As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Pawlowski and Ann Lightfoot.
Ann Lightfoot and Kate Pawlowski are the mother-daughter team behind the amazing home organizing and move management company, Done & Done Home, which was launched in 2011.
Between their in-home organizing services and online course, they have helped thousands of clients dig themselves out of domestic disasters and are now sharing everything they’ve learned in the process.
Done & Done Home has been featured in dozens of publications including the New York Times, Domino, Architectural Digest, Good Housekeeping, and Apartment Therapy to name a few.
Kate holds a BA in psychology from the New School and is a graduate of The Nightingale-Bamford School. She is a mom to two young boys.
Ann Lightfoot holds an MFA from the New School and a BA from Loyola University. She is a proud grandmother to Kate’s sons, James and Charlie.
Ann and Kate live in a two-family home in Montclair, NJ.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ten years ago Kate was asked by a friend’s mother to make an inventory of the contents of their townhouse in preparation for their move. She asked Kate because she knew Kate to be organized and both tech and photo able. Kate was all those things but she was less sure about the names of the various silver pieces, types of furniture and other household items. For those answers she called her mother, Ann, and they realized that being from different generations gave them different skill sets so when another friend who was a designer asked them to help a client downsize and move they jumped at the chance. From there, Done and Done Home was born.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The hardest part of growing the business had to do with expansion. Before we were willing to take on employees we had to wait until we simply couldn’t cover anymore jobs ourselves without more organizers. That meant we were working very long days with our clients and then running the business in the evenings and early mornings. We were hesitant to look for money outside the business because in the first couple years we didn’t know if we’d even be able to grow it enough to make borrowing money or looking for investors worth it. The stress was unbelievable.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
We truly loved our business and our clients. We were so happy working together and as our team grew we felt inspired to provide work for all of them.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going so well! Our team is now 21 people. We pride ourselves on offering our employees amazing flexibility so they are able to take care of their own homes and families. We also pay a high hourly rate to our organizers because we value the lifetime of experience they bring to the work. It’s an expensive way to run a business because scheduling is much more difficult than it would be if they were full time employees but it’s worth it to us. It helps us attract the sort of employees we want.
Financially things are going very well. Our first year in business in 2011 we each made 12k. For 2021 we are on track to do almost 2m in sales and in 2022 we will have some big announcements to make that we can’t wait to share.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We didn’t understand in the beginning that a huge part of organizing is decluttering and getting rid of things. We had a huge job that involved basically clearing out the contents of the home and we hadn’t arranged a hauler to take everything away. We filled the contractor bags almost to the top which is a rookie mistake. They were way too heavy to lift. We found the maintenance men who worked in the building and asked them to help. They agreed but weren’t thrilled. We took everything downstairs in the service elevator and then they had to get it all out to the street for pick up. We ran out and got a stack of cash to pay them off so the client wouldn’t know how unprepared we were. It was all handled but we were exhausted, filthy and didn’t make as much money on that job as we’d planned since a lot went to the guys who helped us but we couldn’t bill it through to the client because we hadn’t mentioned it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes our company stand out are the amazing women who work for us. The work that we are hired to do — downsizing, getting homes ready for the market, moving, decluttering, and unpacking — are not jobs most people look forward to doing and many people dread. The women who work for us are smart, funny, and interesting besides being incredibly hardworking and compassionate. It means they can make the day fly by and also get the work done to a very high standard. When clients bring us into their homes they are trusting us with all the items they own. Some have monetary value of course but mostly it’s the sentimental value that makes people worry about the process. They don’t want to get rid of too much but they also don’t want to get rid of too little especially if they are getting ready to move. Our team works alongside the clients and listens to their stories. They help them decide what is most important to keep and show them how to set up systems that will make their homes run smoothly going forward.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
For a long time we weren’t able to do the things people say to do in order to prevent burnout like take time off and delegate. We simply couldn’t afford to do those things if we wanted to grow. The biggest thing we’ve done to prevent burnout is relying on each other. Without a partner to cover the work who is equally interested in the outcome we don’t know what we would have done. Kate had a baby in our fifth year and a baby in our eighth year. The added pressure of a family for Kate meant we had to start taking financial risks and finding people to help us in the office and at home. We now have five amazing women in the office and at home Kate has a nanny to help and we also found a way to outsource the hardest thing at home which was meals. We found a local vegan chef and she drops off food for the week for us. It’s made a huge difference to our lives and our business since on our only day off, Sunday, we were shopping and cooking for the week .
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Meri MacEacheron came to us as an organizer almost five years ago. She was a skilled organizer but we could see she had a ton of other skills. We moved our offices from NYC to Montclair, NJ in 2017 and since Meri was based in NJ she started helping us at the office with all sorts of projects. She had a corporate background which neither of us had. She was patient with our lack of knowledge about all things corporate and helped us grow our business. She wore so many hats for so long that when we first sat down with our business coach, the amazing Glenn Grant, he couldn’t understand how one person could do so many things. Through it all Meri was optimistic and cheerful even when things were completely overwhelming. We would never have been able to grow Done and Done without Meri.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Like we mentioned above, we’ve made it our mission to give truly flexible hours and pay a high hourly rate so women can make decent money but can also take care of their families. Most of our organizers are in their 50s and 60s and though their children may be grown or mostly grown, many of them still have family commitments and are needed to help out with their parents at times. We value that and believe that the love and care they are able to share does bring goodness to the world. We’ve had women get teary on interviews when we explain how we do the schedule and why we do it. They are so happy that they don’t have to lie about family obligations.
As regards our work, the difference that we’ve made in people’s homes helps our clients to have more time for the things they love. Our focus has never been organizing for organizing sake.
We believe when you enter the outside world from a home full of ease, beauty, laughter, and hope, the energy of the world changes for the better; and that change can be achieved through efficient systems of household management. We’ve worked hard to make this a reality for thousands of people.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Money is the oxygen of small businesses.
Many times in the beginning we would have gone under if we didn’t have our own savings to tap. The old cliche “you’ve got to spend money to make money” is absolutely true.
2. It’s true that no one else dictates how you spend your time when you’re an entrepreneur but if you want to grow your business you will rarely be able to take time off.
We definitely had days at the lake with Kate’s boys each of the last few summers but one of us had to watch the phone the entire time. Because we’ve built our business on taking excellent care of our clients we can’t risk something going wrong and nobody responding to the client or the organizer on the job who needs something. Now that our office staff is bigger, maybe next summer we can leave our phones in our beach bags!
3. Perfectionism isn’t your friend.
You just have to accept that you can’t control everything. We are perfectionists when it comes to our clients but try to be more relaxed about other things.
4. “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” Derek Sivers
Derek Siver’s book “Anything You Want” was a game changer for us. There is so much helpful information packed in the very slim volume. For us, the idea that we both have to say ‘hell yes’ when making decisions means we can easily decide what we are going to do and what we are not going to do. We apply this to hiring and firing, clients, money decisions, and general business propositions. It also prevents us from trying to convince the other one to change their mind. Changing someone else’s mind is very unlikely to result in a hell yes.
5. If you focus on making your customers happy your business will grow.
There may be other ways to grow a business but this was our way. We simply gave everything we could to our clients. We truly wanted them to be happy and we grew our business through word of mouth.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
We don’t really do either. When something great happens like an agent calling saying she wants to do a book with us we hive five each other and tell our husbands and family and then we get right back to work.
When the lows happen we try not to wallow. Things go wrong in life and in business and we try to learn and move on.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
One thing we’ve learned is that there is much less money available for female founders than there is for male founders. If we could start a movement it would be to get more money in the hands of female entrepreneurs. Companies can’t grow without money and if the percentage stays as low as it is — by most accounts venture capital funding to females is less than 3% — we will all miss out on great ideas becoming solid businesses.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can subscribe to our newsletter at www.doneanddonehome.com or follow us @doneanddonehome on Instagram.