Forty Under 40

Elaina Nichols


Written By: Business Magazine

1. Name: Elaina Nichols
2. Birthdate: January 13, 1989
3. Where were you born? Pittsfield, Massachusetts
4. What are your community activities? (church or faith-based involvement, local, regional and
national professional organizations, non-profits, etc)
Gainesville Alachua County Association of Realtors
Leadership Gainesville 40
Chamber Diplomat
BNI
Cleaning for a Reason
UF Alumni Association
6. What is your definition of success?
Success is accomplishing what’s truly important to you. It’s about following through on your goals,
despite the obstacles – instead of giving up you jump over them with tenacity and passion.
7. What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
My greatest professional accomplishment is Student Maid’s second location; Pensacola. The majority of
startups fail within one year, and Student Maid is expanding and focusing on innovation. I am so proud
that our hard work, strategy and dreams are happening. When I began working at Student Maid 3 ½ years
ago as a cleaner, I knew the goal was to expand and I’ve been inspired to make that a reality ever since.
I believe that the best leaders inspire other leaders to do great things; anyone can lead a group of
followers. I was inspired by Kristen Hadeed, the founder of Student Maid, a phenomenal leader and
entrepreneur. In addition to being my boss, she has mentored me into the leader I am today by providing
me with learning opportunities. She has empowered me to make decisions, and handle difficult situations
with confidence. I consider fostering our Pensacola General Manager, Rachel, and operation there my
biggest professional accomplishment. Kristen and I have combined our effort to foster Rachel into a
passionate leader. That is so powerful! I’m so proud of our team for doing big things and making moves.
We’ve sacrificed a lot along the way to make the second location possible and took several risks. We were
2 months out from opening the second Student Maid in a different location, but when it didn’t feel right,
we changed direction. We’ve made strategic decisions and now are so fortunate to be in Pensacola.
This entire experience of opening a second location has been so humbling yet exciting. I consider it my
greatest professional accomplishment because it’s helped me grow as a leader and fueled future
expansion. To see something you’ve worked years for come to life just inspires me forward.
8. How do you exemplify the spirit of a Forty Under 40 professional?
I exemplify the spirit of a Forty Under 40 professional through my commitments to leadership, innovation,
and community.
As the General Manager of Student Maid I am responsible for leading a team of 50-350 in our peak
season. My goal is for each employee to leave Student Made a better part of society. We start our students
off with a visualization of Student Maid as the best, most service oriented cleaning service. We train them
to value their work, their team and our clients. On an individual level, I take time each day and focus on
how I can empower each employee. I get to know them outside of work and connect with them. I lead
them to live, eat and breathe our core values. I have helped foster another leader, our second location GM.
I developed a book program where each of our managers read one business book or professional
development book per month and share with the group so we have the value of reading 5-6 books.
I support innovation. Student Maid in itself is innovative — we’ve taken an industry with poor retention and
a bad reputation into something award-winning and fresh. This summer, we created a speaker series and
start-up showcase that focuses on success and innovation. At Student Maid, I developed a scholarship
program that we do each semester that requires applicants to fully present an innovative solution to a
challenge Student Maid faces. Once the winner is selected I am committed to making the change or
improvement a reality. I am open to new ideas and change. As a young business, you have to change in
order to grow. One of the core values I helped create focuses on constantly raising the bar and we
encourage our teams to communicate their ideas to us.
I am committed to the Gainesville and Alachua County community. I came here 6 years ago as a student,
and spent the first 2 years in the ‘student bubble’ on Archer Rd and University Ave. Since then I have made
it a priority to really get involved. Personally and through Student Maid, we have donated our time and
services to hundreds of nonprofits and charities. We require our students to volunteer 2x per semester in
the community, myself and other managers included. I am also a Chamber Diplomat, acting as an
ambassador for our Chamber of Commerce. My responsibilities include recruiting potential members,
making connections and promoting the Chamber and it’s fantastic resources. I am currently in Leadership
Gainesville 40. I had applied in the past and was not selected, but I knew this was such an opportunity to
further commit myself to everything Gainesville has from education to healthcare and recreation. I plan to
share my LG 40 experience with as many of my contacts as possible to further promote the Gainesville
community as a special place to live and work. As Student Maid expands, one of our goals is to constantly
promote Gainesville as a place to stay after graduation, or seek a job here, or raise a family here. We’ve
had so many wonderful mentors and business professionals help Student Maid’s growth that would not
have happened elsewhere. Gainesville is truly a great place to start a business and I am committed to
helping others see that.
9. Businessperson who has most inspired you:
Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, the youngest self-made female billionaire and part of the Giving Pledge.
10. Best advice ever received:
Become the heroine of your own story
11. Greatest professional challenge:
My age. Clients, employees, other professionals, etc are typically surprised at my age (they assume I am
older) or expect me to be older. I’ve been asked, “where is the person in charge” and told, “you’re not what
I was expecting from cleaning company.” Generally people assume that as a business leader, you have to
be a certain age. Sometimes I am not taken seriously, or given a lot of respect because I am young. At first,
when I had just graduated college, this hurt my confidence. I didn’t want to spend time convincing others
who I had just met that I was qualified, that I was the ‘person in charge’. I didn’t want to be rude or
condescending. I wanted employees to respect me as their boss while still being fun and friendly. I wanted
clients to trust my decision-making and commitment to providing the best service. I wanted other
professionals to see me as an equal and respect the company that we have built.
I took this passion and grew my confidence. While my age is still a challenge, my confidence has almost
outgrown the difficulties it brings. Over the past year and half, I have been committed to developing
professionally. I’ve read over 15 business and personal development books and attended several
workshops/conferences. In my role as General Manager, I have made mistakes, learned from them and
continued on — all which helped my confidence. I’ve learned how to best interact with clients, employees,
etc. Student Maid has expanded and won many awards. All of this has helped grow my confidence to new
levels and helped me with the challenge of age.
12. First job:
Teo’s, a family-owned restaurant that solely served miniature hot dogs.
13. What color crayon would you be? Why?
Mint green. It was my grandmother’s favorite color and it’s a little more fun and bright than standard green
(it’s good to mix things up!) I also love mint chocolate chip ice cream
14. Favorite after-work drink:
Swamp Head’s Wild Night
15. If I had a magic wand, I’d:
I’d twirl it, zap it and say abra-ka-dabra….
I’d magically put a smile on everyone’s face
I’d travel the world
I’d take away my brother’s autism
16. What is your favorite Gadget?
Intelligent/smart key
17. How long have you been in Gainesville?
6 years
18. What do you love most about Gainesville/Alachua County?
I love the balance between big city and small town, that is what makes Gainesville such a treasure.
Gainesville has the great perks of a big city — variety of people/entertainment/culture, world-class
academic and medical centers and a thriving innovation-based economy. It doesn’t have the high crime,
traffic commutes and pollution. Gainesville has the great perks of a small town too — a collaborative,
giving community that helps each key ingredient of the Gainesville area shine (athletics, nonprofits, iN,
business, academics, etc). I love that balance, and I believe it will continue to fit people well going forward,
and only become more unique.
19. Three things people would be surprised to know about you:
I was born on Friday the 13th
My dog weighs more than me
I re-mix and perform rap songs about cleaning at every employee meeting. My stage name is E-money.
20. Advice you would give a younger you:
Let go of all your expectations. Take risks. Open your heart and mind. Things don’t always work out as you
had hoped or thought they would, but they do fall together perfectly and you will love the outcome

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