Handy – the app that is cleaning up around the world

Oisin Hanrahan wants his cleaning and DIY service to be the Uber for home services

Oisin Hanrahan got the idea for Handy while developing properties in Budapest, when he noticed how difficult it was to find a trustworthy cleaner.  Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE/Web Summit

Oisin Hanrahan got the idea for Handy while developing properties in Budapest, when he noticed how difficult it was to find a trustworthy cleaner. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE/Web Summit


Thirty-two year old Dubliner Oisin Hanrahan is cleaning up, literally. His start-up Handy, which provides cleaning and DIY services, is pulling in tens of millions of dollars each year.

This summer, it surpassed the millionth-booking milestone, and it’s only just getting started.

Hanrahan, who set up Handy with Umang Dua, Weina Scott and Ignacio Leonhardt during the summer of his first year at Harvard business school, says the start-up wants to be the Uber for home services.

Handy doesn’t just let anyone become a cleaner or handyn. The company screens all of its freelancers by way of background checks, references and in-person interviews.

Hundreds of thousands have applied but only a small percentage have been accepted, making it harder to get into than Harvard.

“We’ve had over 750,000 people apply to join the Handy platform. Less than 3 per cent of the people actually get approved . . . We want to make sure we deliver a great experience to the customer,” Hanrahan says.

Moved to Boston

In 2012, Hanrahan moved to Boston, to undertake an MBA at Harvard University. Three years later, he is employing 140 staff, has offices across 28 cities in the US, Canada and the UK, and has raised more than $110 million in venture capital funding.

The entrepreneur never ultimately finished the Harvard course, but he’s okay with that. While he didn’t comment on the valuation, Handy is reportedly valued at $500 million.

Handy isn’t Hanrahan’s first business. At the age of 19, he decided to become a property developer in eastern Europe, founding the Clearwater Group after scouring various cities on weekend breaks from Trinity College in Dublin, using money he had made from selling cardboard packaging to buy and renovate apartments.

While the rest of his friends were partying, he spent his weekends as a TCD undergrad flying to Hungary to develop property, something they thought was madness.

“I spent two years during college and three years after going back and forth, buying, building and renovating apartments.”

Business continued to do well, with Hanrahan employing 35 people in Budapest at one stage. However, when the global financial crisis and property crash happened in late 2008/early 2009, it became more difficult.

He moved back to Dublin and started MiCandidate with Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrove.

The political media start-up became the leading source of online election information across Europe in 2009.

Hanrahan and Cosgrave then created the Undergraduate Awards, a non-profit aimed at supporting and celebrating outstanding undergraduate students globally.

Today, says Hanrahan, they are the largest undergraduate awards in the world.

Global problem

While Hanrahan was in Budapest, he found it difficult to get handymen or cleaners for the apartments he was renovating and developing.

When he moved to the US, he realised it was a global problem. There, he struggled to find a cleaner he could trust and spent a long time scouring the internet, reading online reviews and negotiating over pricing.

“I always had that problem of finding people I could trust to do small DIY tasks,” he says.

Hanrahan and his co-founders decided to fill the gap in the market, building an easy-to-use and convenient platform for people to book household services.

“In the summer, between first and second year of business school, we started building out the idea. One of the first things we noticed is how incredibly strong the value proposition is for people on the selling side. In a pre-Uber world, people who wanted to find flexible work struggled to do so in a stable way.”

The team raised $50,000 seed capital to get started as part of Highland Capital’s summer Incubator. Before the college term started back, they had brought in $2 million from Highland Capital and General Catalyst.

“As the team scaled, we brought in more engineers. We have nearly 60 engineers in product and design now.”

Among the people the company has hired is Tumblr’s former head of engineering Kenneth Little, who is Handy’s new CTO.

Having raised $111 million in venture capital funding, Handy has also been on the acquisition trail.

“This is a two-sided marketplace. The customer wants to be on the platform with the most cleaners and handymen. The cleaners and handymen want to be on the platform with the most customers.”

“We haven’t launched [IN]a new city in the last few months, but we have made acquisitions. On the US West Coast we bought a company called Exec. We bought Mopp in London.”

This November, Hanrahan sealed a $50 million funding deal for Handy. The start-up’s app is available in more than 28 cities, and Hanrahan plans to use the funding to invest more in these cities before expanding to new cities and countries at the end of 2016. “Our vision has been simple: to connect customers to professionals of virtually every home service with the tap of a button,” he says. “We will continue to increase our presence in each of our cities, offer more home services, and improve the platform to continue to deliver the experience that the hundreds of thousands of people using the platform have come to expect of us.

“For the next six months, we are going to continue to invest in the experience in our existing cities. After that we’re going to look at new services in new cities. Towards the middle of next year, you’ll see Handy start to look at those things.”