If you ever thought a pair of jeans could change your life, you might actually be right. At least that’s what happened for Kristen Hadeed. Her desire to buy a great pair of jeans fueled her to work hard, create her own successful business and teach others how to work for themselves through speaking engagements and a TEDx talk reaching nearly one million views. Read about Kristen’s journey as she shares the power of failing often and creating a life and business that excites you.
Twitter/Instagram Handle: @kristenhadeed
Location: Gainesville, FL
Occupation: Founder, Student Maid
University: University of Florida
Secretly Obsessed With: Rap music
On My Nightstand: Alarm clock, an amazing candle, current book I’m reading
Last Thing You Read: #GirlBoss
How did you get started?
For me, it all started with a pair of jeans. I saw a pair of expensive jeans that I had to have but didn’t have the money for, and asked my parents if they would buy them for me. They replied as expected and said “No, get a job.” As a finance major with a challenging course load and little free time, I needed a part-time position that was flexible enough to accommodate my demanding schedule. I posted an ad on Craigslist to clean houses. A self-proclaimed “neat-freak,” I saw cleaning as a good fit. I cleaned houses after class, hired some friends to help, and the business grew – a lot. During my junior year of college, between football games and finals, I founded one of Florida’s largest independently owned cleaning services, Student Maid™. We now have 500+ employees during our peak season with two locations in Florida and we are working around the clock to grow the brand nationwide.
What key elements played into your success?
I learned early on that as a young entrepreneur you will fail…a lot. I believe that if you can learn to see failure as an opportunity you can be very successful in life. Every time you fail, you always learn something. When you get an “A” on your test do you go home and ask yourself why you got the A? No! It’s when you get the “F” that you are like “What the heck?! How did this happen?” Failure causes you to reflect and become better. If you can learn to welcome failure with open arms like I did (and still do), you will be so far ahead of everyone else.
What’s the best piece of advice you received?
My dad told me all the time growing up that you should only invest your time and energy into things that you are excited about, because when you are excited about the work you do you are so much better at it. Growing up I remember watching my dad, a lawyer, turn down cases that would have made him a lot of money simply because they didn’t interest him. When I graduated from college in 2010, I was offered a “dream job” in finance that would have paid a lot of money but to me it was b-o-r-i-n-g. I turned it down because I was excited about my small cleaning company—a company that wasn’t even really making money at the time—but I loved the work I did and I chose to follow my excitement. I am so glad I did.
What struggles did you face getting to this point?
Where do I start? My age has definitely been the largest obstacle. From getting turned down for a bank loan several times to getting others to take me seriously in the workplace—I constantly had to prove myself. I remember people would ask “Can I speak to your boss?” You should have seen the looks on their faces when I would reply “You’re talking to her!”
An even bigger challenge for me was learning how to become a leader of my peers. The people who work with me are very close in age to me (and especially were when I started). How do you transform from being a friend or a peer to being the leader? I learned the hard way and by failing, a lot, but eventually I got it right. Golden rule: leadership is a responsibility to do more and not a privilege to do less.
Who was the biggest influence in your professional life?
Zappos.com is one of my favorite companies and I have tried to emulate some of the things they do into my company. One of my favorite things about them is that they hold their employees accountable to the core values of the company. If an employee is really good at his/her job, but doesn’t live up to the values—well, they can’t be a part of the team. That is how we run things at Student Maid™. We make all of our decisions around our values. They’re like our moral compass. Decisions that used to be very difficult are now very easy to make.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Student Maid™ is known in the cleaning industry for its unique culture and high employee retention rate. Student employees typically stay with the company for 2.5 years and only leave because they have to– they graduate! This beats the industry average by a landslide; most cleaning companies are only able to keep employees on board for a couple of months. As a result, Student Maid™ leaders frequently offer seminars and coaching to others in the industry. We are very proud of our culture.
When do you feel most successful?
I feel most successful when I watch my employees transform into even more remarkable people after their time at Student Maid™. We really try to create a culture that breeds young leaders and also teaches skills necessary for success after graduation. The excitement I get each time one of my employees lands his or her dream job or internship all because of the skills they gained through Student Maid™ …it’s incredible. Knowing that I played some small part in helping someone reach his or her aspirations is really the reason I wake up every morning. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
What advice would you give to girls looking to enter your industry/space?
I would tell you to NEVER take “no” as an answer. People will constantly tell you that your dream is silly or unobtainable, but do not listen to these people. Use the “no’s” as fuel to make you go further. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and know you can do it.