Learn How This Startup Helps Small Cleaners Remain Competitive In The Mobile Economy
Each industry changed by on-demand services brings new competition and technology, thus threatening existing players. Starchup COO and cofounder Daniel Tobon saw how the laundry industry was no exception.
Growing up with family in the laundry business, he understood the need for new technology. Tobon wanted to create a company that empowers existing cleaners, rather than threatening them with a competing service.
In order to keep existing cleaners competitive in the modern market, Tobon created Starchup—a third-party company that builds mobile and web platforms for cleaners. Its software allows cleaners to bring an Uber-like mobile experience directly to their customers.
Disrupting With Delivery
Recently startups like Wash.io and Rinse emerged as new players in the laundry industry. These companies offer delivery and mobile technology for their laundry and dry cleaning services. The addition of mobile technology increases their geographic reach, and thus their customer base.
Tobon saw how these companies could force smaller cleaners out of business, and yet fail. Though they could reach more people, having no prior industry experience they would not make laundry more efficient or provide a higher level of service.
Raised In The Industry
Tobon’s father was the operations manager at one of the largest coin-ops in the country. Through his exposure, he recognized the laundry industry’s logistical problems and limitations adapting to new technology.
He saw Starchup as an opportunity to help build technological tools for business owners. After graduating from law school and working for a few different startups, he partnered with friend and business partner Geoffroy Lesage to begin Starchup.
It started from a desire to bring mobile technology to an industry where technology had not yet made a significant impact. The laundry industry—large in size, slow to advance technologically, and unsexy in nature—seemed like an obvious choice for Tobon.
“We want to put the person who is in the best place to provide that service doing the service, and give them the tools that enable them. Instead of being a tech company doing crappy laundry, we are a tech company giving a tool to an expert cleaner who will clean and care about your laundry,” said Tobon.
“We are not inserting ourselves between the cleaner and the customer in the interaction. So you have a more personal relationship with that cleaner because you still know who is cleaning your clothes.”
Laundry Pre-Industrial Revolution
Many industries are changing due to advancements from on-demand, delivery-based services, though Tobon thinks it would ignore history to say it would be a change for laundry to revert in this direction.
“This is actually a reversion to how laundry used to be done pre-1940’s and 50’s when washing machines became popularized,” he said.
“Previous to that and still in many parts of the world, especially in Asia, the majority of laundry is done outside of the house as a service. That is exactly how it was in America before the Industrial Revolution and advent of the washing machine.”
The reversion to laundry as a service is being helped along by an industry push to “convert the home load”: making laundry so cheap and convenient in the future that it is easier to outsource than do at home.
Two main factors are driving this push. The first is the fact that dry cleaning as a whole is decreasing as company culture becomes more casual. As more people work from home, the need to dry-clean suits and business attire on a regular basis is dropping. Additionally, the advent of high-tech fabrics creates less necessity to starch and dry-clean clothing.
Expanding The Customer Base
In the past, small cleaners were landlocked geographically. This meant the only way to expand their customer base was by opening another location. This is an expensive solution, since small cleaners usually serve a two to three mile radius.
Now, cleaners realize that offering a delivery service is the quickest and least expensive way to expand. Delivery is a vehicle for consolidation. Unlike building more stores, delivery allows cleaners to scale on a national level and in less time.
Tobon said the future of laundry will be a service like the milkman who came on a weekly basis. Soon, laundry will be an Uber-like experience for the customer.
New Tech, New Tools
Starchup empowers cleaners with new technology and enables them to be independent and competitive in the market.
“We build branded mobile apps for each of our cleaners. Everything we build for our customers custom-fits their brand,” said Tobon. “So a small mom-and-pop dry cleaner can have the same technology as our larger clients like Tide. This is a shiny, good-looking mobile app to interact with their customers, who were out of reach to them before.”
Besides the web and mobile platform, Starchup also provides cleaners with a digital marketing package, which helps cleaners advertise their product to new customers online. It includes email marketing tools, an online landing page, and resources for Facebook advertising. Plus they receive a web page offering a direct download for their app to send in email campaigns.
A small wash-dry-fold shop will have the same technology as the competition for a low monthly and transaction fee. On a level playing field, success comes from providing better service and a quality customer experience. For Starchup, the important thing is equipping small businesses with the technological tools to compete.
Sales, Scaling, Going International
Starchup and their cleaners continue to grow each month and they have a backlog of laundry shops waiting to have the technology built for them.
The company’s focus is currently on sales and scaling, as they move into international markets such as South Africa, Switzerland, and Australia. Starchup plans to expand as the push to “convert the home load” grows and more people choose to send their laundry out as a service.
On a mission to continue building technology, they hope to keep small cleaners competitive players in the modern economy.
If you’d like to build your own technology, get in touch with Gigster.