Before Handy, a house cleaning and odd jobs startup, became the darling of the New York startup scene and raised $30 million dollars, the company was called "Handybook." And according to a person who spent a day interviewing there, its office was a showcase of the worst tech worker stereotypes. Sexism, racism, privilege, and all-around juvenile antics were all on display.
The initial interview wasn't that bad. However, Handybook's founder flaunted what Tomas called his "privileged background," which she said raised a "small red flag for me."
"The idea for Handybook occurred to me when I was studying at Harvard. It was so hard to find a reliable cleaning service to tidy my apartment! You know?" He smiled hard at me.
I gave a smile and nodded back, as if I was familiar with the difficulties of finding a good cleaner when I was a student. I'd actually worked retail part-time throughout school so I could afford to pay $200/month rent splitting a un-air conditioned house in Atlanta with three other people. Hiring a maid would have been laughable.
That's nothing compared to Handybook's "tryout day" for the $35,000/year position.
The staff showed up later than expected. Customer service representatives, the only people working when she got there, openly mocked their contract employees:
After one phone call, Ashley announced, "Oh my god. That was the maid Mrs. Wong again. Crazy Chinese lady!"
A programmer giggled and called out, "Ashley, do your Chinese washer woman impression again!"
"My Chinese washa wo-men?" she pulled back the skin on the sides of her face. "I do you laund-wy! Own-wy ten dollah!" She laughed hysterically, "I clean you house!"
Tomas detailed other shortcomings of the customer service operation. Because Handybook contracted out their services, the startup didn't know how much it cost to perform most tasks. Tomas uses pseudonyms throughout. In one instance, the company's founder, who Tomas called "Ajay," instructed her to tell a customer that re-tiling a bathroom would only cost $250 and take six hours.
I seriously doubted this was correct, and quickly Googled "bathroom retile quote," discovering that the job usually took two days and cost $1,000 minimum.
I quickly announced what I found. Ajay looked at me blankly. Matias smirked. The customer was still on hold. I guessed we were going with the $250 quote.
The company culture proved to what you'd expect from a founder who purposefully under-quoted job estimate. For example, one male employee told an openly sexist joke to Tomas, who he had just met:
"Want to hear a joke I heard today?" a programmer asked, eying me and giggling. "What's the difference between a woman and a refrigerator?"
"…what," I said.
"Refrigerators don't moan when you put meat in them!"
In this frat house atmosphere, Handybook's founder couldn't get anyone to do their work:
Late in the day, one of the programmers took out a toy helicopter and began flying it around the office.
Ajay was still at his laptop, laughing along but looking increasingly desperate at his lack of control over the employees.
"Come on, guys, what about some work?" he asked pathetically.
Everyone ignored him...
The 12-hour tryout day made Tomas "feel sick." She asked for a salary figure, which left her would-be co-worker feeling "panicked."
"I could not leave fast enough."
Update 5:40pm: The Billfold confirmed to Valleywag that the author of the account was also using a pseudonym.
In a statement, Handy co-founder Oisin Hanrahan says the company is "different today."
While it posted today (October 21), the article by Amanda Tomas relates to an experience she says she had 15 months ago, in July of 2013. At that time, Handybook employed less than 15 people. Today, Handy is two and a half years old and employs 200 people.
Every young company goes through growing pains, and we're no different. While we don't think the article was in any way representative of the experience working on our team, we do of course find it disturbing. A lot of the facts in the piece have no bearing on our company today, and reflect a fast growing team that has learned along the way.
For instance, today our customer experience team works a regular eight-hour shift, not 12. We supply our employees with laptops, they don't use their own. And we don't ask prospective employees to work a trial day before they are hired. Was it always this way? No. And when Amanda says she applied nearly a year and a half ago, our company was newer, smaller and still figuring out best practices. In short, things are different today than they were then.
At the same time, the allegation that there was any racism or sexism– overt or otherwise – in our office or amongst our team is one that we take extremely seriously. We at Handy do not stand for harassment of any kind. If we find any indication otherwise, the reaction will be swift and clear — that kind of behavior is not tolerated at our company, and never will be.
In short, as we continue to grow we're working every day to ensure the happiness of our customers and employees. We understand today more than ever that our employees and professionals are the lifeblood of our business.