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Jazz Shaper: Avin Rabheru

Posted on 14 May 2022

Avin Rabheru is an entrepreneur, early-stage investor and non-executive director. He is the Founder and CEO of Housekeep.com, which became the UK market leader in the £10 billion house and office cleaner market three years after launch.

Elliot Moss

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, bringing the shapers, the disrupters of the business world together with the musicians shaping Jazz, Soul and Blues.   My guest today I am very pleased to say is Avin Rabheru, Founder and CEO of Housekeep, an online home cleaning platform.  After spending most of his career in venture capital investing in young, growing companies and having long been excited by consumer technology companies that try and disrupt large existing markets, Avin found himself drawn to the fragmented cleaning industry.  As he says, “It was clear there were plenty of profitable local businesses delivering home services but no one had seriously invested in scalable technology to lead these markets.”  The idea for Housekeep was born.  To understand the industry issues and to get Housekeep off the ground, Avin invested £5,000 of his own money and cleaned a hundred homes before, in 2014, he raised a million dollars and launched his online platform.  Housekeep connects customers with vetted local cleaners and now also tradespeople across London and the South East of England.  Equally focussed on the happiness of their workers, they aim to create stable, dependable incomes for workers by providing repeat local work.  It’s great to have you join us, thank you. 

Avin Rabheru

Thank you for having me.

Elliot Moss

Avin, I mentioned at the beginning that there was life before this and before you being an entrepreneur and that you were an investor.  In simple terms, what’s it like running something rather than investing in something?

Avin Rabheru

Yeah, I wish I knew that before I started, that would have been a useful context for me.  I think certainly the investor side of the table, I remember entrepreneurs telling me how hard it is and it didn’t really mean that much to me, I sat there on the other side of the table, you give some advice and implement at board meetings, you try to make introductions and so on.  I think that the most picky way I’d sum it up – without being too sort of academic about – is I think being an investor is intellectually challenging.  You are seeing lots of different businesses, different problems, you are having to use quite a lot of mental dexterity.  Running a business is difficult in a different way, it’s relentless, there’s always a new challenge, a new hell and I’m not saying one is intellectual and the other one’s relentless but they’re quite different, different beasts actually to manage and actually a lot of my job now is not as intellectually difficult as what I used to do before but actually there’s just a lot more of it, there’s a lot more kind of real people issues or things that you have to deal with that don’t require spreadsheets or maths necessarily. 

Elliot Moss

And looking back to the spreadsheets and the maths and I think you were in the world of management consultancy before you then went into, I can never say it, it’s name properly, it’s a wonderful name, it’s Smedvig…

Avin Rabheru

That’s right, yes. 

Elliot Moss

…Smedvig was correct.  Good, the Smedvig Family Office, the Smedvig capital vehicle.  Looking back to that though and the spreadsheets and things, did you enjoy that intellectual, looking under the bonnet and asking clever questions?

Avin Rabheru

Absolutely.  I loved it.

Elliot Moss

But you stopped.

Avin Rabheru

Well, it’s a good… I take that as a question, I suppose.

Elliot Moss

It is a question. 

Avin Rabheru

I think, you know, I’d done that for ten years and there was always a bit of me which was I’m using things that I’ve learnt second-hand to think and opine on what should this business do next, what should these families do next, should we invest in this thing, should we exit this thing and it felt like I was missing a little bit of real world experience and I guess going back a bit further, I’d always assumed that all the jobs that I would do would be training towards running my own business.  I grew in a place where everyone in my family ran a business, I just assumed that’s what people did when they grew up.  It turns out growing up is something you never complete or never finish, in retrospect.  So, I always thought these jobs were sort of training, management consulting would give me big business experience, venture capital would give me the sort of investing early stage experience and I was fortunate in that I loved doing these jobs and so I ended up doing it a bit, I’d almost say I ended up doing those jobs longer than I had expected to rather than the other way round.

Elliot Moss

He’s basically been on the perfect strategic training programme.  If you need advice on what to do next then listen to Avin Rabheru, he’s my Business Shaper today, he’s the Founder of Housekeep. 

You said, Avin, that you know that where you grew up in the family and environment and all that was a very entrepreneurial place and you would run your own business.  Once you actually got into it and you’ve been running it now for eight years, the relentless part doesn’t sound like it exhausts you, does it energise you or is there, I mean is it, do you run on adrenalin or do you still have time to step back and be thoughtful and be analytical and be philosophical about what you’re trying to do or is it just, as you described it, purely relentless?

Avin Rabheru

Well, I think you’ve got to try to make space for that and I think there are different phases of a business.  So, I would say the first eighteen months or so, what’s now called trying to find the product market fit or in my words at the time, trying to figure out you know what on earth is all this stuff?  That part, you’re exploring lots of different things, it is actually quite… regardless of what I said earlier, it’s quite intellectually difficult, like what should we sell, to whom, do they want it, do they, can we make money doing that, should we do more of it, should we do this, should we do that, should we sell blue widgets, red widgets, etcetera, that bit’s quite intellectually challenging, in sort of exploration phase and that’s relentless because if you don’t figure it out quickly you are going to run out of money and then you need to stop in effect.  The next phase was quite different and that was, we’d figured out what we were selling, who wanted it, who would make it for us, you know we’d figured out the sort of how to productionise this.  I’d say we spent probably five years heads down actually on a sort of execution mode, selling more and more of the same on repeat, kind of nailing down what works and that’s relentless because you’re always growing and you don’t really, that bit, you know do you step back so much or do you just do more of the same?  Mostly you do more of the same, you double it, you triple it, you quadruple it and then I’d say you get to the point where actually that’s working so well you can afford to take a bit of time to step back again, which is where in our case over the last couple of years, we said okay we’ve figured out how this one vertical of cleaning in one geography of London works, how do we expand that into other verticals, other geographies, can we, does it work and so I think it’s relentless in that there’s always you know, either things aren’t going well so something needs to be fixed or things are going well and every now and then I remember having the sensation that I’d reached the top of the hill and thinking God this is kind of works and whenever I’ve sat on my laurels for not very long at all, you know a week or two, you fear some other big mountain to be climbed and I think it takes a bit of experience and maybe it takes eight years to figure out that’s just what it is, there’s always more, there’s always more to do and you have to figure out as a person how do I live with that, how do I manage that and how do I manage my time around that?

Elliot Moss

And in terms of the connection to cleaning of houses, which is an absolute critical thing to do and whether you do it yourself or whether you are lucky enough to have someone that does it for you, for you, is there a visceral connection or was it a, there’s… and you can be honest with me Avin, you know or was there a this is just a ridiculous situation this market is in, there is an opportunity here to do something better.  Was it the latter rather than the former?

Avin Rabheru

Almost entirely the latter.  I, however, am a complete a neat freak, much to the annoyance of my wife.

Elliot Moss

His hair is perfectly in place.  He’s got just the right amount of gel.  His beard is just lovely and trimmed as well.  We’re looking… I feel like I’m looking in the mirror.  I’m pretending of course. 

Avin Rabheru

That’s what I thought.  You know my office desk is pristine and my house has to be neat and tidy, you know it’s just how I am so there is certainly some element of that but like I say, it was mostly a market opportunity. 

Elliot Moss

Stay with me for my neat freak, Avin Rabheru.  I’m a neat freak too so I’m totally empathising with this position, I love a clean desk.  Nothing better than that in the whole world.  He’s the Founder of Housekeep and they’re doing rather well helping scalably clean people’s houses.  He’s coming back in a few minutes but right now we’re going to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions, they can be found on all the major podcast platforms.  Mishcon de Reya’s Martha Averley and Matt Robinson talk about equity, diversity and inclusion with regards to recruitment and how employers can recruit in a fair but diverse way. 

You can enjoy all our former Business Shapers on the Jazz Shapers podcast and indeed you can hear this very programme again if you pop Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice or if you have got a smart speaker just ask it to play Jazz Shapers and there you will be greeted with a taster of our recent shows.  But back to today’s guest, it’s Avin Rabheru, Founder and CEO of Housekeep, an online home cleaning platform.  So you described the different challenges at the beginning.  Team is always important, you know people talk about brilliant people.  Where did you find your brilliant people?  Or was it a more, was it more of a case of it took some time to find the brilliant people?

Avin Rabheru

Yeah, I think this is a very interesting area, people.  The best people that we’ve every found have come through network, they’ve been people who have seen what we’re doing or they’re a friend or a friend of a friend and then they’ve helped to sort of get off the ground.  Our first CTO was and is a great friend of mine, Gareth, who I was at University with, he was the only person I knew that knew anything about software engineering, we started chatting about hey, how should… hey mate, how should I think about this problem and that just organically led into him coming and joining us and he was our CTO for the first five years and got us hugely forward.  I think there’s this sort of, and this is perhaps one of those things that I used to hear on the investor side of the table or possibly even used to say, dare I say it, on the investor side of the table, which is hire great people, you know to hire the best people you can.  It’s very easy to say as an investor but what do you actually do with that when you have no revenue, no customers, no funding, you don’t go and hire Steve Jobs because you wouldn’t have anything for him to do and I think it’s about hiring the best people you can for the phase of the business at the time and sometimes you need superstars in some functions but you need people who are just good in other functions and at other times that changes and the other function needs the superstars and of course over time you want superstars across the whole business but that’s not, that’s not possible when you are tiny in the early days.  I’m a Manchester boy which means I support the only important football club…

Elliot Moss

Arsenal. 

Avin Rabheru

They’re red but the thing that’s remarkable of course about Sir Alex Ferguson is the way he rebuilt teams over time.  Very few managers have been able to do that and I think your job as a Founder if you are going to make it from founder to CEO, is to be able to do that, to reinvent your team for the external circumstances, for the you know the size of the business and have the right horses for the right courses and I actually think it’s quite rare that Founders make it to CEOs ten/twenty years later and likewise that the teams make it through that whole journey and it’s only a few exceptional people that can do that.

Elliot Moss

I think the point about the phase is excellent and well made.  How do you know where you are though?  I mean, you know you can look as the investor because it’s quite easy every three months, six months or even every once a week you are having conversation, when you are in the thick of it, how do you know that ah, hold on a minute, I’m three months away or six months away from phase two which is I’ve done my MVP, Minimum Viable Product, I’m over here now.  I mean, that’s hard isn’t it?

Avin Rabheru

Yeah, I mean certainly for us most of it’s been done in the rear view mirror of hey, this thing’s been broken for a long time, what’s going wrong and we can’t figure it out so, that’s the honest answer.  In the early days you learn by getting things wrong and you, you know you either figure out how to fix them or you don’t.  I think as the business gets more mature and you start getting more senior people in, you start changing a time horizons from how do we grow the business 10% this week to how do we grow the business 10% this month to how do we grow the business 20, 30, 40% this year and you extend your time horizons, the business time horizons, you can start to look forward and anticipate and say well actually at the moment we’re fifty people, we think we’ll be a hundred people by this time next year, does it make sense to have the same management structure?  Who would we be missing?  And you can start to plan but honestly, in the early days, it happens mostly in the rear view mirror because you figure out something’s not working and try to solve it.

Elliot Moss

Make sure you’ve got good rear view mirrors and if you’re thinking about doing your own thing or indeed in the middle of it. 

You were talking before about phases and rear view mirrors and Sir Alex Ferguson so, the kind of leader you are, Avin, what is it?  You seem at first blush, calm, you seem considered, you are obviously you know you enjoy intellectual stimulation, that much is clear, you… PPE Degree at Oxford, you’ve got lots of ticks in lots of boxes.  When the rubber hits the road though and stuff’s going wrong and stuff’s going right, what are you like with your team?

Avin Rabheru

Well, I think they might tell you I’ve mellowed a bit over time.  I think, you know, why am I doing this?  Why do this job rather than something else?  I like solving problems, you know whether it’s make a piece of furniture or build a business or you know I like puzzles and problem-solving and I’d put this all in that category and I kind of enjoy the intellectual stimulation of solving difficult problems.  I think the reason that we’ve succeeded in a field where you know lots of people have tried to put technology into home services but they’ve not been particularly successful with it, is we’ve gone a level deeper to solve the kind of deeper, more difficult problems and what do users really want, which our technology really do or whatever that might be.  I think what does that mean for how I am around my team and expectations that I might have for myself is I think I have quite high standards on, is this important, is it good, is it going to make a big difference?  I expect people to do things right, do it the right way.  I can sort of remember being told maybe a few times than I’d care to admit by you know my dad, if you’re going to do a job, do it properly and then I think the rest of it you know I’m not a particularly experienced people manager, the rest of it comes from I kind of feel like if I’m honest with people, if I’m open with people, if I tell them directly this is good, this is not so good, that goes quite a long way and I’m not sure beyond that I have many of the dark arts of sort of management or so on, I think you know to be honest and clear with people gets you quite far.

Elliot Moss

And is it right for you not to have a boss?  Because often people say I’m, you know, I’m unemployable, I’m unmanageable but actually for you I look back at your track record and you’re like, you seem to rub along quite nicely with people, that doesn’t seem to be the driver of your desire to run your own thing.

Avin Rabheru

I don’t know if I could quite literally have a boss again, you know, but I could imagine, I could certainly imagine doing it in partnership with other people, whereas you know here as a sole Founder that you know adds a lot of reward and a lot of challenge to it as well but I can, I’m not sure if I could, yeah, quite report to anyone ever again, I’m not quite sure I have that in me. 

Elliot Moss

Ever.  Stay with me for my final conversation with Avin Rabheru, he’s my Business Shaper today as you’ve been hearing I hope and we’ve got some great music from Robert Glasper off his most recent album, Black Radio Three.  That’s all coming up in just a moment, don’t go anywhere. 

Avin Rabheru is my Business Shaper just for a little bit longer.  You got an MBE this year, that’s nice, congratulations.

Avin Rabheru

Thank you.

Elliot Moss

You are doing good things in the business.  The business is growing.  You’re looking at I think saving thousands of tonnes of CO2 by allocating workers according to where their customers are, in other words the nearer the better.  These are all good things.  You said earlier you know the moment I sit back on my laurels and think it’s all good is the time when it all goes wrong.  Does that mean you are in a constant state of I’m never quite happy or do you find the space to be a little bit happy?

Avin Rabheru

I erm, there was definitely a time when that was the case, where you know the numbers would go up and I’d say well, how do they go up more?  I think amongst you know we were just talking earlier about transformational events, having children I think changed that a little bit, changed the pace of what you want to and what you can achieve.  I think I’m able to… I’m able to do a little bit, not a huge amount, a little bit of appreciating what we’ve built so far.  We’ve put you know £50 to £100 million in the pockets of cleaners, you know that’s a good thing to have achieved and so I’m able to appreciate some of that.  I’m also able to want more, you know how do we make that £500 million, how do we make it £5 billion so a little bit of both and I’ve got better at managing myself so, honestly left to my own devices, the most effective way and the way I’d love to work is to work 20 hours a day continuously, with no breaks, that would be my most efficient way of working.  However, there are various reasons I shouldn’t do that and I’ve got good at taking micro breaks so say I’m going to take an hour out of the day to do something but also macro breaks make a big difference to me, so taking a big holiday, turning off email on my phone, turning off chat on my phone, making sure I’m checked out and you know they do make you much more efficient when you come back so you can really see the wood from the trees and kind of focus on the big things.

Elliot Moss

And do you think that’s just an age thing or is that correlated to the experience you’ve now had of eight years being in there running your own business?

Avin Rabheru

I’m sure it’s a bit of both.  I think when you get, perhaps it’s to do with age, but I think when you get sort of five or six years in, you have to ask yourself do I want to do this for another five years, another ten years, another twenty years, what might that look like?

Elliot Moss

Avin, do you want to do this for another five, ten, twenty years?  And what might that look like?

Avin Rabheru

Well, yeah, I wish I knew the answer.

Elliot Moss

Where are you today on that?

Avin Rabheru

I think where I am today is so long as I can keep changing the goal posts, so long as I can keep building something bigger, more meaningful, more challenging in different ways, you don’t want to solve the same problem on repeat, so long as you are solving new challenges and learning I feel I could do it indefinitely and so probably around that five year mark was me saying to myself okay, I’m up for doing this for another five years but what does that need to look like and that involved not working twenty hour days continuously, that involves taking breaks, that involves moving up, looking forward, trying to build something bigger rather than solving problems in the rear view mirror and anticipating instead and I’m sure in two to three years’ time there’ll be another piece where I say okay, if I want to do this for another five years, what does that need to look like and I’m sure, like I say, the goal posts would change again at that stage. 

Elliot Moss

Good luck moving those goal posts, have fun, it’s been really lovely talking to you, I’ve really enjoyed your considered approach to live, whether it’s for real or in this moment time you are just managing to hold the line, it does seem for real, of course I’m joking.  Just before I let you disappear, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Avin Rabheru

So, my song choice was an easy one, it’s Freddy Freeloader by Miles Davies from Kind of Blue and I think it might be the first jazz track that I ever heard and it was quite late in my life, it was at University and you know sometimes there are pieces of music that sort of blow your mind and you think what is this thing, I’ve never heard this thing before, what is this, I want more of it and that track was that to me at that time. 

Elliot Moss

That was Freddy Freeloader from Miles Davies, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Avin Rabheru.  He talked about the relentless nature of being an entrepreneur and how you have to really enjoy that.  He talked about the fact he has found his best people through the networks that his team are connected to.  The importance of understanding phases was another thing that Avin said which I really like, you’ve got to know where you are and build a team accordingly.  And finally from his own point of view to manage his own sanity, micro breaks as well as macro breaks, I love the idea of both of those.  That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You’ll find hundreds of more guests available for you to listen to in our archive, to find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to Mishcon.com/JazzShapers.

The business has raised two VC/angel investment rounds, winning Deal of the Year in 2014, and has since raised cleaner earnings 2x and received 250,000 5* customer reviews. Housekeep has won multiple awards including Service Business of the Year and Avin was named a StartUps Young Gun in 2016. The Financial Times named Housekeep as the 6th fastest-growing business in Europe in 2019. Prior to launching Housekeep, Avin was a venture capital investor and remains an active angel investor, with 40+ investments in consumer technology businesses. Prior to this, Avin worked in strategy consulting, investment banking and read PPE at Oxford University, where he won the Harold Wilson prize. 

Highlights

Running a business is difficult - it’s relentless, there’s always a new challenge. 

There’s always more to do when you’re running a business; you have to figure out as a person how do I live with that, how do I manage that and how do I manage my time around that? 

If you are going to make it from founder to CEO, it’s important to be able to reinvent your team according to external circumstances 

In the early days, you learn by getting things wrong and you either figure out how to fix them or you don’t. 

I like solving problems and I kind of enjoy the intellectual stimulation of solving difficult problems. 

The reason that we’ve succeeded is because we’ve gone a level deeper to solve the more difficult problems - finding out what users really want. 

I usually think: is this important, is it good, is it going to make a big difference?   

I expect people to do things right, do it the right way.   

I feel like if I’m honest with people, if I’m open with people, if I tell them directly “this is good, this is not so good”, that goes quite a long way. 

As a sole Founder, that adds a lot of reward and a lot of challenges. 

So long as I can keep building something bigger, more meaningful, more challenging in different ways, so long as I'm solving new challenges and learning, I feel I could do it indefinitely. 

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