Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Laundry delivery services as a major “disrupter”? I’m going to wash that thought right out of my mind.

Q: What is my favorite household task, and the favorite of my sisters, as well?’

A: As anyone with more than passing acquaintance with The Een Sisters (Kathleen, Maureen, and Patricia Eileen) can tell you, it’s doing the laundry.

For sheer sense of accomplishment, and satisfaction when the job is complete, nothing beats seeing a couple of stacks of clean and folded laundry. I liked doing laundry as a kid – when the family didn’t even have a dryer – and I’ve always liked doing it as an adult. All clean clothing, all clean towels, all clean sheets: heavenly!

What with our lifelong, mutual interest in laundry, I was not surprised to receive an email from my sister Kath with a link to a recent post on Fritinancy on all the names that bright and – presumably – squeaky clean young things are coming up with to name their laundry service sites: Brinkmat, Spotless City, Washio, Sudzee, Prim, Cleanly…

Fritinancy, in turn, points to Jessica Pressler’s recent NY Mag article on all the smartphone-based laundry services that are bubbling up as all those bright and – presumably – squeaky clean young things look for the next killer app that will make them rich which is, apparently, the immediate goal of all those bright and – presumably – squeaky clean young things who, back in the day, wanted to do something useful like cure herpes or defend the indigent. (So yesterday…)

Remember the scrub board? One imagines people were thrilled when that came along and they could stop beating garments on rocks, but then someone went ahead and invented the washing machine, and everyone had to have that, followed by the electric washing machine, and then the services came along where, if you had enough money, you could pay someone to wash your clothes for you, and eventually even this started to seem like a burden—all that picking up and dropping off—and the places offering delivery, well, you had to call them, and sometimes they had accents, and are we not living in the modern world? “We had this crazy idea,” says [Jordan] Metzner, “that someone should press a button on their phone and someone will come and pick up their laundry.” (Source: NY Magazine)

And, thus, Washio was born. (Please note that Washio actually doesn’t do any of the washio-ing. In truth, they’re name could as easily be Pick-up-and-Deliver-io.)  But, to a lot of folks out there (not me and my ancient, laundry-loving sisters), anything to do with doing laundry is, apparently, a drag that diverts folks from more interesting and purposeful pursuits like posting selfies on Instagram.

Hey, it’s the hedonic treadmill – the more I have, the more I need to make me happy -  and ain’t no one crying ‘stop, I want to get off.’

As Pressler puts it, today’s best and brightest are applying:

…themselves to solving increasingly minor First World problems.

(And Allen Ginsberg thought he saw the best minds of his generation destroyed…)

But the Washios, aware that ‘solving increasingly minor First World problems’ can be ultra competitive, didn’t want to be just any old laundry service, so they added a new wrinkle: a cookie (as in an actual, physical, baked cookie) came back with your clean laundry.

But, millennials being millennials, some of them started to push back. Because cookies, well (whine, whine, whine) aren’t all that healthy.

Which sent Washio into a spin cycle trying to find a healthy alternative.  Banana chips? Flax crostini? Soup? Nuts?


Convinced they were the only members of their demographic who had discovered this particular market inefficiency, they [the Washios] started to imagine a future of wealth and power. Maybe one day Washio would get bought by a larger company like Amazon, or Uber itself. Maybe they would strike out on their own. Go public. Use their delivery infrastructure to offer other products—maybe even overtake the Amazons and Ubers of the world. “But first,” Metzner said, “let’s, like, demolish laundry.”

Now, I may not look at a smartphone app for laundry pickup as the way to demolish laundry. I mean, wouldn’t the way to demolish laundry be some sort of magic wand you could wave over your hamper, or clothing that just didn’t get dirty to begin with? But someone thought Washio was worth more than a roll of quarters, and they suddenly had $1.3 million in investment. And an idea beyond cookies: delivery men and women who were movie-star handsome. And calling them ninjas, rather than delivery men.

But what’s $1.3 million, when Ashton Kutcher has some free coin. So Washio all of a sudden had $3.6 million tucked into its slots.

In Silicon Valley, where The Work of creating The Future is sacrosanct, the suggestion that there might be something not entirely normal about this—that it might be a little weird that investors are sinking millions of dollars into a laundry company they had been introduced to over email that doesn’t even do laundry; that maybe you don’t really need engineers to do what is essentially a minor household chore—would be taken as blasphemy.

Washio is, of course, not alone. All sorts of laundry services are duking it out, hoping that Facebook or Google will look kindly on them and pick them up for $10 or $20 billion.

Well, I guess it beats the best minds of their generation focusing on weapons of mass destruction.

But an app to summon up someone to pick up your laundry when, in most large cities – where the laundry pick up and delivery services are taking off – most people probably live within a ten minute walk of some place they can drop their dirty laundry off?

Somewhere, Allen Ginsberg’s weeping.


And a tip of the freshly-laundered cap to my sister Kathleen for this one.

If we were going to do a laundry startup, I think we’d call it The Irish Washerwoman. And we’d actually do the work.

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