Coronavirus Diaries From the C-Suite

This Company Found a More Humane Way to Treat Essential Workers

How Marcela Sapone, founder of Hello Alfred, pivoted her business in response to the coronavirus

Gloria Oh
Marker
Published in
8 min readApr 28, 2020
An “Alfred” grocery shopping for a member. Since “Alfreds” are W-2 employees with benefits, Sapone has now found herself in the middle of the debate surrounding the exploitation of gig workers as essential workers. Courtesy of Hello Alfred

Coronavirus Diaries From the C-Suite is a new Marker series where leaders share how the pandemic is affecting their businesses.

On March 2, just as Covid-19 was settling in, Marcela Sapone made the tough choice to pivot her entire company. Hello Alfred, a five-year-old on-demand home concierge service, had built its business performing outsourced domestic chores, like picking up dry cleaning, walking dogs, and cleaning homes, that were suddenly impossible. At her management team meeting that day, they decided to shift the 400-person venture-backed startup — which operates in 20 cities and has more than 90,000 homes on its platform — to a business that actually made sense during a shelter-in-place pandemic: only delivering essentials.

Since “Alfreds” are W-2 employees with benefits, Sapone has now found herself in the middle of the debate surrounding the exploitation of gig workers as essential workers. Marker spoke to Sapone about the startup’s sudden surge of octogenarian customers, shifting her company to a four-day workweek to prevent burnout, and what it’s like to feel as if you’re gutting the culture you’ve spent five years painstakingly creating.

Our business requires us to go into other people’s homes. Home cleanings and tidying up, all of that disappeared overnight. In March, we saw a 65% reduction in all of our requests. We operate in 20 markets and work with thousands of local businesses, because a lot of what we do are service-based activities, like grocery shopping, dog walking, and organizing communities within the buildings. Around a week after the initial hit, we started to see a huge surge in demand for our grocery shopping and pharmacy pickup. It increased threefold, basically recovering the difference, so we got to a place where we were still 30% higher than we were meant to be in our forecast. But the cost to serve, the actual profit margin, is not very high in grocery delivery.

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Gloria Oh
Marker

Senior Editor, Medium. Founding Editor of Index. Previously, The Atlantic.