As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change the World in The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Grace and Kevin Reynolds . Grace and Kevin Reynolds may be the bravest (or some say craziest) couple alive in the 21st century. Starting as a blended family in 2012, they’re expecting an 11th child, homeschool seven kids, own a professional cleaning service, lead a movement to increase awareness, respect, & recognition for professional cleaners, admin and lead a community of 16k cleaners, and have a GSD. They may not have time for a social life currently, but they certainly have skills on social media.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up in a very abusive, yet devout Catholic family who prided themselves in “minimalistic godliness” that saw being “orderly and clean” as merely “frivolous cultural expectations.” Our home was always very dirty and unkempt, which ironically gave me a positive and therapeutic outlet in my deep desire for safety and normalcy. Starting at a very young age, I would “sneak away” into unoccupied rooms in our home and pretend that I was a princess living in a castle with a maid that I treated like a “sister” and loved helping her do her work. There were other times when I would daydream about our home filling up with water and men wearing scuba-diver gear would swim around scrubbing every inch meticulously. The memories of these fantasies are still very clear in my mind almost 30 years later, and although they seem somewhat silly to me now, I also understand how important it was for me to have these opportunities to more concretely connect with constructive and positive ways of developing my problem-solving skills. It also gave me a real-to-my-life concrete analogy of undoing or at least coping with the reoccurring damage I experienced, helping me to cope with the things I could not change or even understand as a young child. I had developed a deep love for the work of cleaning and satisfaction of doing the job well done from the first years of life. I always wanted to share this meaningful experience of cleaning with others and just how important and therapeutic it is for everyone in our society.
After my first year in business in Pittsburgh, PA- my company, Handmaid became Angie’s List’s top-rated house cleaning service in the in the Pittsburgh area. However, even though all these accomplishments, I was disturbed by the lack of respect afforded to my new venture in the capacity of the skills involved in the actual work I was doing. The “kudos” I received even from family and close friends were still almost always focused on my success as a “business owner” alone. To me, it had ALWAYS been about the nature of the work I did as cleaner first. Cleaners provide people with a home that is peaceful again, restoring the environment and sanctuary of marriages and families, businesses and church halls. The skill necessary to provide services with careful attention, dealing with literally hundreds of different surfaces and utilizing our knowledge, often necessary for momentary innovation, to make our services what they are, is by far still the most important aspect of owning a cleaning service. It’s what makes a house cleaner more than just a “cleaning lady.” This was the first time I knew what my mission was and was determined this mission would be accomplished on a national, if not global level. I didn’t know how or when, but I would one day somehow bring greater awareness and respect for what all cleaners do for their communities and the importance and skill necessary to provide their trade. Since 2018, with my Husband, Kevin Reynolds, we have begun a movement on Facebook that is opening the eyes of cleaners and the general public all over the world, seeing cleaning and those who do this work in a whole new way!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When we started Handmaid Cleaning in Walla Walla, WA with my current husband, Kevin Reynolds, based on my determination to function as a business that respects and promotes the work of the cleaners themselves, we did not want to have a traditional business/cleaning service where we hire and pay technicians minimum wage or just above that. We wanted to pay them what we felt was a livable wage. We began hiring, and operations with technicians as independent contractors (1099s) and they made a minimum of $20/hr, often $30+. This was our original plan- to train cleaning professionals up and pay them very well to do outstanding work. Eventually, we were visited by investigators with WA state LNI who showed up at our doorstep to our home and asked to see our books. After their investigation, they deemed that we were operating as an employer and that our technicians needed to be “employees” and were not able to utilize their services as independent contractors. We had to switch our entire business model. The state also totaled up a back-pay amount of over $10,000 in which they allowed us to make a payment plan and we paid off a couple of years later.
Needless to say, now we are only able to pay our technicians between 12.50 and 15.00 which is not what we would like to be doing but what we can afford with all the additional taxes and ultimately the “capping” of what people are willing to pay for cleaning services in the area. Although we have increased the willingness to pay, it still has a long way to go. We didn’t give up on our mission/goal/dream though- we learned how to use all the tools the Facebook family of applications offers- and we have since begin and form an online community of professional house cleaners. We have just over 16,000 members in our Facebook community and have over 180,000 subscribers on Facebook messenger. By using the Facebook family of apps- we’ve created a community and MOVEMENT that will help us achieve our mission of taking care of cleaners, of people… now just not locally, but globally.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change the World”?
Although the world has seen cleaning as just another woman’s duty around the cave/tribe/town/house since the beginning of time, we believe society is now ready to see cleaning from a more educated perspective. By actively promoting the cleaners and the cleaning industry, we directly raise the respect and recognition for the industry and our professional cleaners. This allows us to charge fair rates for the professional service we provide. This will enable us to afford to pay our technicians a good livable wage for the back-breaking hard work that they do. By educating, training, and certifying cleaners around the world and sharing and providing a community of experts around the globe, we can all learn from each other and become the best versions of ourselves. This increases the professionalism, customer service experience, and quality of work that we are all providing around the glove. We are also increasing the respect for women and stay-at-home parents at the same time!
How do you think this will change the world?
Besides building people up — often, cleaners see themselves as inferior human beings because often we are treated as such. By increasing pride and dignity- people begin to believe in themselves and better their lives in many ways. When millions of cleaners are earning a livable wage- will significantly decrease millions of people on government aid. In our experience- most professional cleaners are on state medical, and often food and housing assistance. Cleaners earning a fair and livable wage will also stimulate and boost the economy both at the local, state, and federal levels. Finally, by shedding new light on cleaners- we hope that when people begin to see cleaners or “cleaning ladies” as fellow human beings on the “same level” that we will stimulate positive interior growth and love.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?
No- I don’t foresee any of these problems. When using chatbots- it’s important to not try and trick people into thinking that they are speaking with a human being. A chatbot is a tool used to help engage and learn from our subscribers. In this way, we can communicate with them and provide the relevant information that they are interested in. One of the coolest things about Messenger as a consumer or user is that the user has complete control of the conversations he or she has. A brand cannot first engage an individual. A person must first engage a brand on Facebook Messenger, can cease all communications with the brand or chatbot at any time, and the brand is not allowed to message them ever again or until the user re-engages with the business or brand. This is rad because we can engage with only the brands that we care about and not be bombarded with ads from brands we don’t want to see!
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
When I first started Handmaid Cleaning on my own- it was an incredible feeling to know that I could care for myself and my children — without having to compromise myself and be able to be home when my children were not in school. I was able to feed them and shelter them. I wanted to help and teach other women that may be in similar situations to my own. I began dreaming and planning a future that would change the way the world views cleaning and all cleaning professionals. Our relationship with Facebook and the tools that they provide us has given Kevin and I an opportunity to chase our dreams eleven months ago . Inspired by Facebook and the hundreds of inspirational business owners and community leaders that we have come to know through these councils, we started a Facebook group called, Handmaid Cleaning Community. This group has quickly grown to over 16,000 members in eleven months. We are the largest group of professional cleaners, and we’re just getting started sharing our mission and promoting cleaners and how vital their work is around the world.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
We’ve already started but need to continue to get our movement out there in front of as many house cleaners as possible on a bigger and bigger scale, also with continued messages put in front of the general population relating and educating about the importance of the work cleaners do. As our budget increases, our mission’s growth can increase, so we are expecting the growth of the mission will be expedited soon. We will take care of the rest 🙂
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1)”Trust Yourself” — When you have a passion for something — go for it- especially when that passion is something that will help others. Expect that at times, you will be your worst critic and doubter, but don’t give up! It took me a while to trust in myself enough to move forward with our mission on such a big scale — saying it out loud in front of thousands of people feels amazing and confirms that I am right and the way.
2) “No Business is Perfect” — Many people believe that that they must have it “all together” and every investment and plan set out perfectly before they even get started, sometimes too stiffly and without giving the new business room to breathe, or ultimately grow. The twists and turns are what gives a business character, and I believe our greatest strengths have come from having the ability to start this business with so little and reaching out for new goals or better ways to do things is what causes a business to thrive.
3) “Paying people more isn’t always the answer” — and will not automatically give people a greater sense of respect for themselves you or your company. We have learned this from experience. When we first began to higher employees, we paid them very well, sometimes as much as $40/hr, with flexible schedules and the security of regular clients. The “gratitude” quickly turned to feel as though we were not compensating them “well enough” and that they deserved more money per job, even though we were honestly scrapping by.
4) “There isn’t one right way to clean.” Different geographical areas and even the lifestyle of the people who live in the home you are cleaning will prove to contribute to how you will need to address their home and cleaning remedies. When I first moved to Walla Walla, WA I was shocked and discouraged with the hard-water and how difficult it was to remove. It took a few hours of research and some trial-and-error to get a new system with just a few tweaks to the methods I had used in Pittsburgh.
5) “Where the Naysayers are loudest, there are your greatest opportunities.” — Look at how people view house cleaners and janitors for example — they are most often considered the lowest of the low. The work is often seen as the most unskilled and unimportant, but when it’s not done or not done “right,” it’s always noticed. Lack of a clean environment can be the reason for lost customers for a restaurant, asthma attacks at a friend’s home or even the reason a patient contracting MRSA in a hospital. So, while so many believe there is no real substance to what it is that they do as professionals, this creates an excellent opportunity to open the eyes of millions both in this line of work and in the general public, bringing a paradigm shift and gaining traction in this industry that has literally never been recognized.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
Keeping your eyes and minds open to the fast-paced growth of technology and how this affects the expectations of society and the very target audience you are providing your goods or services. Growth with the expectations of the public, always making it a point to think of the best business practices, especially in relation to your audience, not looking to copy the next best company, but to find the innovative ways you can even do better than your competition, in ways they would never have guessed to compete.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
If we had a million dollars to invest, we would undoubtedly invest it in what we are doing now, educating the public and cleaners alike in the vital work they do. Bringing cleaners together and creating a solid ground for all cleaners to lean on and contribute to that would protect their rights as individuals and business owners in this industry, giving them the tools and resources necessary to access what they need to thrive in our industry at affordable rates. Much of this money would be spent advertising and targeting those who are in our industry, as well as the development of the programs that are most vital for their success.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
Doing all that that you do with the purpose of giving the best you’ve got to the people in your life. In the work or business, you chose to invest your life into; you will always win when you have the attitude that every person you encounter, and the experiences you have, are another opportunity to give your best, better than you were able to do yesterday. While there may not be immediate gain, when you look at others always as an end in and of themselves and never as a “means” to an end for a personal agenda, you will inevitably learn and grow stronger in the very reason you do what you do. Your purpose and the ability to “gain fiscal profit” will naturally grow because your purpose supports what they need rather than just giving you a short-term end to success. When you only look to your “competition” as an opportunity to learn from, make you focus about constantly growing in finding the best ways, not just the “better” ways, you will find yourself free of resentment and anxiety and more capable and happier in the work you do.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
A successful mindset never gives up and sees every setback or failure as their greatest opportunities to grow and be better than before.
A successful mindset put their focus on “who” they are serving rather than “what” they will get.
Always be in the habit of learning and growing, never believing you’ve reached the top, and there is no further to go. Winners never stop because it’s not about the title to them, it’s about the growth, the personal development, the change for the better one hour to the next.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
I think what Bárbara Kunde Minuzzi and Daniela Arruda at Babel Ventures are doing is powerful. I hope that they can recognize the importance of what we are doing for our nation and the world. Immigrants that come into our country are still so often taken advantage of here in the U.S. My great-grandmother was shipped to America as a servant from Ireland and forced to work for and eventually marry a man she did not love to give her a family a better life. Does this still happen today? I can assure you it still does, and I believe as our power as women increases in today’s society, we are now responsible for making this necessary change to stop the abuse of the cleaning industry. The first step is to build respect for the work they do, taking away its stigma of “unskilled slave labor”. It’s time to gift our society with this new understanding and give men and women in this industry, especially now that it is about to explode in the next few years, a voice and recognition that they so deserve.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.