Well Nest was founded by husband and wife Phil and Nicole Harper. The green cleaning service allows customers to book a fully vetted, insured home cleaner online. A while back, I reviewed their services. You can click here for the post. Phil and Nicole are revolutionizing the way our homes are being cleaned and they are taking Northern Virginia by storm. The company is rapidly growing and they have big plans for expansion into the future. I had the chance to interview Phil to find out a little more about Well Nest and the man behind the brand.
How would you describe your job? Team builder, Product Designer, Driver of Customer Loyalty
What part of your job might surprise people? I spent the first six months cleaning houses with the crew. It was necessary in learning how to build and operate a cleaning service and to understand why the industry had such a poor reputation!
What did you wear to your very first job interview? I was 14 and showed up in a full suit to an interview to be a Snack Bar Attendant with the local Parks and Rec. They gave the job to a 16 year old.
Who would you like to have a 10 minute interview with? Mark Cuban – his philosophies (beyond Shark Tank!) fascinate me. I follow him religiously.
What are your go to resources for keeping current on your industry? This may sound weird but I don’t use any resources because I feel like the entire industry is still in 1999. We focus entirely on listening to our customers and listening to our employees. Our goal is to be constantly improving both the Customer Experience and the Employee Experience.
What are your top 3 qualities you look for when hiring someone? Attitude, attitude, attitude. They need to fit our culture. The rest can be trained.
What do you wear to work to feel like your most powerful self? Jeans and a t-shirt!
What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired? Take a break. If it’s nice out, go for a walk or a run. Or think about a vacation I really want to take!
What are your top 3 entrepreneurial tips? 1 – Let the numbers do the talking. If the numbers are real and show potential for success, keep at it. If they don’t, understand why and pivot accordingly. 2 – Entrepreneurship is really hard. Hang in there. Ignore what you see and hear about launch parties and all the crazy start-up stuff, it’s not reality. 3 – No one will care about it as much as you do, which will be tough.
How did you get the idea or concept for your business? Check out our story here!
What was your mission at the outset? Design a service that we are proud to own and operate.
How many employees? 10
How do you advertise your business? We have grown entirely by word of mouth and customer referrals!
To what do you attribute your success? Amazing employees and our personal understanding of the market because we are the market ourselves.
What made you choose your current location? We live in Arlington and love it!
What are your company’s goals for 2017? Double the number of crews we have and expand into Alexandria.
What is unique about your business? Many things that are all driven by the fact that Nicole and I are not only the owners but we are also the market. We live in Arlington, we have a 1 year old, we eat organic, and we understand the importance of a kid’s schedule. We’ve designed our service for families and designed it in a way that we would personally want as the customer.
What inspired you to choose this type of business? Opportunity. There is clearly a major void in the industry. We always ask people to name one house cleaning brand they have a great impression of and very few people can.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out as the owner to a start up company, what would it be? Don’t be afraid to talk to your competitors. You’d be surprised how many people are super willing to help you succeed even if you’re competing. This is especially true in a large market like house cleaning.
When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? I was obsessed with Derek Jeter so I wanted to be the shortstop for the Yankees. The Nats weren’t in town yet, bandwagon fan all the way back then! But now I want to be Max Scherzer when I grow up.
What was your first business idea and what did you do with it? It was intrapreneurial but I built a basketball camp for the local YMCA when I was 19. I put together a business plan and budget and presented it to the Executive Team of the YMCA. They approved it, we built it, and it ended up running successfully for two years.
What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had? You can’t just give someone a task, say “Go” and expect it to be done perfectly. It’s important to talk through an example or at least talk through the specifics before saying “Go.”
What’s your best hiring tip/secret? Ask a couple tough questions, watch their reactions. You’ll quickly see how they’d respond to a customer who does the same.
How do you use social media? Minimally right now. We are entirely focused on ensuring we have the processes in place to be able to continue with our 90% Customer Retention Rate as we grow and scale. Once those processes are in place and running without my or our manager’s involvement, we are going to focus on Instagram and promoting a blog with entrepreneurship stories and cleaning tips.
What’s your favorite book? This is bad but I’ve never really been into reading books. Magazines are my go-to! Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Sports Illustrated
What did you learn from your biggest failure? Trust but verify. My management style is to give my team opportunities to grow, expand, and push themselves if they desire. In one instance with the business I gave someone too much responsibility and it back-fired tremendously because, while she absolutely put forth enough effort, she simply didn’t have the experience or the knowledge to handle the responsibility.
How do you find inspiration? My family.
What was the best piece of advice you ever got? The worst? Ohhh this is a good one. I love the piece of advice – “Manage yourself out of your job and you’ll always be growing” because it enforces the idea that if you’re constantly improving processes, you will be able to continue working on new projects. Our manager is probably tired of me saying that to her. Worst piece of advice – “Technology solves everything.” Tech is awesome, it’s great, but the one thing it can’t solve is problems with culture. Use technology to drive efficiency and eliminate the risk of human error, but ultimately, don’t rely on technology to build a business.
What’s your productivity secret? I put on either techno music or rock music, put headphones on, and get after it. This questionnaire is 50 questions so I’m currently listening to Steve Aoki and grinding it out! Also, my best productivity sometimes happens between the hours of 11 PM and 4 AM!
What’s your favorite vacation spot? We honeymooned in Anguilla, an island in the Caribbean. It was unbelievable and we can’t wait to go back.
What do you think is the most important innovation of your lifetime thus far? Professionally…WellNest, without a doubt.
What was your favorite class in college? Racquetball class! Just kidding. I actually loved an upper level accounting course because it was all about how the numbers can drive business decisions and how to look at a business from a numbers perspective. Ed Babcock was the Professor at Penn State (Hi Ed!) and that single class was probably the most beneficial course I’ve ever taken.
What are your favorite restaurants in the DC area & why? Absolutely love Oz in Clarendon, Chef Brad is the real deal and since we are foodies, we really enjoy the unique food he puts on his menu. We frequent Clare n Dons in Falls Church simply because of its laid back, beachy vibe and good food.
What are your favorite places to take family & friends when they’re visiting from out of town? We love the Air and Space Museum out near Dulles. We also love Nationals Ballpark! And we enjoy the breweries, vineyards and wineries out in Loudoun.
What’s the one question you get asked the most about your job/company? You own a cleaning service?
When people hear the name of your company, what do you hope comes to mind? Organic, fresh, spa, relaxing
What is the last tv show you “binge watched?” Band of Brothers
Are you using your college degree(s)? Yes, every day. I majored in accounting and as a business owner, if you don’t know your numbers, you’re likely not fully understanding your business and what needs to happen to be profitable and successful.
Brunch? Lunch? Or Dinner? Dinner! Either something laid back (fish tacos), something fresh and clean (shrimp avocado salad), or an expensive treat (medium rare ribeye with loaded mashed potatoes and asparagus).
What would people who think they really know you be surprised to find out about you? I wish I was a lot more laid back and “chill” than I am.
What is the one thing you wish you would’ve known before starting your company? Just how hard the lows would be to manage and power through.
What does a typical day in your business look like? Our crews arrive to our office at 7:30. Dispatch is a bit crazy as the crews pack the cars, we talk through each of the day’s jobs, and they head out. If everything goes smooth during the day, the rest of the day can be quiet where we can get things done. I like to visit customers, work with our manager on building our processes, and work on growth. Lots of recruiting, interviews, and problem solving as the day continues.
What is your work-life balance like? Do you think such a thing even exists when running a company? My work-life balance was a lot worse when I was in corporate America because the stresses were often times not really warranted. The difference is now I can never turn it off. I wake up thinking about WellNest, obviously spend all day thinking about it, and dream about it. It’s impossible to turn off. BUT I do love it. There are really amazing days, really terrible days, and smooth days that are great. The stresses are real. The really amazing days more than make the terrible days worth it!
The actual process of getting a company off the ground is challenging. What steps did you take to set it up for success? Our backgrounds in professional client service / consulting really set us up to launch successfully. We have experience in things like project management, product delivery, tough conversations, and have seen many, many businesses. I personally had dug into the numbers of 60+ companies throughout my career and have had detailed conversations with the CFOs or Controllers for 20-30 of those companies about what has made their business successful.
What do you think helps a brand stand out and garner more attention? Authenticity, authenticity, authenticity. When starting from scratch, someone who loves steak shouldn’t be building a vegan food company. We are proud of the WellNest brand because it’s a brand that we would personally buy from and we think that shows in our everything we do as a service and as a brand that’s poised for success.
To book services, visit www.gowellnest.com. And be sure to follow them on social too!