Ron Holt is the founder and chief executive officer of Two Maids & A Mop: a residential house cleaning services company regarded as one of the industry’s fastest-growing companies. Two Maids & A Mop has grown from just two part-time employees to more than 500 hard-working employees today via its fast-growing franchise network. The brand’s explosive growth is fueled by its industry-changing pay for performance compensation plan. Ron graduated from the University of Georgia and resides in Birmingham, AL with his wife and two children.
Tell me about your early career.
My first real job was as a lab technician. Cool-sounding job title but far from a cool job. It was my first job out of college but I used very little knowledge from my college chemistry courses to pull off the job. It paid very little money to boot. It didn’t take me long to figure out that my future career was going to be outside of the chemistry lab. So, I created a plan to build a business empire. Had no clue what the empire or business was going to look like but that wasn’t important at that moment. My first goal was to save $150,000 to fund the business empire. My job inside the lab only paid $22,000 so I used extreme measures to make and save money. I worked part-time jobs during nights and weekends. Saved money by eating junk food and living an extremely-frugal lifestyle. I even built a few side businesses along the way to make a few extra bucks. It took seven long years until I met my goal, but I finally saved $150,000 in early 2003.
How did the concept for Two Maids & A Mop come about?
I rose through the ranks of corporate America pretty quickly. I think my entrepreneurial instincts helped me a lot back in those days because most of my counterparts were engineers or scientists. Anyway, I was eventually named the director of the lab and started managing the lab as a business. I fell in love with the idea of recurring revenue after seeing so many clients repeat their purchases without the lab having to incur any monetary investment. The lab was a big success; primarily because of recurring revenue. So, I made it my goal to start a business that was comprised primarily of recurring revenue. That’s when I started looking at service industries and noticed that the residential cleaning industry was extremely fragmented and owned mostly by “mom & pop” operators. I sensed an opportunity and decided to switch my lab coat for an apron.
How was the first year in business?
I generated $110,000 in total revenues during my first twelve months. It was a tough start and more than humbling to say the least. I had managed professionals in my previous gig but a cleaning business was completely different. Employee turnover was astronomical and customer turnover was equally bad. I was drowning in problems and almost quit. I was working 60-hour weeks, still eating cheap junk food, and struggling to find an answer to my business’ problems. To be clear, it was the most difficult period of my life.
What was your marketing strategy?
Early on, my marketing strategy mirrored most other cleaning businesses across the country. I placed ads in the yellow pages and local newspapers. Business was okay, but not great. Over time, I became more and more obsessed with the idea of disrupting the industry by generating leads in a different way. That was about the same time the Internet started to become mega-popular. I dove deep into things like search engine optimization, pay-per-click marketing, and social media. It was clear that our industry struggled in these areas so I ditched the old school way of marketing and went all in on digital. The rest is history because our digital marketing strategy has allowed us to grow exponentially. We know exactly what a typical customer looks like and the digital world gives us an opportunity to find those types of customers. The ROI is much higher as well.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
It took me two years to earn a profit and almost three years to earn my first paycheck. So, the growth wasn’t so great during the early days. Everything started to click once we created the now-famous pay for performance plan. Our customers rate their level of satisfaction on a simple scale from 1-10. The rating directly determines the team of cleaners’ exact rate of compensation. We started using the plan as an employee motivational tool but it quickly became a unique selling tool. Once we started talking about it, business started booming and hasn’t stopped. We’ve been named one of the fastest-growing cleaning companies in four of the last five years and most of that growth is directly attributable to the pay for performance plan.
How do you define success?
I’ve never been fond of money so my definition of success is probably different than most entrepreneurs. I want to build something big. Something so big that the world knows my story. I want my story to be so amazing that books are written about it. And most importantly, I want to have so much fun that my work doesn’t feel like work at all. That’s success to me and that’s exactly what I’ve been chasing since those early days inside the lab.
What is the key to success?
Easy answer with a complex solution. The easiest way to create success is to make a plan, sacrifice a lot while you’re chasing the plan, and never give up. Like I said, very simple plan of attack to create success. But who’s ready to build a plan today and stick with it for the next 30 years? Who’s ready to sacrifice time with your family to chase the dream? Who’s ready to defy logic and keep fighting when the results of your work direct you in a different path? Make a plan, sacrifice for a long time, and never give up. That’s all you have to do.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Vision used to seem like a mythical term only used in business school. I used to think that the words in a company’s vision statement were pretty words reserved for the corporate headquarters’ lobby. That is, until I started building an actual business. I was working harder than ever dreamed and losing money every day. The business wasn’t going sideways, it was going backwards. Eventually, I started to understand the importance of vision and built one that remains in place today. My goal is to build the largest, fastest-growing, most innovative residential cleaning service in America. I use those words every day when making decisions and my answer to a decision rests solely on how the decision affects the brand’s vision for the future. Creating the vision didn’t guarantee my business’ success but it did save my business. I know where we’re going now and have an internal scoreboard to compete against because of the brand’s vision. My biggest lesson is learning that your business is guaranteed to fail without a vision for the future.
What are some of your favorite books?
I’m a massive Warren Buffett fan and love his biography, The Snowball. Taught me so much about my role as the CEO, as a capital allocator. Another book that changed my life is Purple Cow by Seth Godin. I read this book on a flight from Atlanta to Omaha (to see Warren Buffett speak, btw). Our pay for performance plan was born from this book.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
My first day back on April Fools’ Day in 2003. I was thrust into a role that was far different than my previous world. I was inside a 250 square foot office space with two employees who could care less about my dream to take over the world. They quit that same day, in fact. I can still remember the regret for taking the risk of starting a business on that first day. It was overwhelming and I literally thought about quitting on my first day. It was an empty, almost lost feeling of despair. I went home that night and promised myself that I would never give up my chase.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I’m a fierce competitor and love the game of business because there’s only one way to lose. In business, you can only lose if you quit. Giving up is not an option for me. I’ll keep fighting to build the nation’s largest residential cleaning service for a long time because my inner scoreboard is that important to me.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Start making a plan for your future right now. Suck it up for a little while and work hard so that you can, one day, focus on chasing your dream. But don’t expect anything to happen right now. Stop watching Shark Tank and expect to work hard to build something big. Be patient in your journey, never give up, and be prepared to sacrifice for a long time. Hard work, planning, and sacrifice are more important today than ever before. Use it to your advantage.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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