Venture capital firm Rocket Internet expands online cleaning start-up

BERLIN, June 3 Tue Jun 3, 2014 3:30am EDT

BERLIN, June 3 (Reuters) - German venture capital firm Rocket Internet is expanding its latest start-up Helpling, an online platform for booking professional cleaners, to France, Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria, it said on Tuesday.

Helpling, which only launched in Germany in April, allows users to book a licensed cleaner online in 60 seconds, taking a 20 percent commission of the 12.90 euros ($17.60) per hour it charges for the service.

Berlin-based Rocket Internet, backed by Swedish investor Kinnevik, was founded in 2007 by the German Samwer brothers Oliver, Marc and Alexander, who have gained a reputation for cloning online businesses in new markets.

Online cleaning booking services are already well established in the United States and Britain, including firms like Homejoy, Handybook, Hassle and Mopp, but have yet to take off in most of continental Europe.

Helpling co-founder Benedikt Franke sees big potential for the business as it takes care of the administrative hassle of invoicing and payment, and provides insurance and customer service, giving it a big advantage over black market cleaning.

"If you think that only 5 percent of cleaners are working legally, there is unbelievable growth potential," Franke told Reuters, adding Helpling was considering expanding to more markets in future.

The company hopes to take advantage of tax credits in countries like Germany and France established to encourage the cleaning industry - which Helpling estimates is worth 32 billion euros in the five countries it is now active in - to go legal.

Franke said Helpling, which vets cleaners before they are booked and encourages customers to rate them online after they complete a job, already has several thousand customers in Germany as well as several thousand cleaners on its books. ($1 = 0.7328 Euros) (Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Sophie Walker)

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