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“If the investors are getting savvy, it’s time you did too”

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Photo credit:

Daniela Vladimirova

Disruption of the laundry space is nothing new, but competition between startups should focus more on turning customers away from their washing machines, say Laundrapp CEO Ed Relf

Last month Laundrapp, a UK based dry-cleaning and laundry app, closed a £4 million ($6 million) seed funding round 12 weeks after launch. Co-founder Ed Relf was pretty pleased.

“It was a fantastic result and the proceeds will be side-lined for continued growth of the service nationally…”

Which is a pretty standard outlook for a young startup to focus on, until…

“…and substantial reinvestment for marketing and advertising.”

…And suddenly you start to realise that Laundrapp refuses to follow certain startup rules.

Most young tech companies have leaders with tech or finance backgrounds and so marketing strategies take a back seat, at least until the product or service has been perfected.

Laundrapp however has at least one co-founder with a serious marketing past: Ed Relf.

Relf was actually in the industry for over 20 years and it’s definitely had an impact on the early decisions Laundrapp made. If you have been in London recently, you probably would have seen the ad’s dotted around the underground. And on TV commercials, outdoor posters and on digital platforms; on social media sites and even through direct mail.

The laundry app has been busy; but there’s method in the marketing.

“One of the big challenges we are up against is that we’re not just trying to gain attention but actually trying to change consumer habit – this takes a hell of a lot of time and money.”

Despite the uphill struggle, it seems to be working.

They’ve experienced two expansion plans in 12 weeks and they have plans for an international jump soon too – just don’t ask Relf to predict anything.

“It’s all a runaway train and we’re holding onto dear life; we haven’t had time to think of a formal strategy or even a mission statement really.””

Don’t be fooled by the scatty business appearance of the laundry app though; it hides ambition.

“We acknowledge that this is still a new category and we want to become the de facto company for people to outsource their laundry and dry cleaning.”

It’s a dream that could well be realised. The app is easy to handle, intuitive to work and looking at the reviews, well received.

The laundry app is live on Android, iOS and amazon devices. You don’t need to create an account and you just select either dry-cleaning or laundry.

Both are treated slightly differently too. Dry cleaning requires selecting individual items you want taken, after selecting time and location, and you should expect a 48 hour turnaround time.

Laundry is slightly easier: the laundry app sends one of their drivers with a number of laundry bags. You fill them up and they get cleaned – for £15 per bag, the size of which is around two washing machine loads.

“We’re also really flexible about location. It doesn’t have to be your home, as long as you send us a valid address of GPS location in the area, we’ll drive there. It could be your mate’s house, a restaurant, the pub…”

Its selling points like that should set Laundrapp apart from its competitors, except Relf doesn’t see them as competitors.

“There are lots of people moving into this space and I don’t see them as competitors because what we’re all doing building a category together.”

He cites the takeaway sector as an example.

“If there was just one company offering this service, they wouldn’t have been able to build it to the size it is today; you need some heathy competitors to grow the space.”

And for the relatively nascent market he thinks there is enough room to expand together.

“To be honest, I would imagine customers jumping from one [laundry app] to another – much like they do in takeaways, or online groceries – we actually see our competitors as the washing machine.”

So together the various competitors are opening up their market, but they still have a way to go in changing customer habits.

At the dry cleaning industry’s UK zenith 25 years ago, there were around 12 000 dry cleaning outlets. In 2015, it’s closer to 2500 – although a lot of the store losses is down to consolidation rather than an industry collapse.

The laundry app therefore needs someone like Relf as he has the knowledge to keep the laundry app commercially competitive and aware.

That’s because in his spare time he’s also an angel investor – although he plays it down.

“It’s just a hobby of mine – but it’s also helpful to keep my finger on the startup pulse.”

He also has some key advice to pass onto entrepreneurs.

“The key thing I’ve learned is that execution is more important than the idea.”

Relf calls himself a “classic entrepreneur” in that he has dozens and dozens of ideas a week so that’s the easy part – crunch time arrives when you have to pull together a team.

“You’ve also got watch for the difference between meaningful metrics and vanity metrics.”

Investors are getting wise with their money and some metrics act like red herrings. Downloads are a good example: they look impressive on paper but how many of those are converting into customers?

“Basically, if the investors are getting savvy, then it’s time you did too.”