Apps help make life easier for laundry haters
Too busy to go to the laundromat or dry cleaners? These apps take care of it for you.
Has anyone in the history of the planet ever enjoyed doing laundry? Unlikely. It's why laundromats offer fluff-and-fold service. You drop off dirty clothes and pick up clean ones. Some places even pick up and deliver. But local laundromats aren't usually experts in logistics, and the system sometimes breaks down, causing missed pickups and delayed deliveries. That's where your smartphone comes in, via apps like Washio and Cleanly.
Cleanly's CEO, Tom Harari, created the company after he moved to New York City in 2011.
"Like most New Yorkers, my apartment didn't have a washer/dryer and I was working an insane amount of hours every week, leaving little time to balance chores and a social life. When the local cleaner I was using kept screwing up, I got frustrated enough to say, 'Why hasn't anyone built something better?'" he told From The Grapevine. He connected with his friend Itay Forer to create the company in 2014.
The final piece of the puzzle was when, through a mutual friend, they were introduced to Chen Atlas, who brought the logistical skills he learned in his home country of Israel. Atlas, the chief technology officer, designed the algorithm that handles the logistics of Cleanly's pickups and deliveries, which right now cover Manhattan from its lower tip to 135th Street, and selected Brooklyn neighborhoods.
The trio's ingenuity made waves during a tech conference in Silicon Valley, which led to investments from scores of interested parties – including from Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana.
Laundry apps don't strive to get your clothes cleaner or brighter. The apps try to solve the logistical problems inherent in laundry and dry cleaning pickups and drop-offs.
"The difference between an expensive and cheap dry cleaner is basically how much labor they’re willing to spend on the service and how much attention to detail they have," Jordan Metzner, CEO of Washio, one of the largest laundry app companies, told From The Grapevine.
Cleanly and Washio operate similarly: sign up, then schedule a pickup through a smartphone app. Then the company stays in communication with you via notifications and e-mails about the status of your order. You can even make special requests, like washing items in cold or drying on low heat, or even asking for a few items to be drip-dried.
Given the fact that your dry cleaner still manages his or her business via paper, Metzner thinks that just running the transaction via smartphone is a plus. "The fact that you even receive a receipt from us via email is revolutionary compared to what happens at your regular dry cleaner," he said.
The key is to not only find quality dry cleaners and laundromats but coordinate the delivery services that ferry the clothes to and from these places. Like ride-sharing shuttle service Via, both companies use custom programming to group pickups and deliveries together to make sure their drivers are taking the most efficient routes.
A screenshot of the Cleanly app. (Photo: Courtesy of Cleanly)
"We, as founders, did all of the deliveries ourselves at first," said Harari. "We learned quickly that this was a business that would rely heavily on logistics. We were fortunate enough to bring on a third cofounder, Chen, as our CTO who had extensive experience building large-scale logistics technology. Our emphasis on logistics is why we've been able to grow so quickly and keep quality really high for customers."
Cleanly sends laundry and dry cleaning to large facilities that are located in the neighborhoods they service. "We're a technology company first with a service layer on top," said Harari. "Our belief is that the infrastructure already exists in each city and we open that infrastructure to customers through a better experience – on-demand pickups from early morning till late at night."
Washio, established in 2013, covers Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C. They used what Metzner called a "hub and spoke" model, where the pickups go to a distribution center before being dispatched to their contract cleaners and washing centers. Deliveries come back through those same distribution centers. The routing system, at first based simply on zip codes but now based on load size and routing algorithms, was developed with the help of the company's chief science officer, Damon Alexander, who has a Ph.D. in Mathematics from UCLA.
The contract facilities are large commercial dry cleaners or laundromats as opposed to Cleanly's model of using wholesale laundries and dry cleaners that to which local shops often ship their orders.
"Our vendor in Los Angeles does hotel linens, and so they have a washing tunnel that’s the size of a half a football field. So, yeah, things get really crazy and big at the industrial level," said Metzner. This allows a level of quality control that gives the company a chance to flex its customer service muscles; the company will e-mail you, for instance, if they find a small tear or broken button on your clothes.
The company's latest innovation is "Washio Now," which allows users of the Washio app to ask for a pickup in the next 30 minutes, as opposed to scheduling 24 hours in advance. Cleanly has offered that since it started, which makes sense, given its much smaller delivery area. Both companies are looking to expand into new cities, concentrating on densely populated areas where their routing systems work best.
Could that mean getting a foothold overseas? Washio's CEO certainly thinks so. "It’s a very global business. I can’t think of an international city across the globe that doesn't have tons of dry cleaners in that city, and so the greatest thing about our business is that it’s fully global," said Metzner. "It’s available all the time around the world. People never cease to consume more product, and I don't think that will ever change."
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