Leaders’ Insights: Jules Coleman, Hassle.com

25 Sep 2015

Irishwoman Jules Coleman is the co-founder and chief product officer of Hassle.com, which allows people to hire a cleaner quickly and easily.

Coleman founded Hassle.com in 2011 with friends Alex Depledge and Tom Nimmo and the company won the Start-up of the Year at the Tech City Awards in 2013.

Hassle.com works by allowing users to simply type in their area code and browse through cleaner profiles and customer reviews before shortlisting the cleaners that best suit their needs.

Hassle.com was originally based in London but set up a branch in Ireland last year. In July this year it was acquired by Berlin-based home-cleaning services provider Helpling, with the combined entity now operating in 14 markets.

Hassle.com is also planning to launch a mobile app for its customers in Ireland this month.

‘No matter what size you are, how much money you have raised, you never have enough resources to do everything you want as quickly as you want’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Hassle.com. Since joining forces with Helpling.com in July of this year I have also taken on responsibility for the wider global group. My role is all about making the experience of using the various products and platforms we offer a better experience for all users. I split my time between London and Berlin.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I seem to have spent a disproportionate amount of the past five years trialling different to-do list apps but I have finally found one that works for me, Todoist. Like most people, I seem to be inundated with email. I’ve found keeping my inbox as close to zero as possible, moving tasks out to Todoist and deferring time-sensitive information to the relevant time slot with Mailbox has really improved my ability to prioritise my work, removing the feeling of drowning in email.

What are the biggest challenges facing your business and how are you tackling them?

For our business, in particular, that thing that keeps me awake at night is how we can deliver a consistently great experience for our users.

We have passed the MVP stage and found product-market fit but there are still hundreds if not thousands of edge cases that we have yet to iron out the wrinkles on. It’s a fun challenge but it can sometimes feel daunting when there is so much you want to do but there is a limit on resources. In fact, I think that has been one of my biggest learnings since starting a business. No matter what size you are, how much money you have raised, you never have enough resources to do everything you want as quickly as you want. Managing that scarcity is what my role is all about.

What are the key industry opportunities youre capitalising on?

I firmly believe that our business could not have existed even five years ago. The advent of smartphones is of huge importance to us. The fact that every cleaner on our platform has a device in their pocket that is constantly connected and capable of running their entire business is truly transformational. I think this is the driver that has seen so many service industries start to succeed in e-commerce in the past few years.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

In early 2012 we were lucky enough to be selected to take part in the Springboard (now Techstars) accelerator programme in London. We were one of 10 teams chosen from about 600 applications. At the time of applying we were little more than an idea and were very naïve about almost all aspects of running a start-up. The programme was the baptism of fire we needed and it ultimately introduced us to many of our initial investors.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Throughout the Springboard programme, we were told by countless mentors that we needed to narrow down the focus of our product. At the time, we were trying to be a marketplace for 25 different local services. We ignored the advice for far too long, convincing ourselves that our USP was the fact we were a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all your service needs. The mentors were right though and we only started to see meaningful traction when we finally took the painful decision to throw away almost 18 months of work and rebuild the platform to concentrate on cleaning only.

How do you get the best out of your team?

My co-founders and I have always been very clear that we are good generalists, jack-of-all-trade-like characters. I think that is a useful skillset when starting a company but quickly it becomes necessary to bring in people with particular skills and experiences into various areas of the company. With that mindset I think you can give your team the best chance of success. You bring them on board for the thing they are really good at and then you get out of the way and let them do whatever it is that is.

Having said that, as a company we do firmly believe that culture fit is just as important as anything that might appear on the CV. When you combine both attributes you usually end up with a formidable combination.

‘I firmly believe that our business could not have existed even five years ago’

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to effect change?

I think there are lots of really awesome initiatives happening at the moment that make me hopeful about the next generation of STEM employees. I think the crossover of start-ups into mainstream consciousness in the past few years will do wonders for offering teenagers role models to aspire to when they are contemplating career choices. When I was 16 I considered doing computer science at university but was told I would end up doing tech support for the rest of my career. I don’t think I would have that fear if I was 16 now.

At the younger age bracket, programmes like Coder Dojo and products like Kano are also introducing an ever-wider circle of kids to the possibilities of technology. And at the opposite end of the spectrum courses like General Assembly and Makers Academy are giving people from all walks of life a pathway into the tech industry even if they missed out the first time around.

I don’t think we should be complacent though as there is so much more that could be done, but we should also recognise and praise some of the great work already underway.

Who is your business hero and why?

When we graduated from the Springboard programme we were in need of office space. We had no money to pay the extortionate rents that plague London. Mills and Sinx, the founders of UsTwo, a creative design studio, came to our rescue, allowing us to camp out in their London studio for six months.

Together they exemplify the kind of commitment to retaining a sense of who you are as a business as you scale that we have tried hard to follow at Hassle.com. They have grown a business from their parents’ kitchen table to a global design brand that works with the world’s largest companies whilst also building their own products such as the amazing Monument Valley

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I really like the books written by the guys at 37 Signals, Rework and Remote. They are pretty no-nonsense, ‘hey this worked for us, it may or may not be useful for you’, type of books. I think there are a lot of really useful bits in there that we have found have, in fact, worked for us.

It’s almost a cliché now, but Lean Startup by Eric Ries was instrumental for us in our initial phase. I don’t like to follow any of these things too dogmatically, but again there are principles and aspects that really resonate for us. For example, the question of “Is there any way we could make these learnings faster”? is one we ask ourselves all the time. We never want to build more than we have to, to learn something new about what our users want.

‘When I was 16 I considered doing computer science at university but was told I would end up doing tech support for the rest of my career. I don’t think I would have that fear if I was 16 now’

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I am a big fan of Trello. We have Trello boards for most things in the company. I like the flexibility it offers but also that it tends to keep people from being overly verbose and long-winded!

I spend quite a lot of my time travelling these days and I have come to love my iPad Air. I pair it up with a Bluetooth Logitech keyboard and find I can be productive pretty much anywhere and complete most things (with the exception of running a Rails development environment).

Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Intel, Eircom, Fidelity Investments, ESB, Accenture and CoderDojo.