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Business Observer Thursday, Jun. 18, 2009 12 years ago

Honey-do List 2.0

A father-son entrepreneur duo got out of the carpet-cleaning business right before the economic downturn. But their new line of work isn't without challenges.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

A father-son entrepreneur duo got out of the carpet-cleaning business right before the economic downturn. But their new line of work isn't without challenges.

Ted Ehrlich and his son Brian built up a $1.7 million carpet-cleaning business that stretched from Sarasota to Naples before hitting a growth wall in 2006.

The condo-conversion craze of 2005 was the first punch: Apartment complexes that were a big revenue driver were turning condo and no longer needed the Ehrlichs' company, Unlimited Carpet and Tile Care. But an ever bigger problem, the Ehrlichs discovered, was building a customer base through avenues besides referrals.

They ran ads in all sorts of traditional places, from the Yellow Pages to Valpak coupons — the latter of which cost $2,000 a month. But the return on the investment was slow, even non-existent, to materialize, Brian Ehrlich says.

So in 2007 the pair decided to sell the company and get into a new line of work: Internet entrepreneurs. The choice was somewhat unusual for a 63-year-old Silver Star Vietnam veteran (Ted) and a 33-year-old MBA who worked in corporate America for big businesses such as consulting firm Deloitte and Black & Decker (Brian).

At the time, the Ehrlichs knew more about rug shampoos than java scripts. Nonetheless, the younger Ehrlich was convinced that their idea for a dot-com business was spot on. The plan was to create a Web site that could serve as an online marketplace for all sorts of services, from pet sitting to putting in a new shower. The kind of site they would have loved for the carpet cleaning business.

Says the younger Ehrlich: “It's kind of like taking word of mouth and putting it online and on steroids.”

Besides, adds Brian Ehrlich, “we didn't love the carpet cleaning business, and we saw this as a more fun and better opportunity.”

The Web site heralding that opportunity is It works by connecting those who need services with the providers, the people Ehrlich calls the HoneyDoers.

For the people in need of services, the site guides them through a free interactive list-making process. The user compiles a list of needs, small and big, and Honeydo sends it out to 'doers' in its database. The user can then choose the provider he wants to use for a given project and rate the service when it's completed.

The service providers, meanwhile, get to compete for new business and clients by creating their own profile on the site. Providers can currently join the honeydo network for free, although Ehrlich says eventually there will be a $149 annual fee for providers, which will provide a chunk of honeydo's revenues. Other revenues will come from adding on new services as the site matures, Ehrlich says.

The Ehrlichs have funded the business on their own so far, using a combined $250,000 from savings to get the Web site going. But Brian Ehrlich has spent the past few months seeking outside capital, as he thinks the business is ready to grow, both in the technology it uses and the markets its in.

Hitting the venture capital circuit tour has been a new experience for Ehrlich, as have a few other Honeydo tasks, such as finding good Web programmers. Ehrlich is using a business school axiom in building up Honeydo: If you're going to make mistakes, make them small.

“Inevitably, you will make mistakes, but we want to avoid the big one,” says Ehrlich. “We are trying not to make the one mistake that will kill us.”

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