I Was Never Supposed To Run A Tenancy Cleaning Business

If ten years ago, you had asked me what I would be doing in a decade, running a tenancy cleaning business in Chelsea would not have been on the shortlist. In fact, it would not have been on any of my lists. But here I am, in my mid-thirties, having the ride of my life and enjoying every second.

My name is Joshua Kellen, and for the past three years, I’ve created and managed a small end of tenancy cleaning company operating in central and South West London. Nothing in my background ever suggested that my professional path would lead me this way. So buckle up, and let me tell you my story.

I was born in Chelmsford, Essex, but after I graduated from the local King Edward VI Grammar School, I moved to London to study economics at Imperial College. At 26, I got my Master’s in Strategic Marketing and was ready to take the London business scene by storm. Studying at Imperial College was my first encounter with nearby Chelsea. Along with a couple of college friends, we decided to rent a small apartment just across Burton Court. The location was perfect – close to some of the city’s best clubs, restaurants and burger places and less than half an hour’s walk from the college. It was 2010, the rents had come down from the bubble heights of 2008, and somehow we managed to pull off a miracle – three not-so-wealthy college students getting to live in one of the best spots in London.

Fast forward a few years. Yours truly had gotten a well-paid job in a marketing consulting agency and married his soulmate. We decided we loved Chelsea so much that we wanted to stay there. So we chose a nice apartment near the Chelsea Physic Garden and blissfully dove into everything SW3 had to offer.

Looking back, I can’t pinpoint the moment when I decided I didn’t like my job. The problem was I was spending 75% of the time with Excel spreadsheets, infographics and diagrams and only 25% meeting and talking to real people. I simply disagreed with the notion that you can run an excellent marketing campaign from your computer screen without ever meeting the people who run the business or talking with their customers. I increasingly felt trapped in my office during that 75% while having a blast during the rest of the time. I could not help but remember what my Mom used to tell me when I was in high school: “You can convince the devil to help you do your homework!”, followed by a proud smirk.

The solution seemed evident – I had to quit my job and try something independently. It required the most challenging sale in my life – convincing my uber-practical wife it was the right career choice. “Don’t do it until you have a plan B”, she told me – which was annoyingly sage advice (I forgot to mention my wife is much brighter than me and has a lot more common sense.) We did not realise that “plan B” would come from the most unexpected place.

I met my college room mates every Saturday afternoon for a glass of ale at Chelsea Potter – a tradition we sacredly observed. One Saturday, Ben – the adventurer of the trio – came in fifteen minutes late, which was a first. After apologising, he went on a memorable rant concerning his landlady. According to his description, she was a mix of Lady Macbeth and Cersei Lannister, save for the sex appeal. He was moving to a new place, but she threatened to withhold his security deposit if he didn’t do a thorough end-of-tenancy cleaning.

To say that Ben was not quite adept at cleaning would be the understatement of the century. But let’s forget that for a second. More importantly, he wanted to avoid paying hundreds of pounds for something he considered unnecessary. Even more importantly, I thought I had the perfect solution for him.

A few weeks before that, my wife’s older cousin Susan had been fired from a local hotel, which was closing down. Although the management had promised the staff to relocate them to other hotels, she flatly refused when they offered her a position in Liverpool. Her kids were studying in local schools, and relocation was out of the question.

Susan had 20+ years of experience cleaning hotel rooms, and I knew she hadn’t started a new job. She could use the money, and Ben could use the cleaning help – it was all a matter of connecting the dots and making sure the economics worked. I did a quick research and found out the big tenancy cleaning companies were putting a premium on their price, which was perfectly normal. However, if you could cut the middle man, you could cut the price – it didn’t take a Master’s from Imperial College to figure it out.

Three days later, Ben moved out with his entire security deposit in his pocket, and Susan told me she had never earned so much per hour while working in the hotel. I knew I had stumbled upon something, but I needed some time to figure out the details. Six months and hundreds of hours of research later, I had created my business plan.

“You are going to run what?! A cleaning business? You?!”, said my wife incredulously when I first presented the idea. It took some time to explain that I was not going to do the cleaning myself (ah, ignorance is bliss!); that people would always move in and out of their rented apartments and houses in Chelsea and the nearby areas; that the idea made sense financially. What she understood without a word, from the get-go, was that the business would require me to work with people and not Excel spreadsheets and diagrams (again, ignorance is bliss!). I had just closed my toughest sale.