Why a New Chicago Startup Thinks Laundry and Dry Cleaning Headaches Can Become a Thing of the Past

by William Crowley
March 25, 2014

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If there is someone out there who enjoys doing laundry or dry cleaning, I have yet to meet that person.  The words tedious, dull, and time-consuming often come to most people’s minds when they walk by their overflowing dirty clothes bin or realize they have to rush to the dry cleaner before it closes.  A remedy for this problem now exists for Chicago residents thanks to two young entrepreneurs who have added laundry and dry cleaning to the humongous list of annoyances, problems, and subjects addressed by the ubiquitous phrase “there’s an app for that”.

Laundrymate is an on-demand laundry and dry cleaning pickup and delivery service. Launched in Chicago just last month, Laundrymate is the brainchild of co-founders Michael Facchinello and Tyler Mikev.  “Personally, the whole process was a huge pain in our butts, so we solved the problem in a way we would want it to be solved on a personal level” said Facchinello.  Tyler utilizes his background in mobile development to run the technical side of the business, leaving Michael to handle business and operations.  Together, the two have stressed delivering a great overall user experience from the very beginning, and have been rewarded by a steady increase in orders week after week.

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Eager to give Laundrymate a try, I set aside a couple of work pants, a pair of jeans, and a few button downs to be picked up and dropped off without having to step outside my apartment.  I downloaded the easy to use mobile app, which prompted me to enter a pickup time and location, and even gave me the option to get an estimated breakdown of how much my order would cost.  Instead of bracing for the long, cold walk to the nearest dry cleaner, I sat back while my clothes were picked up when I knew I someone would be home.  About 48 hours later, I got a push notification from the app asking me to schedule a drop off time.  From beginning to end, the process was a breeze and had me seriously wondering if I was going to be making another trip to the dry cleaner anytime soon.

Learning quickly and efficiently has become a mantra for this two-man team as they work to balance perfecting logistic and technical elements of the business against marketing and promotion.  “Finding the sweet spot for speed has been really important for us in the early going,” Facchinello insists.  Despite having a growing to do list, Michael took a quick break from his duties at Laundrymate to chat with me about the company, his background, and the early lessons of running a business.

Q: You recently graduated from Chicago’s latest Startup Institute class. What was that experience like?

I cannot say enough good things about Startup Institute. Everyone involved in running the program both locally and nationally are top of the line. Before Startup Institute, I knew I loved designing and creating products, but did not have a formal education to do so. Startup Institute taught me best practices in product design and management.

They also do a phenomenal job of putting you in front of the best startup people in the area. Also, the education model is incredible. The approach is holistic and has instruction given by the best people currently practicing what they are preaching.

Q: There are quite a few companies, both large and small, that are in this growing delivery space that will pick up and deliver groceries, alcohol, clothing and everything else right to your door.  What is different or unique about creating a business around the dry cleaning/laundry experience? 

Companies like Uber, Grubhub, and Peapod do a great job of addressing very specific problems that need to be solved on a regular basis. They do not try to be something they are not, and this translates to satisfied customers who know exactly the value they will get by using that service. As a result, these companies have customers with a high life time value. That is what we are trying to do with Laundrymate.

I think companies that handle things like alcohol delivery have a place, but do not solve a problem that happens frequently enough, and are always more of an afterthought when that need arises. Similarly, companies that deal in hyper-local logistics do not hone in enough on a specific problem, so they do not come to mind when a customer could actually use them.

Q: What makes Chicago a good starting market for Laundrymate?

The demographics in Chicago are prime for it; just in Lincoln Park, there are roughly 60,000 people 21 or older making an average annual household income of $77k.  This single neighborhood represents a market with significant potential demand.  Another thing, the dry cleaning market is directly related to total population, which makes Chicago the third largest dry cleaning market in the country. On a more qualitative level, Chicago is home to thousands of consultants, bankers, and other time-pressed professionals who could realize significant value from Laundrymate. 

Q: Having just launched, what are some of the most important assumptions you are trying to prove about this business?

We believe the hatred people have for doing their laundry and trudging their dry cleaning to the cleaners will translate into a high desire to use Laundrymate. We also believe never having to visit an ATM or deal with payment when picking up clothes from the cleaners is valuable.  We are already starting to see that our peak hours of demand are outside of the traditional 8am to 8pm dry cleaning hours, which was an assumption going in. We operate from 5am to 10pm, 7 days a week.

Q: Someone comes up to you saying they want to start their own business, what is the first thing you would tell them to make sure they know before they make that leap?

I think it is important for people to get to the root of the real, tangible problem their business is solving. I would tell them to make sure they know why they want to start a business, and tell them to make sure their "why" is strong. Answers like, "wealth" and "prestige" are possible by-products of starting a company, but not a sufficient "why." 

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For more articles featuring interesting startups and entrepreneurs, check out my blog  http://www.startingupatstartups.com/

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