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Portland entrepreneur’s business journey leads to southern New Hampshire


Hussein Adan started Cleaners Joy in Portland, Maine, in December 2021. Last month, he expanded the business to southern New Hampshire. Photo/Maureen Milliken

Hussein Adan launched Cleaner’s Joy in December 2021 with the goal of filling a need and making sure customers had a good experience, a winning combination that’s spurred an expansion to the Manchester and Nashua areas.

PORTLAND, Maine – Hussein Adan learned a lot while running a house painting franchise his junior year in college. 

He learned how to climb a ladder. How to knock on doors and solicit business. How to engage with people. But one of his biggest takeaways?

He wanted to run his own business and maximize his hard-earned money.

“It felt good to accomplish that, to go from zero to making money,” Adan said.

Adan, 25, wasn’t sure when he entered the University of Southern Maine what he wanted to do after he graduated, though he’d always had a knack for sales. The house-painting franchise experience his junior year got him hooked on entrepreneurship.

In December 2021, Adan founded Cleaners Joy, just seven months after graduating. Throughout his inaugural year, the company saw significant success. Recently, Adan decided to broaden Cleaners Joy’s reach beyond southern Maine, venturing into southern New Hampshire. Now, his focus shifts to establishing a foothold in the more competitive markets of Manchester and Nashua, aiming for steady growth within his first year there.

Adan, a native of Somalia, came to the U.S. with his family when he was a toddler after they’d spent time in a refugee camp in Kenya. The family eventually settled in Lewiston, Maine, which has a thriving Somali-American population. 

He was accepted at Emerson College, in Boston, and Clark University, in Worcester, Mass., after he graduated from Lewiston High School. His friends were going to USM, in Portland and Gorham, Maine, though. It was also affordable – a lot cheaper to live on campus – and not that far from home, so he went there, too.

Adan wasn’t sure what he would major in or what he wanted to do when he graduated.

“But in terms of entrepreneurship and sales, I always had that in me,” he said. “I was always in sales and selling stuff.” In college he made money selling basketball jerseys and flipping shoes – he’d buy a bunch of limited-release shoes from a company like Nike, then sell them for a profit.

On the other hand, he didn’t like math and wanted to do something for a living that wasn’t math-related.

He settled on business administration and marketing as a major. 

Downside? Turns out you can’t run a business without dealing with math. 

Upside? He discovered that running a business was what he was made for.

A baptism with fire

A turning point came his junior year, when he signed on with Collegiate Entrepreneurs, which offers house-painting franchises to college students as a way for them to learn how to run a business.

It was a baptism with fire. Not only had Adan never been on a ladder, but he started his franchise as the COVID pandemic was just ramping up, and the business model was to go door to door soliciting customers.

It’s something that would be daunting for any college-age kid. A pandemic lockdown and the fact he was a young Black man knocking on doors in virtually all-white Portland suburbs made it even more of a challenge.

He approached the work from a logical business standpoint, checking out the real estate app Zillow for homes valued at $300,000 and above, and focusing on those neighborhoods. The more money people had, he knew, the more likely they’d be to spring for house painting.

Door-knocking and cold calls are the toughest aspect of sales, but Adan said it was not a negative experience.

“I like Maine,” he said. “People try to be nice.” In the time he did the work, one person called the police once, and it was quickly straightened out. Other than that, he said, there were no problems.

In seven months running the franchise, he cleared $50,000. He caught the business bug. He also learned valuable lessons that went beyond the house-painting trade.

An introvert by nature, the experience taught him how to interact with people, and how to do business with them. 

“The more I tried, the more it flowed,” he said.

He learned that customers can be nervous, too. Making them feel comfortable and proving that he was reliable and honest helped both sides. He came to understand that strong and positive customer service would be the foundation of whatever business he undertook after he graduated.

‘Always dreaming of working’

The house-painting business wanted him back for another year, but they took a 60% cut, and he’d learned enough to know that he didn’t want to split his earnings with someone else.

His senior year, as his classmates endured the COVID lockdown playing video games and watching TV, “I was always dreaming of working.”

He’d gained valuable experience and he was anxious to take the next step, something that would give back what he was worth. “I was focused on what I was going to do,” he said.

He sold tires, then insurance, as he researched what type of business he would start. 

He didn’t want to paint houses – with Maine weather that came with a lot of challenges. There was also the ladder thing.

“I didn’t want someone going up a ladder and getting hurt,” he said. The liability issues just seemed too great.

He took an online entrepreneurship course, and researched what type of business could fill a need gap and have a chance for success without a lot of overhead. Something he could do from his laptop.

The house-cleaning business caught his eye. The model was changing, but not in Maine.

“In Maine it was still an old-school industry, ‘Oh, let’s go out and give you a quote,’” he said. “It was really tedious and inconvenient.” 

Adan saw that in other areas, cleaning companies were adopting an app model. A customer could book a cleaning online, pay with a credit card, and streamline the process, just like they were doing with food and grocery delivery services.

Adan is the only full-time employee at Cleaners Joy. His laptop is his office.

Cleaners Joy cleaners are independent contractors who sign up for the hours and the schedule they want. Adan connects them with customers. His cleaners have insurance, are background-checked and they must have two years of experience to sign on. There is a slate of 18 in southern Maine, and he has a growing contingent in southern New Hampshire.

A learning curve

The lessons in customer service that he learned in the house-painting industry only went so far, he found with his first house-cleaning customer, in December 2021.

The customer’s house was cluttered and messy – a common misperception, Adan found. People think house cleaners are paid to pick up after them, when in reality it’s to do longer-term cleaning jobs, like vacuuming, mopping and dusting.

“I didn’t know how to really go about talking to him about it,” Adan said. He had to navigate that challenge, and it ended up being resolved. It prompted him to make sure the app had the information, and asked the right questions, so that expectations are clear up front.

Cleaners Joy now has several tiers of cleaning: standard, deep, move in/move out, home organization, home concierge (provides services while owner is away), and office/commercial.

The customer base is residential homes, but Cleaners Joy also contracts with real estate agents and has commercial contracts to do business cleaning.

The company also partners with Cleaning for a Reason, a nonprofit that books free cleanings for cancer patients.

Adan has honed his focus on expansion in the few years since the business began. Two years ago, he mulled an expansion to Houston, Texas, where he lives part-time. He found, though, that the market was flooded with similar businesses.

More than a business

While he also has a lot of competition in New England, his company has taken hold. Southern New Hampshire, while different in many ways from southern Maine, including a more competitive market, has what he’s looking for – a population and income level that can support his business model. 

In the next several years he hopes to expand the company’s New Hampshire presence, as well as spread to other New England states.

The larger population areas he focuses on not only means a solid customer base, but also more access to cleaners that meet the company’s standards. “It’s hard to find people who are reliable and who will do what they say they will,” Adan said.

Those attributes are important – it’s the foundation of his brand.

“I understand [a house cleaner] is a luxury,” he said. “It’s not for everyone. People don’t have the disposable funds.”

Those who can afford a cleaner, though, can’t be taken for granted if a business is going to succeed, he said.

“What we’re selling is convenience, and value, and we’re saving so much time.” But, he added, it’s more than that. “We’re reliable.” He also meets customers where they are and makes sure that the message to them is that they matter.

One issue in the industry is that “people get ghosted.” His company is in contact with customers before, after and during a job.

It comes back, he said, to communicating and building relationships.

“Just be consistent,” he said. “That’s taken me far, following up with people.”

He said he’s learned in the two-plus years he’s been in business is, “It’s a hard business, it’s not easy.” But he doesn’t look at it as just a business, though, and that’s a key to his success.

He blushed when asked how he came up with the name, Cleaner’s Joy. He said he experimented with a lot of combinations, but it just fit the message he wanted to give.

“We do cleaning,” he said. But equally important, “We want to give customers a good experience.”


About this Contributor

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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