INTERVIEW: Laundrapp CEO Ed Relf explains why the international laundry industry is worth billions and why it’s licensing rather than expanding
Calling Laundrapp the ‘Uber for laundry and dry cleaning’ might be lazy, but its plans to licence its platform other companies around the world, starting with Australia and New Zealand, goes someway to justify the comparison.
The British startup is in talks with 60 companies in 40 countries and expects to find partners in Mexico, Turkey, Germany, China, France, Iran, US, UAE, Malaysia and elsewhere before the end of 2017.
For the company, the launch is a coming out party of sorts. In the UK, Laundrapp has brand recognition, but elsewhere its platform will be provided on a white label basis.
Laundrapp launched two years ago with the mission of making it easier to get clean clothes and the belief that there was a multi-billion pound industry ripe with opportunity because the incumbents like Johnson’s and Timson’s had been slow to adopt technology.
Ripe for innovation
“I couldn’t believe [change] wasn’t happening,” CEO Ed Relf tells Silicon. “In the UK the large high street retailers are decades old and it takes a long time to change. I also think the industry hasn’t been particularly sexy [to innovate].
“There is almost no technical innovation happening at all so the business model was clear.”
But after discussions with a number of smaller independent stores, Relf discovered that many outsourced their cleaning to much larger suppliers, and decided to bypass the high street entirely.
Laundrapp launched in London on 15 January and in its second city just two weeks later. Now it is in more than 100, the most recent of which was Croydon this week, and its app has been downloaded more than 250,000 times
“A lot of our competitors have struggled to do even a London-wide service,” he boasts.
But there have been changes to the model. As it scaled up, it acknowledged a need to partner with some smaller companies in some cities, like Edinburgh. And this has influenced the decision to licence the Laundrapp platform rather than expand its retail operations.
“Most of the people in the company are technologists so this business lives or dies on the quality of the cleaning,” notes Relf, for whom Laundrapp is his fifth or sixth startup.
Partnering up hyperlocally
The second is a driver application that optimises route efficiency to help partners manage costs and for customers to check progress. The final component is ‘Laundrapp Pulse’ – an admin console that manages orders, app updates, billing other activities.
Each partner will have a monopoly in their region. So for example in the US, there will be one per state, although one company might be a partner in more than one.
In the UK, Laundrapp will remain the sole user of its platform because it believes it has created such a good retail business alongside its technology and this helps it work with partners encountering the same challenges it did.
Laundrapp likes to make noise about the fact it is British and Relf says the UK continues to be a great place to build a tech company – even after Brexit. He believes that being from these shores gives it a certain credibility with international partners and that London especially attracts the best global talent.
“You are talking to the most positive person in terms of the macro environment,” Relf said of Brexit. “I said to someone that 80 percent of our staff are from overseas and we haven’t had a discussion internally about Brexit. I think a lot of its just sentiment.
“We’ve just had a record month and inbound interest has increased post-referendum.”
“The UK has a long history and pedigree for business and tech business.”