On paper, they might seem like an unusual pair of co-founders for a private membership service dedicated to household staffing and management. Mohamed Elzomor was one of the most sought-after private fitness trainers in the world, whose clients included billionaires, CEOs, celebrities, and five royal families. Jacco de Bruijn is a former management consultant turned tech startup entrepreneur. Together, they’re turning a more than century-old private service industry model on its head. The goal: to provide seamless, personalized staffing and management to private households and estates while elevating the positions of the people employed in their homes. Their company, Nines, would tap into the modern, collaborative energy of the evolving hospitality industry—a change the private service industry hadn’t yet begun to adopt.
Modernizing an industry that was still operating along a Victorian Era model had to begin in an elemental way. “We started with our shared values, and we researched companies we admire that run on a firm set of values, such as Ritz-Carlton,” de Bruijn says. “We both have friends and contacts in the hospitality industry, in companies like the Peninsula Hotels and the NoMad Hotels.
It was clear to us that if you want to retain your employees, you have to take care of them,” he says.
The new Nines co-founders quickly agreed on four essential values as the foundation of the business: quality, integrity, empathy, and positivity. “It’s about making people feel special at the end of the day. You can’t do that unless you have all those four qualities,” Elzomor says. It’s a door that swings both ways—for the Nines corporate staff and the personal service professionals it employs to work in private homes. “If you’re not a positive person and you don’t have that kind of energy inside you, you’re not going to produce a high-quality product,” Elzomor says. “Those values also contribute to creating harmony within our service teams.”
“My business has always been about forging relationships,” Elzomor says. “As a trainer, I’ve spent more time with people than they do with their own spouses at times.” That hands-on attitude was key in the initial stages of Nines’ business development, as Elzomor personally interviewed many of the service professionals to see how Nines could integrate their feedback into the employment experience. “Everyone at Nines lives the same values that we expect of our service professionals. We always strive to be empathetic, and act with integrity.”
As a former management consultant, de Bruijn has worked with companies that work—and helped right those that are broken. The way to lead a people-focused business, he says, is through empowerment. “A company starts with a mission, a vision, and building the right team. If you hire the right people for the job, they should be able to do that job, but that doesn’t mean letting them fend for themselves. It means making sure they have the tools and support to excel in their roles and uphold the values we saw in them in the first place.”
Elzomor had been training serial entrepreneur, and now Nines investor, Marc Lore when the Covid-19 pandemic started. As Elzomor’s personal training clients retreated, he realized that he would be only one in hundreds of thousands of people self-employed in the personal services industry whose livelihood would be a casualty of the pandemic. “Given the low labor law compliance in this industry, there was no unemployment safety net for housekeepers, trainers, drivers, chefs, and other personal services people,” he says.
Despite the impending crisis, there was also an opportunity. While private service jobs were put on hold—or eliminated altogether—households still needed help. In fact, they would need it more than ever, and there would be unprecedented logistical challenges to solve within the industry as health and safety became paramount.
“Marc and I started talking about this market, and how to provide private households with the help they still needed in a safe way, with job security for their household service team.” Elzomor says.
Quickly after, Lore introduced Elzomor to Jacco de Bruijn, on the basis of their different but complementary experiences. As the two new co-founders examined the industry, they realized that they would be competing with an established household staffing industry that places staff in homes but doesn’t offer them continuing support. In order to provide private households with uninterrupted help and service professionals with the security they needed, their company would need to create an entirely new model. Nines would become the employer, offering full benefits to service professionals and ongoing support to both professionals and households.
“There is a real gap in this industry and I saw an opportunity to invest in a company with a big vision to solve that deficit in service. Plus, I knew it needed a set of co-founders that had complementary skills,” Lore says. “Mo and Jacco have very different personalities. You’ll see Mo out in front, unjaded by standard business protocols, speaking to our values, introducing himself to candidates and prospective members. Jacco has an incredible talent for management, operating the company from the inside out. When I see them as fathers, though, I see their real commonalities. They’re both engaged family men who know as well as anyone what it takes to organize a household—and that’s been particularly evident during this pandemic.”
Both founders say that the fact that Elzomor has stayed out of the corporate arena is a strength. “I am always working on analyzing the operations of the business, spearheading our P&L and giving feedback from a revenue perspective,” de Bruijn says. “Mo is equally at home with our service professionals and the CEOs whose homes they’ll work in.”
De Bruijn and Elzomor both say their complementary experiences and shared values are what enable the company to create the change the personal service industry needs. “Jacco is an operator and I’m more of a motivator,” Elzomor says. “I’m a big idea guy and he has the experience to execute all our big ideas. When you’re going to pioneer huge change, you have to have both.”