Lily Li is a woman on a mission. A single Mum, who emigrated from China to set up a business in Australia with plans to IPO her home services company.
Her journey has not always been easy, but it has not dented Lily’s enthusiasm or passion for both life and business. It is typical of Lily that her opening words to me were ones of gratitude that friends had introduced her to tech a few years before the pandemic, which has since enabled her home services business empire to thrive. The latest addition is the Hygea App.
Lily’s Early Years
Lily grew up in China and studied medicine at Tianjin University in Northern China. She worked as an ophthalmologist. Lily says that in a family of doctors, all the talk at home is of patients and operations, and eventually, she decided it was boxing her in and that there was a big world out there that she needed to see.
So, after three years, she took a role instead as a sales executive for a global pharmaceutical company, (the agency of German first aid medicine) in Hong Kong. Lily regularly exceeded her targets and moved up to direct activities within the Northern China Region.
She then took up the position of Regional Sales and Marketing Director for the Tianjin Tong Ren Tang Chinese Medicine Company. Her performance was impressive, tripling profits within three years. However, it was a demanding job.
She needed to be in a different city every two or three days. Her son was at a boarding school during the week as she was a single Mum by this point. Everyone on her team knew that she had a system of Lifeline calls – if her son needed her, everyone stopped. But at weekends, he would hide under the stairs and beg her to come back home till she thought her heart would break.
One night in one of the distant hotels, Lily decided it had to stop. Her father and sister lived in Australia, so when she went home that weekend, she asked her son what he would think about moving to Australia. She told him that she would need to start her own business if they did it, which would mean none of the treats and presents she brought home from her trips. He never hesitated and told her, “I just want you, Mum.” At that minute, Lily realized she needed to balance what was truly important in life.
Moving to a new continent is brave, but moving there when you don’t have friends and don’t speak the language is still braver. Lily admits that she did not know what to do for the first year, and it was very hard. However, Lily also knew she could not hide away forever, and when a shop opposite her son’s school became available, it gave her the obvious answer. It meant he could come straight over to be with her whenever he came out of school.
Lily founded Wash House, a laundry business, and her first venture into the home services sector. The shop was also a “window” for Lily into Australian life. She watched and listened and soaked up both language and culture as people came into the shop and told her of their lives.
Her son thrived at school, going on to be School Captain and then to university, even doing an internship at Goldman Sachs in New York thanks to the encouragement he got. Lily aimed to teach him to dream big while being a good mum. He is now doing his Master’s in AI, and the two of them remain the best of friends.
The Start of Lily’s Home Services Empire
When Lily spoke to the Federal Agency about starting a business, they told her that laundry was one option if she was working on her own. With her marketing skills and business background, Lily thought that this was something she could build on and unknowingly it started her career in home services.
Lily hit the area with fliers and developed a database she still has of all the customers’ names and addresses from the people who came into the shop. Gradually, she had people come in to help, and then, a few months in, she got a phone call to come down to the shop urgently. Then, in a panic, she went, only to find clothes everywhere. The marketing campaign had paid off in dividends. It gave her confidence, and she asked her clients what else she could do, what she could do better. From this, she learned of the money to be made in cleaning services in Australia.
Within a year, Lily had achieved outstanding figures, and the business was eventually sold on at a substantial profit. Her second venture in the home services sector is Waterlily Australia, a carpet, and general cleaning business. Once again, the company became successful accumulating 30,000 new customers in eight years. Next to be added to Lily’s portfolio was a company specializing in managing high-profile short-stay real estate named Living It Australia.
Lily knew there was still both a massive demand and massive potential in the cleaning side of the home services. But she also knew that one person could manage five teams at best and couldn’t see how to grow it.
Then she realized that if she started a tech company, scale would have no barriers. She had been determined to integrate tech into all her businesses and built a CRM system initially. This then led to the creation of the home services app, Hygea App.
Lily has always been someone to treasure friends and connections and, through them, had soaked up tech knowledge, always having found it fascinating. Lily wants to learn all the time, is a massive reader.. People were puzzled about how she managed with English books initially. She was painstakingly determined, reading, copying, and translating them.
Hygea is named after the Greek Goddess of Health. Lily explains Hygea’s mission; that just as Amazon delivers goods, she aims to match them delivering home services. They aim to be the best cleaning app experience anywhere.
Hygea uses tech to make home services straightforward and manageable, removing the pain points. Over 70% of Australians are in full-time work, so there is plenty of initial demand for home services. But finding, managing, and paying for them is onerous. Cash transactions are still an issue with some cleaners still not registered for ABNS and able to issue invoices. Good cleaners are hard to find, and language can be a barrier. Lily also wants to see a standardizing of industry rates.
Customers can book from a selection of home service categories where ever they are through the app, while Lily’s management team can use the app to monitor quality and delivery. It is an instantaneous home services platform with automated quoting, secure payment, and tracking systems. Easy and safe for its users. In addition, all their home service sector workers are checked for security, compliance, and service quality.
Lily knew that the combination of tech and business would lead to expansion. Initially, she was excited to see that she could provide her home services to all of Melbourne and Victoria with tech.
They were bootstrapped at the start but have now completed a friends’ and family funding round. Lily is working on plans to decide if a pre-Series A is needed or go straight to Series A next. Everything is in place, with an expanding tech team in India and a support team in the Philippines. Lily believes that team is everything.
Lily’s plans have grown in tandem with the business. They will be in New Zealand within months, then Europe, and expanding globally after that and with IPO planned for three or four years time. There is little stopping this home services company with Lily behind it.
You might also enjoy the story of Hannah Spilva who also set her heart on moving to Australia to start a business, which became LVLY