Cleaning Up: The Student Maid Entrepreneur

Kristen Hadeed
Kristen Hadeed

How young entrepreneur Kristen Hadeed turned the need for a quick buck into a regional company with over 400 employees.

So, Kristen, tell me, how did a finance major with the goal of becoming an investment banker become the owner of a maid service?
Well, I was a junior in college at the University of Florida and I didn’t have a job because my classes were really tough, but I went to the mall one day and fell in love with a pair of jeans that I absolutely could not afford. They were $99 plus tax and I asked my parents if I could pay for them on the emergency credit card they gave me for college, knowing they would say no, and of course they did. And the response was, “Get a job. If you want to buy jeans then you know you gotta get a job.” But the thought of going out and applying for one never crossed my mind and I think as a kid I was pretty entrepreneurial even though my parents didn’t own companies. So I just put an ad on Craigslist to clean one house to buy the jeans. But I don’t even like cleaning. To be honest, I don’t know how I even thought to do that; it was just an instinct. I thought, okay, I’ll clean one house it’ll probably be pretty easy, buy the jeans and that’ll be it. And I cleaned a house and bought the jeans, but the woman who hired me asked me to come back every week, and before I knew it I was cleaning three or four houses a day and things just grew from there.

How large is the company now?
During our peak seasons, we have over 500 employees, two locations—Gainesville and Pensacola—and we hope to expand to college towns all over the country.

What type of people do you hire? What are the requirements to work for Student Maid?
Well, we only hire students and they can be from high school, college, or they can be in a professional school. It doesn’t really matter to us what they’re studying as long as they are a student, and we ask that they meet a 3.5 GPA requirement. The reason for this is because with a 3.5 they are likely to be dependable, responsible and show up on time. And clients feel good about giving their money to a hard working student. But we do have students who have lower than a 3.5 GPA and we hire them because they fit our culture and some of them have really hard majors and really hard classes.

What is your culture? How would you describe your culture?
Our culture is very different than most cleaning companies. I would describe it as when you walk into our office there is music playing; it’s very bright and colorful and we always have snacks. Those are things that this age group really cares about. We have a PlayStation and we have Netflix on the TV. On a deeper level, it’s one where we really are a family. We care about one another, we really are leaders, we try to create meaningful relationships with each employee and there aren’t any barriers. It’s a very comfortable, very open culture. And I like to describe it as a Google for the cleaning industry. It feels very much like that.

What is the key to being successful either as an employer or actually trying to attract a customer? What’s the secret to working with millennials?
I think there are a lot of secrets. I think that number one it’s important that you build a culture that allows for failure. A lot of times millennials seem to be paralyzed in their jobs, they are afraid to make a decision because they haven’t really failed before, because they’ve been protected by their parents and you know they’ve been living in a safety bubble. We try to create a culture that really encourages them to just make a decision even if it’s the wrong one as long as it’s in line with our values; they don’t ever have to worry about losing their job. So when they feel really safe in a culture, they make decisions, they have ownership and that’s how you really get them to release their potential. When it comes to customers, this age group really needs to identify with the brand. Whether it’s a service or a product they need to feel like they’re making a difference by buying this product or service, and that it’s a brand they believe in. If you don’t treat your employees well, millennials aren’t buying your product. If you know a millennial cares about giving back and they know that your company doesn’t really give back, they’re probably not paying for your service or product. So the best part is when  they believe in your brand, they become the best brand ambassadors for you because they tell all of their friends to buy from you. Same as employees, if millennials are happy at work they will tell all of their friends. We don’t actually have any recruiting strategy, it’s just our employees telling their friends they should work at Student Maid and that’s how we find employees.

Tell me about your speaking career.
Well, I started speaking on campus at the University of Florida when my entrepreneurship professor from college asked me to speak for his class. The first time I spoke I just talked about how I started my company. Then I realized, no, I need to tell a different story, I need to share all the times I failed. I need to create a talk that is so brutally honest and transparent and that’s what I did. When I gave that I realized the impact it was making. These young people saw themselves in me. She makes mistakes and so do I and if she can learn from them and grow from them then so can I. So I think that made me realize you have a job to do here and you can make a really big impact. So I started speaking on college campuses all over the country but then once I got really involved in that world there was a need in the corporate world for somebody who could really bridge the gap between other generations and the millennial generation because in a few years they will be half of our work force. And so I split my time between corporate, which is bridging the gap and helping one understand the other, and college, which is really just boosting confidence and empowering young people.

How do you define leadership?
I think leadership is the hardest thing for anyone to learn because you can always be a better leader. I’ve realized that the best leaders  sit on the sidelines; they’re never in the game. They’re always cheering their people on. It’s hard, especially when you own a company and you’ve put everything into this company. It’s hard to sit back and watch others make decisions. But that to me is true leadership. It’s believing in people, empowering people, and sitting back and watching them accomplish things without you.

What do you think employees want in a leader?
For this millennial age group they really want a leader who pushes them to be a better person and forces them outside of their comfort zone. At first they don’t like that. They’re upset and uncomfortable and they don’t think you’re a good leader because you’re making them do these things and making them uncomfortable. Once they start growing and learning and realizing that you’re actually making them better. And then they start really respecting and loving you as a leader.

In your view, what are the keys to a successful life and career?
I think balance is really important and that’s how I define success. It’s not just the number of clients that I have or the number of employees that I have, it’s also on the personal end how close am I to my friends and family? What are my relationships like outside of work? I focus on those just as much as I do the ones with my employees and clients. And I only feel successful when I’m doing well in both areas.

How is the millennial generation different from previous generations?
We define success differently. We don’t care so much about the corner office or the large salary. Of course we want to be paid for the work we’re doing but we would probably take a lower salary if it meant that we had time off and a flexible scheduling so we could have more time to balance our life.

Who are some of your business heroes?
Well, I love the company Zappos because when I was in college I read the book Delivering Happiness and I had just started Student Maid. It was in that book that I learned all about creating core values in a company and what it meant to really hold people accountable to values and that was a turning point in my company. We initiated a value system and things grew tremendously after that.

What are your long-term goals?
Well, I really love the speaking right now and I think the next few years I really have a great opportunity to make a difference, not just in the college world, but in the corporate world by helping these organizations understand their new workforce and customers. But I really want to grow the Student Maid brand to other college towns and not because we want more clients, but because we want to touch lives. We believe our culture really impacts the lives of the students who walk through our doors and that they leave better because they worked with Student Maid .

What advice do you have for parents of high school students and early college students?
The best thing you can do is pop the bubble and let us fall down. Let us fall down by ourselves and don’t stand there with your hand helping us up because if you do that we won’t ever learn and we also won’t become confident. The only way you become self-confident is when you go through things by yourself. I think creating more realistic expectations for what actually happens after school and encouraging your children to just take an opportunity that will cause learning.