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In 2015, lawyer and Las Vegas resident Elena Ledoux wanted to help a friend immigrating to the United States find a job where language wouldn’t be a barrier while she was establishing herself in a new country. With a tough job market, Elena decided to start a cleaning service to help her friend as a side business.
What started as an idea to help a friend, became a booming business and Superb Maids was born. Four years later, in 2019, Superb Maids won multiple awards including the Small Business Administration’s Small Business of the Year for the state of Nevada.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Elena pivoted her business to focus on deep sanitation services and started donating cleaning services to nonprofits and frontline workers, in order to keep providing work for her employees. We sat down with Elena in honor of AAPI Heritage Month to talk about how her business has supported its employees and community during this difficult time and how her business has been a pathway to the American dream for many.
What follows has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: You started your business literally to help a friend in need, and it grew so quickly. What kind of impact do you want to make as an entrepreneur?
I'm hoping to help as many people as possible build their American dream and to have a better life. And I have helped my best friend build hers. When I moved to the U.S., I had nothing. I didn't speak English, I really struggled financially. I was in school, working as a waitress and I had just had a baby – it was extremely hard. But a lot of people reached out to help me without me asking them. It was a very good introduction to American culture. I was able to survive and make my own money with the help of others. I haven’t forgotten that.
When I hire my employees, I can see they're struggling. I can see myself. Many of my employees come from underprivileged backgrounds – they have struggles and challenges, whether they want to go to college or have just immigrated here from Cuba. I do want them to build their dreams, which is also why we have a home-buying assistance program at our company. We help them buy their first home. So, I tell them when I hire them, ‘start thinking about what you want your future to look like’ – it’s not just survival and keeping the lights on, it is building a future.
Q: I feel like your business is serving two purposes: the cleaning services themselves and then you have this engine for expanding employees’ opportunities and growth potential. Is that what you were thinking this business would grow into from the beginning?
It was a big surprise. But as we started hiring, regardless of whether people were immigrants or not, they all struggled financially. Obviously, you don't go into this very labor-intensive job if you are flushed with cash. Some of them were lifelong workers in hard labor jobs. I thought it's very unfair that someone could be 50 or 60 years old and have spent decades working extremely hard, but they're one car break or one accident at work away from being homeless. We wanted to help.
Q: Tell us a bit how you supported employees throughout the pandemic.
We spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how to ensure our employees have full-time hours. That's the primary thing, you want to give your employees stability in schedule. So, we hustled and when there were hiccups in business, we started doing more charitable work – cleaning local nonprofits, family foster homes, and the homes of frontline workers for free. We wanted to keep our schedules full, whether we made a profit or not.
Q: Throughout this time, have you had any specific challenges as an AAPI business owner?
I'm currently part of this coaching group where entrepreneurs mentor each other. The majority of the participants in the group are Caucasian and are mostly male. Without fail, all of them, despite me being so different, not being from the East coast or the Midwest, not being a male, not being white – they're extremely supportive and they're treating me just like one of the peers, if not better.
Q: Is there any advice you would give to other business owners about how to better support their AAPI employees?
Express your support in words to your employees, so they know that you have their back if there's an incident or even the hint of any uncomfortable conditions for them. With some sort of abuse, you have to be the mama bear or the papa bear and go out there. It takes just one person speaking out. And the more of us who do it, the more the tide will turn. You don't have to be aggressive. You don't have to be angry. Just be very firm and just put a stop to it. I was always very protective of my people to begin with. If one of my employees is facing some sort of discrimination or disrespect in any way, they can come to me.
Q: Elena, what does business mean to you?
Business is a tool for me to see how far a person of average abilities can get. I'm a pretty average person, but business really helps you figure out how good you are at withstanding pressure. And when the pandemic happened, I was coaching. I was telling all my entrepreneurs, ‘Hey, now's the time to see what you are made of.’
For more on Superb Maids, visit them here.