As part of The Startup Magazine founders interviews series, we sat down with entrepreneurs Sam Simon and Nasutsa Mabwa, the co-founders and owners of ServiceMaster By Simons. a woman-owned and a family-run restoration and specialty cleaning business. Their company handles large and small insurance losses and works closely with insurance adjusters, managers, building owners, developers, homeowners and renters.
Importantly, ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons supports and engages in the communities they serve by giving back. The entire company is regularly involved in fundraising and local activities in the Arts, Urban Agriculture, Youth Education, Domestic Violence Prevention and Minority-and-Women scholarships in graduate real estate programs.
By including their staff, sub-contractors and vendors in our community giving programs, Sam and Nasutsa foster and nurture an environment of giving, meaningful service and charity to those in need and the organizations that serve them. This philosophy is deeply ingrained in their company culture and helps set this husband and wife co-founder team apart as leaders and entrepreneurs.
Let’s learn more from Sam and Nasutsa in their own words…
TSM: Describe your product/service in 10 words or less:
Nasutsa: We provide Fire & Water Damage Restoration, Specialty Cleaning, Disinfection and Decontamination.
TSM: With a bit more detail, what does your company do?
Nasutsa: ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons provides rapid response cleanup services for water, fire & smoke damage to commercial and residential properties as well as specialty cleaning services including Biohazard Cleaning, COVID-19 Cleaning, disinfection and decontamination.
TSM: What inspired you to start your company? (Share with us what problem you’re solving)
Sam: Nasutsa and I both had successful careers in our respective fields. She was in commercial real estate development and myself in national television production. Our individual successes came from hard work, which often meant long hours at the job. As we started our family, we quickly realized that we wanted to be more available to our children, which was not going to happen, since both of our jobs provided no opportunity for working from home. Nasutsa and I talked about starting our own business. We thought about buying and flipping properties, which we actually did for several years. We started an urban landscape design business which didn’t quite turn out the way we’d hoped, and didn’t pay very well either.
Then we decided to start a fast-casual street food restaurant called Falafel King. The concept was novel and no one yet had brought this concept to Chicago. We designed the menus, found a location in Chicago’s Wicker Park that worked for us, and we secured funding from a bank. We had $125,000 startup money from a small neighborhood bank near the restaurant’s location. A day later, an acquaintance who owned a ServiceMaster franchise was telling me about his business, his struggles and successes and his happiness in both his personal and professional life as a ServiceMaster owner. I was intrigued. He invited me on board as a junior partner. Nasutsa and I scrapped our plans for the restaurant and we set off on a journey that would eventually lead us to be owners of our own franchise. Problem solved! We now spend plenty of time with our children!
TSM: Please describe your roles in the company. What do each of you focus on?
Nasutsa: I am President of ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons and Sam is Manager of Operations. In terms of our roles within the company, as small business owners, we wear many different hats and and are involved in pretty much everything – from estimating and directing crews to customer service and marketing/Web SEO.
Sam: For the most part, we have different roles in the company, however some of our focus is the same, for example, communicating with corporate as we are an independent franchise. I focus on operations – directing the crews, restoration quality control, equipment and fleet management, marketing and so much more! Nasutsa concentrates on human resources, office administration, marketing, finance, customer service and networking.
TSM: Because you are both entrepreneurs, how do you manage your time and balance your responsibilities?
Nasutsa: Because we are a family business, we set our own schedules and are able to divvy up the workload and raise our family. Sam is physically in the office on average more than I am. I have to adjust my schedule and sometimes work remotely in order to drop off and pick up the children from school. We communicate daily to determine which one of us can complete tasks based on workload and schedules.
TSM: How is your company impacting the world/your clients?
Sam: ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons is an IICRC certified firm (Institution of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration) and OSHA30 certified. Our company has been at the forefront of COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection service in the Chicagoland area since the pandemic began in March 2020. Our firm is fully and trained compliant with CDC regulations and guidelines established by ServiceMaster. Additionally, because of our hands-on approach to customer service and our background in social work, we are able to provide customers with a high level of one on one support after COVID-19 positive cases, or the unexpected water or fire damage.
TSM: Are there disruptive factors in your industry that make it a good business opportunity?
Sam: As a disaster restoration company our business tends to thrive in chaos. Whether it is a hurricane or flooding, wildfires or building fires ,COVID-19 or property damage and vandalism, we are at the forefront of recovery and restoration. We are in a unique position of helping people and industry while making a profit in the process.
TSM: You’ve had to adjust your strategy over the years. Describe the company’s pivot point, and its impact on the company?
Nasutsa: When we opened our second location in 2017 to better serve our North Shore customers, the business changed tremendously. Now that we have two locations (Chicago and NorthShore), we are able to better service a much wider territory of both residential and commercial customers in the greater Chicago metropolitan area.
ServiceMaster is a cleaning and restoration business which provides us a constant pivot between cleaning and restoration. If we are not restoring a property after a fire damage we are providing cleaning and disinfection services or mold remediation. Owning a ServiceMaster franchise allows us to have business mix that can easily pivot.
TSM: As your franchise company grew, what were the primary challenges? Hiring? Quality control? Capital?
Nasutsa: As our company has grown, one of the biggest hurdles has been the changing restoration industry in our local marketplace. Within the past five years, more competitors have appeared, forcing us to diversify and provide new service offerings to differentiate our company locally.
TSM: Going back to your early career decisions, tell us what factors influenced your decision to be entrepreneurs?
Sam: I was a freelance tv producer and videographer and Nasutsa was a real estate development executive working in the private sector. We always wanted to run our own business and had many frequent creative new business start up ideas. However, we needed the flexibility to be able to raise our family and be present as parents so opening up ServiceMaster, our own independent franchise, was the way forward for us.
TSM: And what characteristics do you have that particularly contributed to your ability to jump from a startup success to a scale up success?
Sam: We are both very driven and creative individuals, but very different personalities. I am the creative idea generator and Nasutsa executes ideas and plans into action no matter how difficult. It is our different talents that make our company adapt, grow and become successful.
TSM: What are some interesting facts about you two that people may not know?
Nasutsa: People may not know that Sam used to be a freelance videographer and toured all over the country with well-known rock groups like Van Halen and shows like “Dancing with the Stars.” In my background, I was Senior Project Manager for a 600 acre mixed use redevelopment project on the former USX steel mill in southeast Chicago along lake Michigan.
TSM: Excellent. We love hearing your story and appreciate your accomplishments. Good luck on your continued success.