Melbourne startup Jarvis connects the time-poor with personal butlers to take care of chores

- March 31, 2016 4 MIN READ

On a scale from one to ten, having to spend your weekend doing household chores isn’t all that much of a tragedy and more of a minor inconvenience. Still, when you’re working long hours and want to spend your downtime relaxing or having fun, all the life admin can be a bit of a drag.

Having just finished up its beta run, Melbourne startup Jarvis wants to help take care of the boring stuff by connecting the time poor and those generally averse to household chores with personal butlers; an Edwin Jarvis to their Howard Stark, if you will.

Having worked in the investment banking and management consultant spaces, Matthew Vethecan said the idea came to him and cofounder Dennis Jap after they realised they were spending their precious free time on the weekends doing chores.

“We found ourselves finishing work at midnight, sitting in the foyer, defeated, talking about what we were doing on the weekend and the answer was always the same: doing things like laundry, getting groceries for the rest of the week. We were pretty time poor but would be giving up our free time doing all these different chores,” Vethecan said.

With the freedom and autonomy of startup life – compared to the corporate world, at least – appealing to the cofounders, they set out to build Jarvis around October last year. With a little help from their friends, they taught themselves the basics of coding before outsourcing the development of certain parts of the app.

The client app allows users to book a butler service and customise it, picking and choosing what they need done every week and specifying the details of it, from grocery shopping to picking up the laundry, and the specific quick things they need done around the house.

A butler, meanwhile, has their own app that details their work at the start of each week. Jarvis works to assign butlers to clusters of clients in the same geographical area and group tasks together. For example, a butler servicing three clients in one particular suburb will receive a task list asking them to do grocery shopping for clients A, B, and C, then pick up laundry for clients A and B, and buy something from a speciality store for client C.

The app guides butlers through these tasks, showing them the most efficient route to completing them; in this scenario, rather than getting the butler to complete the two tasks for client A then move onto what client B needs, the app will tell the butler to do all the grocery shopping, then get the laundry, then go to the specialty store, and then drop off the items at each client’s house depending on which house is closest to the last stop.

jarvisButlers are paid between $23-$25 an hour, and are classed as employees rather than independent contractors, a departure from the way we’ve come to expect from startups working in this sort of space.

“We made the decision very early on not to go down that path. We saw the relationship between our butlers and our clients as really critical; it’s a relationship of trust, they’re our interface directly with the client on a week to week basis, so we wanted to make sure those people were part of the company and not outsourced contractors. That was a very deliberate decision,” Vethecan said.

This also means that Jarvis is insured for up to $10 million.

Pricing for customers starts at $33 per week for the ‘Essentials’ package, which encompasses one house visit per week. This package will see a butler do a general tidy of the house, which might include washing dishes, making beds, folding clothes, or taking the bins out, and the coordinating of the out-of-home services such as grocery shopping and picking up of dry cleaning.

Additional services, such as cleaning the pool or a more extensive house cleaning, will cost extra. Jarvis has partnered with local businesses to coordinate the services such as dry cleaning or grocery shopping. Customers must pay for these costs on top of the weekly $33 but Vethecan said there are no markups.

In terms of the hours worked by butlers and how long tasks should take to complete, Vethecan said the house tidying included in the Essentials package is a 40 minute exercise, while clustering the clients and their various out-of-home tasks geographically hopes to make things as efficient as possible. In this early stage, he said the startup is working with the butlers to look at how long the external tasks generally take to complete before setting expectations.

The Jarvis team spent the first few weeks of the beta working as butlers themselves before looking to recruit. Vethecan said the startup has veered away from recruiting university students; while they might do for the occasional job on Airtasker, he said, Jarvis wants to be able to assign a client to one specific butler in order to help deliver a better service. There is now a small handful of butlers on board, with Vethecan saying the startup saw significant interest from stay at home mums looking for small jobs.

The beta saw Jarvis work with 15-20 clients around the Richmond and South Yarra areas. Now looking Melbourne-wide, Vethecan said the startup will be targeting three main groups: other entrepreneurs, young professionals, and working parents. It will be interesting to see what the uptake is; $33 per week isn’t a bad price to pay for a basic package and it is fairly easy to imagine entrepreneurs and young professionals especially getting on board.

Ideally, Jarvis hopes to raise funding and expand into new states over the next 12 months. However, Vethecan said the big goals revolve around consolidating logistics and processes to make Jarvis as efficient as possible, from marketing and recruitment through to service delivery.

“If we solve the basics, everything will follow from that.”

Image: COO Vincent Leung, cofounder Matthew Vethecan, cofounder Dennis Jap, CMO Josie Liu. Source: Supplied.