For many entrepreneurs, going into business for themselves is a chance to turn a passion into a career. Melissa Maker isn’t one of these people. Instead, she’s built a business around something she utterly despises: cleaning.
She’s not alone, other dispassionate entrepreneurs are building businesses in lines of work that the never expected to get into.
“I honestly think I was born to be an entrepreneur,” says Ms. Maker. But going into business for herself, she explains, was a matter of finding the right opportunity in an under-served market.
After graduating from York University’s Schulich School of Business in 2005, she found herself working at a bank reviewing other entrepreneurs’ business plans. It was then she started noticing that many of her friends – intelligent, capable and successful university graduates living in downtown Toronto – lived in pig sties.
The problem was that her friends didn’t know which cleaning companies they could trust, so they wouldn’t bother. From a customer’s point of view, the household cleaning industry was – ironically – a bit of a mess. Most cleaning companies “lacked good websites, they lacked good marketing, they lacked standards,” says Ms. Maker.
That’s where Ms. Maker saw an opportunity to combine a well-trained staff with a “terrific first impression with marketing.” There was only one thing holding her back. The fact that she “hates cleaning.”
While Clean My Space, the business she founded in 2006, now employs 22 people and Ms. Maker no longer cleans homes herself, that wasn’t always the case.
When she started out, she turned to an uncle who had served as a business mentor. He told her that “any successful business owner knows their business from the ground up,” she says. “It was either get out my resume or roll up my sleeves.”
Working on the front lines of her business helped Ms. Maker develop the standards she wants her staff to follow.
“I developed an appreciation for a very clean space,” Ms. Maker says. In 2011, she began making instructional YouTube videos about cleaning.
While the idea was to attract new customers, it didn’t work out, says Ms. Maker, “people who are hiring cleaning companies aren’t watching cleaning videos.”
But that YouTube channel has now “blossomed into its own business,” Ms. Maker says. It has over 160,000 subscribers and her most popular video, about cleaning bedrooms, has almost 700,000 views.
Since January, Ms. Maker’s husband, Chad Reynolds, has been working on the couple’s YouTube presence full-time, expanding it beyond cleaning. While Ms. Maker can’t say much about her income from the video sharing site (“YouTube is very secretive,” she says), there’s both advertising revenue and sponsorships.
Crystal Mancini didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur either. She wanted to make television shows.
Four years ago, Ms. Mancini was working at a Toronto film and TV production company. It was the career she went to school for and that motivated her move to Toronto.
“Then I got pregnant and I took a year off,” says Ms. Mancini. “I took an assessment of what I really wanted in a career.”
While the inconsistent work and long hours of television production had once been sacrifices she was willing to make, with a growing family it no longer seemed worth it.
Her husband, Paul Mancini, also wanted more control over his schedule and an end to the frequent business trips he was required to take as a vice-president of a small Oakville-based software developer. But the Mancinis didn’t know what kind of business they wanted to run.
Ms. Mancini had developed accounting and organizational skills while working in the TV industry and had already started taking on work as freelance controller. The question, she says, was “what can we do with all of these skills?”
But once they started to talk to friends about their plans, they found that other people had the opposite problem: some people had business ideas that were missing someone, while other aspiring entrepreneurs lacked necessary skills.
“There was a need for good quality assistance in a lot of areas,” Ms. Mancini says.
In January 2013, the Mancinis started their business, Communis Vox.
“We want people to focus on what they do best,” Ms. Mancini says. One of the company’s big focuses is providing controller services for small businesses that “have reached the tipping point,” where the time required for book-keeping is starting to get in the way of growing the business.
“While it isn’t exciting,” Ms. Mancini says, “it’s something that’s constantly in demand.”
It’s also meant changing the way she looks at her work.
“Your nine to five isn’t your whole life,” she says. “I look at my job as a way to afford my passions.”
It also means more time with their kids. “Most days we’re both home,” Ms. Mancini says. “Our youngest daughter is not in school yet, we eat three meals a day together.”
Priorities outside of work also drove Max Evans, Simon Zaborski and Craig Spence to start their own home renovation and contracting company four years ago.
The three were members of a sculpture collective, called MAW, and needed a way to the bills while building their practice.
“Simon and I were really broke,” says Mr. Evans. He’d worked as a cook while studying fine arts at Concordia University but had no desire to do it again.
But they had a truck and their own tools, as well as experience building large art installations.
“We worked for a couple contractors and realized that no one actually knows anything,” says Mr. Evans. So the three set out on their own, calling their business Top Down Custom Home Reno, changing the company’s name to Salty in spring 2014.
It was a move that worked out, keeping the team consistently busy for four summers.
“We get work through word of mouth,” says Mr. Evans and they’ve had a number of repeat customers. “I say yes to more things than we know how to do,” says Mr. Evans. “We’ll research it and do it.”
“We care about how to do stuff properly,” says Mr. Spence, “we care about how things look.”
With business growing, and the Salty team handing both management and the labour, the company is at a turning point. “We’re kind of under-staffed,” says Mr. Spence.
But while Mr. Evans and his colleagues still hope to turn their passion for art into a career, other dispassionate entrepreneurs wouldn’t change anything.
“This thing, cleaning, that I didn’t really like has turned into the career of my dreams,” Ms. Maker says.