We wanted to continue with our trend of interviews with phenomenal business leaders and thinkers. We had the extraordinary opportunity to talk to Kristen Hadeed, who is founder of Student Maid™. Student Maid™ is a cleaning and concierge service that caters to the unique needs of Gainesville, Florida residents. It’s employees are all friendly, trustworthy, super-smart students who must meet a minimum 3.5 GPA requirement. You can find Student Maid™ at www.studentmaid.com.
We wanted to learn how she built her company, created an amazing culture, what tips she has for women in business, and pick her brain about hiring top performers.
Now on to the interview with Kristen:
1. You have done an excellent job of creating the culture at Student Maid. How did you go about doing this? And what tips do you have for other companies and entrepreneurs as they advance with their business?
As business owners, we become increasingly motivated when we see results, so it would make sense to offer this same motivation to our employees. But too often, employees leave work without knowing their purpose. Measurement is one of the key ingredients in this equation, and you’ve got to find a way to measure the performance of your employees. If providing outstanding customer service is the organization’s purpose, survey clients and share the feedback. If efficiency is the goal, measure the productivity of each individual in your business. Want to increase satisfaction at a fast-food restaurant? Count the number of smiles the drive-thru employee receives from customers. Whatever the goal may be, you’ve got to find a way to measure it and provide results on a daily basis for instant gratification. If you wait to give employees a quarterly report, they will become disconnected. Could you wait an entire quarter to find out how your business is doing? Don’t think so! The point is employees need to go home knowing how they contributed to their organization that day and how they can improve the next. Through measurement, you are giving your team a purpose, and, as a result, your employees will become more engaged in the work they perform. The most important part of this, though, is publicly recognizing the top performers. We all like to be recognized in front of our peers! At Student Maid, we have a “WOW Wall,” where we display excellent customer surveys and publicly recognize the team members responsible. We change the surveys daily (sometimes twice daily), and we find the payoff to be huge.
2. You have built your business around some great virtues and values. One of them being that your employees have to maintain a 3.5 GPA. How can business balance doing good and championing character with making money & being profitable?
The reason we have the GPA requirement is a funny story. When I started Student Maid, I landed a contract to clean hundreds of apartments and had only three weeks to hire a team. I knew that I wanted to work with students (because I was a student at the time), so I made a 3.5 GPA requirement to weed people out (then realized I had a 3.51; thank goodness, or I would have had to fire myself!). This innocent idea proved to be the smartest move I could have made, and that is why we still have the GPA requirement today. In addition to that, our employees are asked to volunteer twice a semester for local nonprofits, and we clean free for people undergoing cancer treatment.
I believe it’s so important to give back to the community around you. For starters, people want to work in a place that is socially responsible. When you help the community, you are contributing into the “Giver’s Gain” philosophy. If you work to help others, they will take care of you. Our community involvement has led to powerful word-of-mouth advertising—we could never put a dollar value on it.
3. As a very successful woman, you can provide excellent advice to others looking to follow in your footsteps. What have been your greatest challenges as a woman in business? What insight can you give to other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
I refuse to let my gender be considered a challenge. When people ask, “How is it doing business as a female?” I respond, “Exactly the same way it is for a male.” In my career, I would say that the largest obstacle has been my age. I started Student Maid when I was 19 years old, and at that age, most people don’t take you seriously. I was turned down for bank loans several times before I finally received only $10,000 from a banker who took a chance on me. I had to work double-time to prove myself, but I have learned that with self-confidence, anything is possible. Your gender and age are only obstacles if you let them be. My best insight here is learn to see the opportunities that lie in failures. There is always a silver lining in every setback, and if you can learn to think this way, you will be a step ahead of the rest.
4. Hiring the right people is key to success in business. How do you hire your employees? What key skills/qualities do you look for?
I always say that you are only as good as your team. If you have the best business idea and all the money in the world but you don’t have great employees, you will fail. I always say that your employees are brand ambassadors. They are the ones on the front lines representing you and your brand, and they determine the success of your business. It’s so important to hire the best people, and many organizations get this wrong. In our business, we are always working on our talent pipeline. I think a lot of companies make the mistake of interviewing only when they need to fill a position, and, as a result, could make a poor choice out of desperation. We interview year-round and are always on the lookout for the best people—even when we don’t have a specific need for them. We keep these potential employees in a “pool,” and when we need to fill positions, we look there first. This insures that we aren’t making a desperate decision. We have already interviewed these candidates and have determined they are superstars who would make a fantastic addition our team. As far as interview techniques, my best advice is to let the applicant speak 80% of the time. The point of the interview is to learn more about the person in front of you, not to toot your own horn and tell the applicant how great your company is.
5. Company culture gets thrown around as a buzzword. How important is company culture? And how vital is it that new employees can fit into that culture?
A company’s culture is like the core of an apple: It’s what holds everything together. At the end of the day, employees want to work in a place where they feel valued, know how they are specifically contributing to the mission of the organization and have a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose. It is so crucial to hire employees based on how well they fit into an organization’s culture because this is the only way you will get employees to go the extra mile for you, their coworkers and your customers. If an employee doesn’t fit into the culture, they won’t have a sense of belonging, and, consequently, they won’t give 150%. They don’t mean to do this; how can we expect people to give everything they’ve got if they don’t believe in what they are doing? As entrepreneurs, we are in love with what we do every day, and our employees should feel the same way. Hire for culture fit and then train for skill! Our culture at Student Maid is certainly unique. When you walk in the door, you might get shot by a Nerf gun. You will hear music from our in-office DJ, and you can enjoy a smoothie at our juice bar. We like to have fun and incorporate humor into our business daily with office pranks and jokes, but it’s not for everyone. When interviewing, you need to do a lot of thinking: Will the person in front of you truly enjoy your culture and thrive in it?
We would like to thank Kristen for the opportunity to interview her. Be sure to check out Kristen’s personal site at www.kristenhadeed.com and to visit Student Maid™ at www.studentmaid.com.
About Kristen Hadeed: Kristen is the founder of Student Maid™, a unique house-cleaning and concierge enterprise that solely employs hundreds of college students who maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
“It all started with a pair of jeans,” Kristen recounts: a statement that most college students can relate to. When she was a sophomore at the University of Florida, her parents told her she needed to get a job if she wanted to buy herself “fun” – but unnecessary – stuff, like expensive jeans. Determined to get what she wanted, Kristen knew she had no choice. If pricey jeans were going to be in her future, then so was a job!
As a finance major with a challenging course load and little free time, Kristen needed a job that was flexible enough to accommodate her demanding schedule. However, working for someone else had never been her strong suit. Kristen needed a job that would go well with her schedule and her personality, so she chose to create her own opportunity. The only issue that remained was: what to do?In 2009, Kristen posted an ad on Craigslist advertising a house cleaning service. A neat-freak and self-proclaimed “germaphobe,” she saw cleaning as a good fit. She cleaned houses after class, hired some friends to help, and the business grew – a lot.
Just months after she started cleaning, she had the opportunity to bid on a huge contract cleaning hundreds of student apartments during the summer move-out season. She won the bid and had to promptly find an army of employees to do the job. Still a full-time college student, Kristen now had the responsibilities of a seasoned business owner twice her age with twice her experience. But Kristen’s passion for business was intense, and, despite a grueling senior year of college – juggling a full class load while maintaining her self-imposed 3.5 GPA (because she firmly believes in practicing what she preaches), managing dozens of employees and her company’s finances and dealing with emergencies and surprises that every business owner faces – she expanded her enterprise and her love of entrepreneurship.
The countless challenges she faced might have made another person quit, but not Kristen; she believes in harnessing the power of “no” and turning every rejection into a positive experience. Therefore, despite setbacks like being the youngest person bidding for a job, being turned down several times for loans, wiping out her bank account to pay her employees and overhead, having to fire people her age or older and learning how to lead while simultaneously learning how to become an adult, Kristen thrived.With stellar business experience under her belt and an impressive academic record, Kristen was offered a “dream job” in finance. Much to the surprise of several people close to her, she turned it down to continue running and growing Student Maid™. Although most told her she was crazy for making that choice, Kristen’s gut feeling told her that growing her company was the path she should take.
A year later, Student Maid™ employed more than 350 students and had grown into more than just a cleaning company or a source of income. Today, Kristen devotes much of her time to mentoring Student Maid™ team members. As a boss who is close in age to her employees, Kristen can provide lessons in leadership while motivating, inspiring and guiding them on how to make it on their own in a way they can relate to. She loves hearing back from former team members about how, because of her leadership, they have become responsible, accomplished, knowledgeable individuals who easily and quickly entered the adult workforce. Student Maid™ transforms college kids into responsible adults in a lively, fun environment that encourages creativity and collaboration. The in-house DJ, regular rap sessions and free juice bar are just the icing on the cake!
And, while Kristen enjoys entrepreneurial success that most people 20 years older than she can only dream about, that hasn’t stopped her from working harder and innovating more. Already, Kristen has launched a tech company that is developing apps to revolutionize the service industry. She is also working with her team to expand the Student Maid™ brand nationwide. While all these endeavors may seem overwhelming to some, they invigorate Kristen, who has never met a challenge she didn’t take on with fervor. The ability to harness the power of “no” is something that Kristen believes we all possess, and she is committed to motivating and mentoring students about taking control of their lives, thinking BIG and turning even the biggest hurdles into ways to learn to jump higher and succeed more that they thought possible.
If in less than five years Kristen has been able to take her parents’ “no” to a pair of pricey jeans (which she eventually bought and still owns!) and turn it into an enterprise that’s growing by leaps and bounds, imagine what the next five years will hold? Ask Kristen. She’ll tell you.
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