Several years ago Marcela Sapone met her future co-founder Jessica Beck at Harvard Business School while taking a break from a hectic career in consulting and finance. During their time at Harvard, ladies tried to figure out a successful life balance between a great career and family life. They both decided that an insight of people, who had already been successful entrepreneurs in business, could actually answer their question. Indeed, they asked and all answers had one big thing in common: all successful entrepreneurs had a support system that allowed them to get more than they were able to complete by themselves. Therefore, the students realized that such help should be accessible not only to people in senior positions, but also to people at younger stages of their careers.
This is the way ‘Hello Alfred’, a platform that pairs you with a dedicated neighborhood butler coordinating many local and on-demand services to help you get your to-do’s done each week, was born. Hello Alfred’s mission is to make you ‘Come Home Happy’ by taking care of everyday errands such as grocery shopping, dry cleaning, etc. This way each of the customers can take one’s time back to focus on the things that matter such as a dinner with friends, rocking your career, or picking up a hobby.
The International Post Magazine interviews one of the Co-founders – Marcela Sapone regarding her challenges and inspiration to run the start-up.
What are the main factors of your success story?
Hello Alfred has been able to tap into a very deep human need: the need for more time. We aim to help busy people to get access to affordable help, so they can use their time on the things that really matter to them without having the cognitive load of errands and chores on their shoulders. Besides addressing this need, we focus on building relationships of trust with our customers. Our business model combines technology that allows us to efficiently organize work across a neighborhood, with the power of human intuition and human touch. Ultimately, our service is a very human interaction and as a result we are able to serve you in ways a machine or booking platform could never do. We integrated these concepts into a scalable and sustainable business model that we want to share with as many people as possible.
What is the story behind the name Alfred?
As our name hints to, my co-founder and I were inspired by Batman’s trustworthy butler Alfred Pennyworth. The thing that is special about Batman is that he is a normal man, but with sufficient organization and technology at hand of his trusted butler Alfred, he was able to be a superhero. We want to turn all our customers into superheroes.
What has been the biggest challenge to run the startup so far?
The biggest set back thus far has been to choose the pace of growth. We have made the decision not to sacrifice the quality for speed. I had to say “wait for us” to a lot of potential customers in other parts of the world. However, we are getting better at scaling our quality, so you can expect to see us in many more locations very soon.
What does it take to be a good leader?
In order to be a good leader you have to figure out the ways to fire yourself from every job. You need the humility to give your team good ideas and then get out of their way. You want your team to see you as an enabler to their success, a resource to help them excel rather than a gatekeeper. Ultimately, people are what actually matters.
How does your day look like?
Every morning I try to visualize what outcomes I want for the day. I like to write my goals for the day and at the end of each day to see whether I accomplished them. I call this practice “The Captain’s Log”. I look at our business the very same way each day – checking the outcomes we are getting, things that need my immediate attention, goals we have for the quarter and year. This practice informs me the way I spend my time. Throughout the day I am working, “white-boarding”, or having conversations to make decisions across our product, operations, and strategy. I also spend a lot of time focused on finding great people to join our team.
What are the most important qualities you look for in your employees?
We look for deeply passionate people who are not afraid to push boundaries in order to create the first of its kind of service. I think, our culture is radically transparent, but also caring. We are very thoughtful and always try to be the best at what we do as individuals and as a team.
What qualities are the most important to found a startup?
You have to have extreme grit and mental fortitude. Every day it is a race that requires your best. You need to be incredibly self-aware and realize how to manage your psychology and the psychology of the team. Being a founder requires a strange mix of confidence, discipline, spontaneity, and humility to inspire and influence the outcomes you and your team are hoping to create in the world.
How do you inspire people to work for you?
You help them achieve more than they thought it was ever possible. You take them to their edge and one step past it.
What are the future plans of Alfred?
I see Alfred letting people come home happy in many cities across the US, providing a high quality level of service to all of our customers and doing our best to make it so they spend minimal time managing all of the elements of running a home.
When is Alfred coming to Europe?
We’re working hard to get there. Soon!
What are the advantages of working for startups nowadays?
I would say a major advantage would be that startups have the ability to be nimble, fast and test hypothesis quickly. So you are part of an ever-changing, exciting, fast-paced environment. The victories and impacts you can have are also large. Many startups are disruptive by nature and because of this, they have the ability to change people’s lives.
What is your second favorite start-up after Alfred?
What do you think are the main advantages of running your own business at a young age?
You have the naïveté and energy to do whatever it takes. Maybe that is why the first time founders have statistically higher odds of success. Also, I think it’s important to have a couple of jobs and working experience before you start a business – so that you have experiences to draw on and improve. I think, when you get to a place where you will not take “no” for an answer, you need to channel that passion into a problem that is important to you.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years from now?
Doing the same thing – creating things that matter together with people I am inspired.
What were the sacrifices you had to make in order to succeed with Alfred?
We have sacrificed salaries, and clear career paths – and the luxury of being able to “shut off” completely. While we have zen moments we are still constantly thinking about the mission we are on. You make small sacrifices every day – but they are worth it.
If you had to describe yourself in one adjective, what would that be?
What is your favorite country?
That’s hard. I love Scandinavia – and Denmark.
What is Marcela Sapone that her friends know?
She likes to throw raucous dinner parties, do a lot of yoga, read, think and go on long walks. She tries to live without her cell phone and wants to figure out ways for her and others to use them less.
Who is your role model?
My grandmother. She set a very high bar – she was a Math Professor in Argentina and had seven kids. She came to the US and recreated her life. She went to get her degree again and went back to teaching while being a mom, and traveling the world. She always reminds me “life is a second” and that humans are capable of so much more than we know. She is a magnetic person and I hope to be like her when I am 80 years old.
“You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity. When you get it right, it is obvious that it is right” – Richard Feynman (Nobel Prize Winning Physicist)