Uber-For-Laundry Startup Washio Uses Ninjas To Get Your Dirty Clothes Clean

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There’s no shortage of on-demand services popping up these days, as different startups each attempt to win the favor of users in specific verticals. One of the latest startups to launch in an “Uber-for-X” category is Washio, which is seeking to bring the on-demand model to the way in which people get their laundry and dry cleaning done. By employing a team of so-called “ninjas” to pick up clothes to be washes and drop them off 24 hours later.

Do We Really Need An Uber-For-Laundry Startup?

It’s no surprise that with the onslaught of on-demand services taking hold in most major cities, someone would eventually create an Uber-for-laundry startup. Using smartphones, location, logistics, etc. to make the process of cleaning your clothes “easier” and “more efficient.”

Call it a first-world problem if you will, but more and more customers are willing to pay a little bit more for the convenience of not having to do a task themselves. In the matter of which you value more, your money or your time, a whole lot of people are edging toward the latter, and they are voting with their debit cards.

It’s why Instacart exists, for example, not to mention all those food delivery apps I keep writing about.

And, let’s be clear, people have been paying others to do their laundry for them for decades. It’s just recently though that laundry and dry cleaning went from being something you carried a few blocks away to having your clothes picked up from your home or office. Washio isn’t the first startup to come to market with this concept, and it’s most assuredly not the last.

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But when you think about it, moving to a model where laundry — and especially dry cleaning — becomes mobile kind of makes sense, according to Washio founder Jordan Metzner. After all, dry cleaning is a $15 billion industry, but it requires an infrastructure that is massively overbuilt today.

The reason there are so many local dry cleaning shops is that no one wants to travel too far from their home to drop off their dry cleaning. And, for the most part, those shops don’t actually do the wash themselves, but mostly subcontract the work out to massive laundry and dry cleaning facilities.

But anyway, what if you didn’t need to drop that off, and instead, the laundry and dry cleaning service came to you?

Metzner sees an opportunity to displace the existing dry cleaning infrastructure, using the analogy of what Netflix did to Blockbuster a few decades ago. It used to be that there were video stores all over the place, a few blocks away from each other, because no one wanted to go too far for their entertainment. Then came Netflix, which mailed DVDs to subscribers, meaning you no longer had to leave the house.

Sounds possible, maybe even plausible. After all, how many laundry services are out there which not only pick up and drop off your clothes, but also turn it around within 24 hours?

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The Washio Experience

Ok, that’s good and all, but how does it actually work?

Since I recently did my laundry and didn’t really have any need for dry cleaning, I had a friend* try out Washio for me and relate back what her experience was. While she was initially wary of any company that employs “ninjas” — “Ninjas are worse than gurus, or rock stars,” she says — she agreed to test the service when I offered her a code to do her laundry for free. Because, well, FREE LAUNDRY.**

Anyway, here are her thoughts on setup:

Setting up an account on Washio was easy. It linked to my Facebook, so everyone could know that I am a rich bitch who is too good for laundromats. I set the time for pickup, I set the time for dropoff (the next day). There was pricing information available on the site, but it would have been nice to be able to estimate the cost for my dry cleaning pieces before I committed to a pickup.

On the day of pickup, she received a text reminder about an hour beforehand, which she says “was a helpful reminder to get my shit together.” She says that at the appointed time, “a friendly white man in a purple t shirt double parked his car outside my house and gave me a cookie”** in exchange for her two bags of dirty clothes — one of which was for wash and fold, and the other was for dry cleaning.

Any special instructions?

Nope.

And then the friendly man disappeared with her laundry in tow.

A day later, she received another text letting her know that her laundry was on its way back home. And, after the ninja got stuck in a bit of traffic, another text apologizing for the delay. (“Nice touch.”) When her clothes were dropped off, they came in two sturdy, reusable laundry bags — one for wash and fold and another garment bag for dry cleaning, which could be used the next time she wished to use Washio.

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“No disposable plastic here! Glad to see that the ninjas are eco-conscious,” she wrote.

Washio price

Clothes came back clean and soft, with no damage or lost socks. That said, there was some question about pricing, and about not being able to estimate the cost before laundry is picked up. But then, she’s frugal like that. Final verdict?

All in all, Washio was pretty great. Prices are competitive for wash & fold. I’m not so sure about the dry cleaning. My local dry cleaner can do my silk blouses for way less than $8/shirt (like $3-$4). Anyways, the service was great. I would use it again if I’m ever in a pinch, but probably not regularly.

The Nitty Gritty

For now, Washio is only available in Los Angeles and in San Francisco, where the company just recently launched. But already, it’s seeing pretty solid demand. In L.A. in particular, its “ninjas” generally stay in specific neighborhoods where they do pickups and dropoffs, which speeds up the process.

Washio doesn’t wash or dry clean the clothes themselves — it simply partners with large, third-party facilities to handle that and all the quality control. In that way, it’s not so different from most small neighborhood cleaners which send dry cleaning out to larger facilities. But, it takes care of all orders and fulfillment.

Investors include Webs.com co-founder Haroon Moktarzada, Shervin Pishevar and Scott Stanford’s Sherpa Ventures, Pejman Nozad’s new fund Pejman Mar Ventures, SV Angel, Saba Software CEO Bobby Yazdani, Hamid Barkhordar, addthis co-founder Hooman Radfar, Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff, Kissmetrics co-founder Hiten Shah, and Apollo Global Management’s Chris Edson. Moktarzada is also on the board, and he and Shah are serving as advisors to the company.

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* Ok, ok, my girlfriend
** DISCLOSURE: Yes, we used a code to test out a service for free.
*** “Normally this would trigger many red flags,” she says, “but I’m not 13 anymore.”