to take to Craigslist and hire someone to do their laundry, buy groceries, and complete all the other errands they just never could get around to doing.

The concept stuck, and eventually the pair cofounded Hello Alfred, a concierge startup where its employees run your errands for you. Alfred’s basic service costs $32 per week, plus the cost of goods like groceries, and is handled through its smartphone app.

The company has seen revenues triple in the first half of this year, according to Sapone.

Branching out to buildings

While the initial rollout of Alfred focused on signing up individual consumers, Sapone says the company has started a new phase of its business, one that signals the bigger plan for the company. Alfred has begun to sign up whole apartment buildings for its service.

Since Alfred’s founding, Sapone says she’s been obsessed with “density.” Density of customers is how you make a business like Alfred’s work, and scale, she explains. Sapone says Alfred has a huge waitlist, but that the company has constrained its growth to focus on making sure its unit economics are solid.

Signing up entire apartment buildings is a way to supercharge that density of customers.

One of the first companies to offer Alfred as an “amenity” in its buildings is Ollie, a micro-apartment and coliving “specialist.” Ollie recently announced plans for a 301-apartment property in Los Angeles, touting a basic subscription to Alfred as one of the amenities.

Jess alfredAlfredCofounder Jessica Beck

Ollie cofounders Chris and Andrew Bledsoe tell Business Insider that they always knew they wanted concierge-level services, and actually started out talking to more traditional ones. But Alfred made the compelling pitch: a lot of things a traditional concierge services does, like ordering cars and making reservations, are easy to do on your smartphone. Alfred would step in for things your smartphone couldn’t do.

Ollie decided to enter into a partnership in which its apartments are serviced once a week by an Alfred employee. Residents can upgrade the account if they want to, but the basic service is free.

Another Alfred partner is Related Rentals, a luxury apartments company, which announced its Alfred partnership on Facebook earlier this month.

Sapone says these partnerships are a piece of a much larger expansion plan, and something that has been in the works for quite some time.

It was in Alfred’s first pitch deck, she says. Alfred, so far, has raised $12.5 million from investors, including Spark Capital, New Enterprise Associates, Sherpa Capital, and CrunchFund.

Using Alfred

So once Alfred is in a whole apartment building, or a single home, what do its employees actually do?

AlfredMy ‘Alfred,’ Eli

The basic service is easy to understand: groceries, laundry, tidying up, and so on.

But when I tested the service, what I found most useful were the random chores I had been putting off. My Alfred (Eli) assembled a photo array for me and hung it on my wall, fixed a shirt button, bought me a power strip, and cleaned a wall that had gotten dirty.

When these chores are within reason for what an Alfred could accomplish in a weekly visit to your house, you don’t get charged. The tasks I asked for all fell under the basic service, though a Bloomberg writer who had Alfred resell 90 books was charged for this. If Alfred has to subcontract the job or do a lot of additional work or travel, you’ll be billed. Otherwise, you’ll just be charged the cost of the goods (the power strip, for example). You can also discuss the amount of work one of your requests will require with your Alfred beforehand using the app, which I did a few times.

My requests weren’t unusual for Alfred users. These are the most common tasks Alfred is asked to do, according to Sapone:

  • TV mounting
  • Hanging pictures
  • Window cleaning
  • Shelf mounting
  • Patio/outdoor cleaning
  • Furniture assembly

My biggest problem with the service was that once I had my Alfred to do all the chores I’d been too lazy to do, I felt like the service was less valuable for me. I live one two blocks from a laundry place and three blocks from a grocery store. I don’t have prescriptions to fill regularly or parcels to have Alfred drop at the post office. While I appreciate that these tasks might be more burdensome or pressing for others, they just aren’t for me. Those recurring tasks weren’t compelling for my life, as it stands today.

Alfred noteBusiness InsiderA note from Eli.

But I will say the main benefit to Alfred was that I simply didn’t have to think about keeping my home in order. When I remembered some tidbit I needed to buy sometime in the near future, I put it on my list, and it appeared. Since I don’t completely destroy my house every week, Alfred’s tidying was more than enough. I just didn’t have to make time for those things, or worry.

That feeling isn’t worth $32 per week to me at this point in my life, but it was tangible. And if it were a free amenity in my building, I certainly wouldn’t say no.

Additional reporting by Maya Kosoff.

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