Startup Alfred raises $2 million for urban butler service

An Alfred errand-runner brings in a customer's shoes for repair. Company-supplied photo.
An Alfred errand-runner brings in a customer's shoes for repair. Company-supplied photo.

Uber and Lyft made chauffeured cars accessible to non-Wall Streeters, and sites like Airbnb and Flipkey made it possible to find a sweet deal on a beachfront villa. Now Alfred, a startup born on the campus of Harvard Business School, wants to let you pay for just a fraction of a personal assistant, at $99 a month.

And today, the company is announcing its first funding round: $2 million, supplied by Boston-based Spark Capital and SV Angel of San Francisco.

Instead of using one app (like Instacart) to do your grocery shopping, another (like Handy) to clean your house, and a third (like Washio) to get your clothes cleaned, Alfred handles all those tasks with a single person who drops by your home once a week, on a day you specify. “You shouldn’t have to spend more overhead and mental effort managing all these things,” says co-founder and chief operating officer Jessica Beck. “We’re trying to make everything happen automatically, so you can really stop thinking about it.” The $99-per-month fee covers one visit a week, which can include taking items to a tailor, swinging by the drugstore, or doing a bit of light housework. (If you’re having laundry or dry cleaning done, it gets returned a few days later.)

Unlike many other service-on-demand startups, however, Alfred’s errand-runners aren’t independent contractors. “We want to provide a consistently high-quality service and experience,” says Beck. “So we feel very passionate that all the people who work with us are either part-time or full-time employees — it’s up to the individual what is best for them.”

Alfred’s employees — they call them Alfreds — use a custom-built mobile app to plan their routes and save details about their clients’ preferences. They also sometimes leverage other service apps, like Instacart or Postmates (another Spark portfolio company), to blow through your to-do-list. Alfred plans to launch a consumer-facing mobile app in 2015, which will allow customers to leave notes and shopping lists for their Alfreds.

The company was conceived in Boston during spring break in 2013. Beck and co-founder Marcela Sapone were among a group of five MBA students who chose to stay on campus for a week; they dubbed it the Startup Lockdown. The group focused on one new startup idea each day. Alfred, originally known as Personal Doorman, came to them on Wednesday. Sapone and Beck started a serious beta test of the service that fall.

The company is now headquartered in Manhattan, where Alfred began serving a small set of customers earlier this fall. “We would love to be in more cities, and that’s the plan,” Beck says. Alfred currently has 10 full-time employees on what Sapone calls the “core team,” and 100 Alfreds out in the field.

In September, Alfred took the $50,000 top prize at the TechCrunch Disrupt startup showcase in New York. And in August, I included Alfred in this Boston Globe column: “In sharing economy, a rift over worker classification.”

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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