Washio Discovers a Hidden Local Market in Dirty Laundry

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logo_lg WashioThe astronomical ascent of Uber has spawned a deluge of copycats, appropriating the taxi company’s on-demand model for other industries. In Los Angeles, a small startup called Washio has built a thriving business in one of the most unlikely verticals of all: laundry.

For $1.60 a pound, a Washio contractor will come pick up your laundry, bring it to the laundromat, have it washed or dry-cleaned, and bring it back to you — all within 24 hours. And, investors are buying it: the startup has raised $16.8 million in funding from investors like Canaan Partners, SherpaVentures, AFSquare, and Ashton Kutcher.

“The biggest catalyst for the idea came from my own personal necessity,” Washio cofounder Jordan Metzner said. “I was frustrated with doing laundry, and I’m really bad at doing my own laundry. I saw the rise of companies like Uber and the whole on-demand economy and I dreamt to myself, ‘I wish I had someone come by and pick up my laundry at the click of a button,’ and that’s kind of where it all started.”

Before Washio, Metzner had opened up a burrito restaurant in Buenos Aires and worked for a technology company in L.A., but he was itching to run his own startup, so he left to focus on Washio full time. Metzner started the company with Juan Dulanto, who he had met in Buenos Aires.

The two began Washio by driving around, just the two of them, picking up users’ laundry. Dulanto would work during the week, and Metzner would work on weekends.

Fast forward a year, and Washio now employs 35 people and more than 150 drivers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C. They’re also looking to expand to other cities in the near future. The customers are interested too: Metzner claims that Washio has tens of thousands of users.

“We’ve really focused and honed in on trying to run an excellent customer experience,” Metzner said. “If you can satisfy customers and get them to use the service over and over again, you’ll have success.”

The growth of on-demand services comes as consumer adoption of smartphones reaches nearly 60% in the U.S., creating a meaningful market for mobile-only service such as Washio. Metzner stressed that the devices also allows for a level of coordination between local consumers and contractors that was previously impossible.

“I think the mobile phone has changed everything, so it’s allowed us to do a massive amount of things we weren’t able to before,” he said. “It keeps a computer and GPS in our pocket. With a company like Uber, if they didn’t have mobile phones their whole business wouldn’t exist. I think the same is true for us.”

But the questions for these services is to what extent their early success demonstrates a viable and sustainable business model, or a intriguing way of delivering a product that may not actually change the bottom line for an industry.

“The current process of how you get your laundry done is pretty broken, so we’re trying to bring that product directly to customers homes,” Metzner said. “It’s an exciting time for us and the industry as a whole and I think at the end of the day the real winner is the consumer who is getting better experiences and services.”

Rebecca Borison is a contributor at Street Fight.