Say ‘Hello Alfred’ to Your New Best Friend

An HBS-spun startup wants to automate your chores.

Hello Alfred Cofounders

Jessica Beck and Marcela Sapone. / Photo courtesy Marcela Sapone

Imagine coming home to your dry cleaning hung in the closet, your fridge stocked with the weekly essentials, and a kitchen floor so clean you contemplate eating your next three meals off of it. What sounds like a dream, one Harvard-spun startup is turning into a regular reality.

“We’re building a new category—a luxury good that hasn’t been accessible before,” says Marcela Sapone, cofounder and CEO of Hello Alfred, a startup helping busy young professionals and families check chores off their to-do list.

In an era where consumers can order rides, handymen, and seasonal ales from their mobile device, Hello Alfred fits in seamlessly. That’s the company’s goal, at least.

“Our members are trusting us with more and more things,” Sapone says. “Around week four or five, we become a way of life. You don’t have to think about chores.”

The $99-per-month service, available in Boston and New York City, connects customers with home managers called “Alfreds,” named after the butler of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Each home manager comes screened and will visit at a pre-determined time twice a week to complete a user’s chores, utilizing fellow on-demand services like Handy and Instacart to get the job done. Alfreds will keep the home cleaner company, send any packages that need to be dealt with, and even pick up prescriptions from the neighborhood pharmacy.

Customers can “set it and forget it,” according to Sapone. Rather, users can say what they want once—like having the clothes in their Alfred-provided laundry bag washed—and the service will check for it every week. And over time, the service grows to anticipate customers’ needs.

When Sapone and her Harvard Business School classmate Jessica Beck launched Hello Alfred in 2013, the duo was managing all the ins and outs of the house. Although the team is still doing that today, Sapone says it’s more about managing quality, coordinating existing services on the market, and “automating the on-demand economy.”

“The value proposition hasn’t changed,” Sapone says. “We always planned to do it this way. But last May, we were like a ninja in your home. Now, we’re more like an air traffic controller. We’re thinking of your home as a smart home that’s powered by the Alfred system.”

Hello Alfred is meant to run in the background of customers’ lives. To ensure the company is delivering the highest quality customer experience, the team has hired the former senior director of software engineering for Foursquare, Jason Liszka, as well as employees from onefinestay and eBay Local, who have experience with the on-demand economy.

Hello Alfred announced it raised $10.5 million in mid-April, a mere five months after securing $2 million. With the funding, the 13-person team, which has offices in New York and Boston, will look to expand to other markets, including San Francisco.

“We have big plans to grow,” Sapone says, describing the geographies they are exploring as ones “where the [work] hours are long and the traffic is high.” The more friction in a city, the better—and Boston proved to be a great place to start.

“I think every startup should start in Boston,” Sapone says. “In Boston, each neighborhood has its own very different dynamic and ecosystem.”

And customers have their own attitude. Sapone noticed area residents have a “We can do it ourselves” mentality—one that comes with a stigma that if they send out their laundry, they must be lazy. That mentality has forced the team to build word-of-mouth buzz, however, and convince users, “This isn’t a laziness thing; this is a sheer insanity thing.”

The buzz is paying off. The company has made more than 18,000 runs—dry cleaning 57,600 shirts and delivering 3,326 pounds of dog food in the process.

Moving forward, the team will be working on tools they can equip their staff with so they can focus more on the customer experience. Sapone also hinted that, down the road, customers will be able to interact with Hello Alfred in a very conversational way, so it feels like a personal butler they’re talking to.

“This is an experiential product,” Sapone says. “It’s one about trust.”

And the company is trusting you don’t want to do your chores.