USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham checks out a new app that's being called the "Uber of Dry Cleaning." VPC
SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Everyone hates doing laundry, right? Would you believe there's now an app to help you?
Washio, which informally calls itself the "Uber of laundry," has quietly built a sizeable following in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., by trying to out-service local dry cleaning and laundry services.
The start-up hopes to expand to several cities by the end of the year, and be in 10 major cities by 2015.
Many dry cleaners already will come to your house to pick up and drop off the next day, but at varying times. With Washio, "we have the ability to select a 30-minute time window, and come seven days a week," says Washio co-founder Jordan Metzner, 31. "It's usually before work or after (customers) come home from work."
Word of mouth is off the charts. Sales are up 100% since January, says Metzner. He declined to offer specific sales figures but says customers number in the thousands.
"We've definitely grown a lot," he says.
Washio has some high-powered investors, including actor Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber's manager Scooter Braun, and Troy Carter, Lady Gaga's former manager.
Some $14 million has been raised to date.
All are also early investors in Uber, the taxi alternative company that now has a market value of more than $17 billion.
"Uber reinvented a long-time existing business," says Braun. "That's what Washio is doing — taking something we all need and making it easier and more accessible."
Washio angel investor Haroon Mokhtarzada says the appeal of these types of services is being able to "control your life with your phone. Laundry is time-consuming and just a crazy hassle. Compare the experience of dropping it off, getting a receipt, waiting for it be finished and driving back to pick it up to opening an app, having the clothes picked up and returned without you ever leaving the house. That's pretty incredible."
Metzner got the idea for Washio post-college. After graduating from Indiana University he went to Argentina, where he started a chain of successful burrito restaurants. Flush from the sale, and trying to figure out what to do next, he settled on dry cleaning.
"I saw the rise of on-demand services, specifically, Uber," he says. "The ability to simply press a button on your phone and have the service completed. I wanted the same thing for laundry."
Washio starts at $1.60 a pound for wash-and-fold services, and $2.75 to have shirts dry cleaned.
Clothes are picked up and delivered by "Washio ninjas," folks who go out in their cars, provide their own gas — and make as much as $28 an hour.
"When I come to pick up the laundry or drop it off, they're generally happy because someone else is doing the laundry for them," says ninja Daniel Passaro, a Los Angeles actor. "Show me one person who likes doing their laundry. It's nobody. I don't know why they didn't think of this sooner."
Investor Carter calls Washio part of the "life on demand" category — "people are getting into the habit of picking up their phone and ordering."
The clothes themselves are dropped off at local industrial cleaners. Metzner says he doesn't believe he's competing with local dry cleaners: "We're not out to destroy their business model." Instead, the service appeals to a new audience, he says.
Rosie Lopez, store manager at Patterson Dry Cleaners in Manhattan Beach, Calif., says local firms have advantages over apps.
"We know the customer," she says. "They want someone they can rely on."
Brian Solis, an analyst with the Altimeter Group agrees.
"I don't know my cabbie, but I do know my dry cleaner," he says. "Dry cleaners that invest in relationships with their local customers need not worry."
However, he thinks the Millennial audience that works long, odd hours and doesn't have time to drop off at the cleaners would be interested, if Washio does a good job spreading the word.
"The consumer who is mobile first will appreciate it. It could be promising for them."