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Business, professional & real estate | Best friends take a leap by starting concierge service

Two best friends fresh out of college get an apartment in the big city and decide to go into business together.

It sounds like the setup for NBC’s next 8 p.m. sitcom, but it is the very real origin story of Bluebelle Concierge, a personal concierge service based in Burlingame.

“The one piece of advice we got the most was it was not a good idea starting a business with a best friend and mixing business and pleasure,” said Rachel Shamash Schneider, 28.

Rachel Shamash Schneider (left) and Laura Kahn Held

Schneider and her friend, Laura Kahn Held, 28, ignored that advice and haven’t looked back since starting their business five years ago. Not that they’ve acted rashly. The two friends, who grew up in San Mateo and attended San Mateo High School together, spent a year attending business workshops, networking, writing a business plan, doing market research and consulting with lawyers and accountants before launching Bluebelle in late 2009 while still working part time at their previous jobs.

“We’re friend soul mates and business-partner soul mates,” said Schneider, who graduated from U.C. San Diego with a degree in international studies/political science. “We make it work.”

Bluebelle donates 1 percent of its profits to local nonprofit organizations, a practice that Schneider brought over from her philanthropic experience serving on the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Impact Grants Initiative and her participation in the Giving Circles Fund.

Schneider and Held, a U.C. Berkeley grad who studied psychology and communications, originally conceived Bluebelle as a business that would serve senior citizens. With baby boomers aging, the founders saw a gap in positive lifestyle services aimed at that demographic. Schneider and Held thought they could connect clients to social activities and services that would enhance their lives and help them age gracefully.

“We kind of were positioning ourselves as this personal concierge, much as the senior generation would be accustomed to in a hotel environment,” Schneider said.

But within a year of starting the business, their client base shifted.

“We started getting a lot of calls from people experiencing different life transitions — a new baby, a new job — saying, ‘I’m overwhelmed. Do you provide these services to people who aren’t seniors?’ ” Schneider said.

Though a personal concierge service may sound luxurious, Schneider and Held say it’s nothing more than offering personalized, practical support for home and life issues. Much of their work now involves managing home moves: If a family is moving into a new home, or an employer is relocating an employee, Schneider, Held and their four part-time employees will do everything from take bids from moving companies to setting up utilities to unpacking boxes. Many of their clients come to them through employers who offer a certain number of Bluebelle hours to assist transitioning employees.

“Let’s say a big company hires an executive from New York,” Schneider said. “We help them organize, unpack, bring in a handyman. If their kids need a summer program, we help them understand what’s out there.”

Schneider, who grew up attending Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, served as co-chair of the federation’s Impact Grants Initiative, co-leading a group of about 20 invited participants in their 20s and 30s to allocate about $200,000 of federation funds to innovative organizations and entrepreneurs that they determined were engaging young people in an interesting way. Held, who considers herself culturally Jewish, enjoys attending Jewish events with Schneider.

“She’s pretty amazing in her involvement,” Held said.

Schneider was also a donor through the Giving Circles Fund (formerly the One Percent Foundation), a philanthropic organization that encourages young people to give one percent of their income to charity and amplify their impact by forming groups to pool their donations.

“We took the model of one percent and brought it to our business,” Schneider said.

Though Schneider and Held are no longer roommates (both have married since starting their business), they remain as close as ever. For her speech at Schneider’s wedding, Held researched her phone records to find out how many minutes the two had spent talking to each other over the previous five years. It was enough minutes to fill an entire week.

“We’re still best friends,” Held said.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.