INNOVATE

How to Win at Bringing the Butler Service to Singapore

Butler in Suits can do your laundry and shop for groceries

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 05 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The eureka moment for Poon Da Qian, founder of Singapore’s Butler in Suits, happened at the laundry basket. Before he left every day, he found himself having to visit the laundry basket to search for the right pair of socks.

He says, “It got me thinking, ‘What if there was something that can help me get such repetitive tasks done conveniently so I will never have to worry about them anymore?’”

The idea for Butler in Suits, a home management subscription service, was born. At around 20% the cost of a traditional helper, professional home managers, or butlers, can collect your mail on each visit, clean your apartment, do your laundry, and do grocery shopping. The cost of the service starts at $240 per month.

Qian says they target single or married homeowners, which they acquire through a combination of online marketing, offline flyer distribution, and word of mouth.  

Unlike an SMS-based personal concierge service—an idea Qian toyed with prior to Butler in Suits—this start-up has much more product focus.

The decision to narrow Qian’s product came upon the advice of Chi-Kai Huang of JFDI. He also told Qian to develop a product that falls within his domain expertise.    

“The job to be done (JTBD) of our service is to ultimately allow you to return to a professionally managed home with everything done with mails collected, apartment cleaned, laundry washed and folded, and groceries and amenities purchased and stocked,” Qian says.

Trust issues and bottlenecks

The success of Butler in Suits hinges on the extent to which people are able to trust the butlers, hence the company has stringent policies in place.

In addition to paying butlers a salary that is above the market rate and giving them incentives, Butler in Suits puts them through a background check and a hiring process that vets them for culture fit.

“We also have an extensive 3 weeks training programme for our new home managers to ensure they are well trained to help our customers elevate their home lifestyle,” Qian says.

Customers were initially reluctant to turn over their keys to the company.

“We overcame it through educating our customers of our processes that includes training, security, and insurance in place to ‘firewall’ and minimize the likelihood of security incidents,” he says, noting that the approach has made users much more comfortable.

Another alternative is that Butler in Suits can allow prospective users to supervise their butlers and their service for a period of time. “Subsequently, when our trustworthiness to our customers is proven, our customers than can hand us their keys to help them manage their homes automatically,” he says.

Even if Butler in Suits had cracked the formula for getting users to trust their butlers, home management is still a big issue. Qian says the biggest bottleneck in Butler in Suits is how quickly their home managers can service their customers. The company is currently looking for ways to make it easier and more convenient for butlers to perform their four tasks.

Qian realizes that many other entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia may want to get in on the peer economy, and he had plenty of advice for them.

“My advice will be to identify a purposeful problem that needs to be solved, either through incremental innovation or radical innovation, and address that need by making the experience of the end user better,” he says.

“Also, a key takeaway is always to keep your customers happy. Keep in mind that a happy customer brings many transactions, and a service-less transaction only brings one-time customers,” he concludes.