‘We’re trying to figure out if we were just a one-hit wonder or not’

The co-founders of on-demand cleaning company Hassle.com on the lure of a new start-up

Having cleaned up financially after exiting one successful business two years previously, you'd be forgiven for wondering why Jules Coleman and Alex Depledge would step in the ring again.

But here they are. It's Dublin on a Tuesday morning and the co-founders of on-demand cleaning company Hassle. com are explaining why they are back with a new start-up.

“It’s our difficult second album,” says Depledge. “We’re trying to figure out if we were just a one-hit wonder or not.”

“Also, I think we pretty much made ourselves unemployable in setting up Hassle.com. I’m not sure we could go back and do regular jobs,” adds Coleman, who comes from Leixlip, Co Kildare.


Given the initial reaction to the pair's new business, Buildpath, which is expected to launch in Ireland shortly, it seems unlikely that they need concern themselves too much about the future.

Buildpath, like Hassle before it, is another one of those deliciously simple “why didn’t I think of that” type of business ideas that people immediately understand.


Hassle.com, which was acquired by German rival Helping for €32 million in July 2015, was billed as an “Uber for cleaners”. It enabled people to easily connect with strangers who were willing to tidy their gaffs for a reasonable price. Buildpath helps homeowners weigh up possible renovations on the cheap, quickly, and without having to engage with builders.

The service effectively replaces what an architect would do during the early stages of a potential project by preparing designs and providing reports relating to planning processes and overall costs.

“Most people embarking on some kind of home extension or renovation want to know four things: how much it is going to cost; how much value will be added; will it need planning permission; and what the hell will it look like. We realised that we could answer these questions using technology and a bit of muscle in under three days for less than €400,” says Depledge.

Buildpath, which was established last year, provides 2D floorplans, 3D visual packages and (for a higher fee) offers to guide homeowners through the planning phase. It will even introduce them to reliable professionals who will help complete the build should they wish.

It is able to do this cheaply in part because there's no need to do site visits in most instances. The company searches publicly available information online to draw up plans with the co-founders other business partners – trained architects Rich Morgan and Nicholas Stockley – fine-tuning the details using visualisation software. The result is a brochure that shows homeowners what their homes could look like. They can use these as a guide should they proceed with renovations, hold on to them for the future, or even pass it on to possible buyers if they decide to sell their homes.

As with most smart ideas, the concept for Buildpath was one borne out of frustration.

Having left Hassle six months after its sale, Coleman and Depledge ended up as entrepreneurs in residence at Index Ventures in London. During this period, Coleman was busy house-hunting for her first home, while Depledge (who had just had a child) was looking to build a simple extension on to her property.

“I wanted to put a simple 9 metre by 2.5 metre extension on the side of my house, which is template stuff in London. But it ended up taking me 70 days from the time I first called an architect before I got any plans and visuals,” recalls Depledge.

“It also cost me about £4,000 and this was all before I had decided whether to commit to anything.


“At the same time, Jules was looking for a home and was finding it hard to visualise what she could do with places that she was looking at without dragging either a builder or architect along with her to every place she viewed. Between both our experiences, we figured there must be an easier way to do all of this,” she adds.

Having put together a list of 30 or so potential business ideas for start-ups, Coleman and Depledge quickly tore it up and started focusing on Buildpath instead.

“We couldn’t get fired up by any of the other ideas in the same way. When we settled on Buildpath, we knew we were on to something straight away and to be honest it was a huge relief,” says Depledge.

The business turned profitable within four months and very quickly the company began getting business organically from Ireland.

“The work naturally found us but it was great because it made us look at Ireland as a market to expand to, which is no bad thing given Brexit. Dublin was the first place we launched in outside of the UK with Hassle and our experience was very positive,” says Coleman, who is a frequent visitor home.

Coleman and Depledge are in Dublin to scope out the lie of the land, taking soundings from friends and acquaintances, such as Dogpatch managing director Patrick Walsh, who launched Hassle in Ireland.

‘Slow creep’

“I’d say we’ll probably do a slow creep in Ireland rather than announcing a big launch,” says Coleman, who describes the various meetings they have had here as copperfastening their resolve to open locally.

“We believe we have a pretty recession-proof business and that, regardless of what happens with Brexit, people still need somewhere to call home. But it’s not a bad idea for us to have an office in Dublin, especially when I’m from here and it could be a good place in which to do R&D, hire people and all that,”says Coleman.

According to the company, Ireland and the UK might be different territories but there are similarities between both markets as well.

“What we’ve learned is that the markets operate very similarly and that there are similar frustrations on the part of consumers in both Britain and Ireland,” says Depledge.

“There are also a large glut of houses from the 1960s onwards in both places that aren’t laid out for modern living. Everyone these days wants a big open-plan kitchen with a big glass box on the back but many don’t have that,” adds Coleman.

You might think architects would be raging at the arrival of Buildpath but quite the contrary, according to the company’s co-founders.

“There’s a lot of tyre-kickers out there who just want to be able to visualise the possibilities but aren’t necessarily ready to commit to a project. That’s where we come in. We’re not trying to replace architects. If anything we’re taking away a lot of hassle for them,” says Depledge.

“And the likelihood is that a lot of people who are interested in going further would go to architects for more detailed designs, project management and so on.”

It’s not unusual for entrepreneurs to set up new ventures after exiting old ones but it is less common for co-founders to continue on their journey together. Coleman and Depledge says they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Having met while both were working for Accenture 12 years ago, they've been through a lot of highs and lows.

“We’re been best mates for years and, when we first went into business it was on the back of having worked and lived together for seven or so years,” says Depledge. “I couldn’t run a business without Jules because it is emotionally draining and I need her to spar off. It’s like a marriage, which is necessary because you need to have a business partner you have a shared history with so that you know how they act under pressure.

“We know exactly how we behave when stressed. I get highly emotional and Jules gets passive aggressive. It works between us, though, because you need to be with someone who knows you when things get tough,” she adds.


Last time out, Coleman and Depledge scaled their business fast. Hassle.com went from having a handful of employees and a bit of seed funding to quickly raising €6 million in funding and expanding to 50 staff members. A short time later, the company was no longer their own.

This time the plan is to do things differently, even if that means losing out on making a quick buck.

“We want to build a scaleable business that will be around in five to 10 years’ time. We’ve done the whole ‘first to market, winner takes all, grab some venture capital and build a big company’ thing. This time we’ve chosen to get to profitability early on and to stay in the angel investor network, which means us having to constantly watch the bottom line,” says Depledge.

As the co-founders see it, taking on VC money meant that, with Hassle.com, they ended up losing valuable time focusing on developing the platform in order to keep the money men happy.

“There’s an expectation that if you have millions in the bank, you need to start making a lot more revenue than you did before. There was a period where we barely touched the platform because we were so busy doing things like taking on staff, expanding into other markets and so on,” says Depledge.

“Looking back we were quite naive and, while we’re both pretty strong characters, we definitely felt that we were guided down a path that wasn’t necessarily what we’d choose again. That’s why we’re funding the business differently this time round, so that we can retain more control,” adds Coleman.

That may be the case but it doesn’t mean Buildpath isn’t going to be a good moneymaker for the entrepreneurs.

“We’re moving fast, with growth up an average 35 per cent month-on-month for the last year. But we’re prepared to press pause if necessary and plan to grow by no more than 10 per cent per month over the next year which would give us a couple of million in turnover,” says Depledge.

“We are trying to be very conservative despite exceeding our plan to date partly because things are going so well so far that we are trying to figure out what we might have missed and when it will go wrong,” she adds.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist