New direction: Seattle startup revolves around Spritz, a tech platform to better help housekeepers

Kwame Boler, left, and Claudius Mbemba, co-founders of Neu and now Spritz. (Neu file photos)

Kwame Boler and Claudius Mbemba have a new idea that fuels their five-year partnership with Neu, the Seattle startup that has helped homeowners connect with cleaners, particularly in the vacation rental business.

The break is a clean one, so cleaning is still central. But the co-founders will now focus explicitly on cleaners with the launch of Spritz, a business-in-a-box tech platform aimed at helping cleaners manage the many intricacies of running their own businesses.

Neu ceased operations in late 2021, and in an interview with GeekWire this week, the young entrepreneurs shared some of the hard lessons they learned in managing a two-sided market.

(Logo via Spritz)

“Neu was a great company. And we had a phenomenal team,” said Boler. “But one thing that really became clear as we started building and scaling, there was a very clear cognitive dissonance between how we saw the product and how a lot of our customers did.”

Homeowners saw Neu as a cleaning service. Cleaners saw Neu as an alternative to an employer. And some Neu employees saw themselves as cleaners’ managers, rather than the fact that those cleaners were Neu customers.

Coordinating the distribution of physical elements such as cleaning supplies and linens made things even more complicated.

“We won’t have any more physical goods,” Boler said. “That’s actually something that really excites us. No more sheets and towels.”

“I think the most important thing is being able to simplify the business,” Mbemba added.

With Spritz, they still want to bring cleaning into the 21st century, leveraging technology and third parties to offload back office functions, operations, logistics and administrative tasks. They believe they can help housekeeping professionals with everything from planning to taxes for a fraction of the cost of building a traditional franchise or hiring a dedicated operations manager.

“A lot of housekeepers came to Neu because they didn’t want to start a business,” Mbemba says. “They wanted to jump on something that already worked and be able to be compensated for being a service provider.”

Mbemba and Boler have developed a strong appreciation for the work that housekeepers do and feel it is a natural evolution of Neu’s model to empower them with Spritz.

The two are inspired by other companies that perform similar functions: Heard for accountants; Introwise for digital experts; and Collective for Solo Entrepreneurs. They see many parallels between Spritz and Squire, a black-led hairdressing startup and tech platform that also makes it easier to manage a business.

‘Nobody has really built a product with’ [housekeepers] in mind and designed it in a way they could best complement and position it for success.”

“Nobody has really built a product with [housekeepers] in mind and designed it to best expand and position it for success,” said Boler, the startup’s CEO.

Boler and Mbemba also plan to leverage the Web3 phenomenon and create a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) at Spritz that makes all housekeepers stakeholders through security tokenization determined by user activity.

“The more positive the user behavior, the more tokens they will receive, with tokens tied directly to stocks,” Boler wrote in an email newsletter last week. “This will also change our relationship from hostile to collaborative and remove the negative impact of the network effect. … This also aligns well with our mission and we see the unique opportunity to break the doomed dichotomy of service workers.”

Neu was selected for Techstars Seattle just before COVID-19 hit in 2020. The impact of the pandemic on vacation rentals and Neu’s operations was immediate and devastating. In July of that year, Boler and Mbemba discussed moving to a broader cleanup operation, adding offices and on-demand disinfection to the mix for a changing world.

Neu has raised just over $1 million and the co-founders think their most loyal investors are excited about the switch to Spritz.

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“We’ve had some setbacks, but for the vast majority, especially those who have been with us the longest, they praise us and think it’s the best decision in terms of what we know and trust that we’re working,” Bolier said.

Neu had 15 employees and contractors at its peak and Spritz will start with four, including Boler and Mbemba. They are now looking for a strong product manager.

“It sucks to let go of a lot of our team to be able to make this pivot. That was not something we take lightly,” Mbema said. “We are grateful to all the people who worked with us on Neu and brought us to this point, because it wasn’t just us.”

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