Michael Brown and Matt Cooper

Michael Brown and Matt Cooper

Fresh from the 500 Startups accelerator in California’s Silicon Valley, janitorial software-maker Swept has closed a US$2-million funding round, led by venture capital firms iNovia and Afore Capital.

Halifax-based Swept (formerly called CleanSimple) has developed software that helps commercial cleaning companies communicate with and support their cleaners and customers. The flashy side of the Swept story is that the company graduated in August from 500 Startups, one of the world’s most prestigious accelerators. It was also the only Atlantic Canadian company to attend the Metabridge conference in Kelowna, B.C., this summer. And now Swept -- which raised a $575,000 round last year -- has the equivalent of C$2.5 million in funding from Montreal-based iNovia and Silicon Valley-based Afore. 

But the most fascinating side of Swept is found in its unglamorous work with cleaning companies and their staff. At its core, Swept is a social venture striving to improve the lives of under-appreciated people.

Co-founders Michael Brown and Matt Cooper started CleanSimple as a cleaning company that allowed clients to book cleaners online. They soon understood the challenges faced by commercial cleaners themselves — people who work on their own at night with little contact with clients or their bosses. Often, English is their second language so they are sometimes confused about their instructions. If their company does use software, it’s usually used to check up on them, rather than help them.

“The challenges we faced are common in the janitorial industry — like employee turnover rates between 75 per cent and a whopping 375 per cent each year,” said Brown, the company’s CEO. “We discovered that 74 per cent of professional cleaners have said they feel like slaves at work, which no doubt contributes to the high turnover rates, so we designed our software around better supporting the cleaner.”

Durland Leads $1.45M Round in LifeRaft

Swept has designed software that can help cleaners, bosses and clients communicate on a mobile device. For one thing, the cleaners can now communicate in their native language. It helps provide feedback and questions, and can even help employers assess performance. Brown said it was always difficult to understand the job done by someone who works at night, and now employee-of-the-month awards can reward people who have done exceptional work.

In an interview, Brown said people — including potential investors — often brush off Swept because the thought of janitorial software isn’t appealing. But he and Cooper frequently gain converts once they explain that their mission is to help improve the lives of cleaners and reduce turnover in the cleaning business. Brown has had speaking engagements on the topic in such locations as Las Vegas and Florida.

“We believe in Swept because their founding team is stacked with janitorial industry operators, and because their technology is ultimately about improving quality through improving community,” said iNovia Principal David Nault in an email. “Swept is helping employers and employees feel more connected. This is 100 percent in line with our vision as a fund.”

Brown also said the company, which is adding to its current staff level of 14, is gaining clients rapidly. In August, the company said it had had annual recurring revenue of US$440,000, and Brown said that during its three-month stint at 500 Startups it went from bringing on eight clients a month to 30.

With the new capital, Brown and Cooper plan to keep accelerating sales growth and improve their product. The company is now used widely enough that it is producing a critical mass of data, and the development team is working on using the data to improve clients’ efficiency. And, Brown says, it will continue to help them make life better for front-line cleaners.

“Clients realize that these people are important and you need to talk to them,” said Brown. “While other companies are creating software to track and control employees, we’re creating software that helps them out.”