(Photo courtesy of WashClub)
“I want to own everything,” Rome said. “In my professional life, I’ve always tried to buy and build it myself.”
We like to ask founders what tools they use to build the software that runs their company. The playing field to entry in the digital economy has been leveled by the fact that so many pieces of a business’ architecture are now available in the form of reasonably priced software-as-a-service packages. We’ve never asked a founder about the tools they’re using without getting a laundry list of familiar products for task management, testing, quality control and payments, among other things.
That is, until we spoke to Rome.
The service first began washing laundry in 2012, Rome told us. As a self-funded operation, he doesn’t have investors watching his books carefully and scrutinizing his burn rate, asking why he’s paying a lot upfront to buy or build when he could rent cheaper in the short term.
Over the longhaul, Rome believes building it yourself is a better overall strategy. What if a key software service suddenly went belly up and pulled the plug, he asked? “It would be like losing your lease,” he said, comparing it to restaurants or bars with good businesses but landlords who want to move something else in.
“We’re not asset light,” Rome said. “We’re asset heavy.”
This makes sense for WashClub’s New York strategy, because, Rome adds, “We sell atoms, not bits. We use bits to sell our atoms.”
Rome got into the laundry business a few ventures after a career on Wall Street. His dry cleaner kept breaking his buttons and making him pay to fix them. Rome thought other people must have similar problems, and he believed he could deliver a better product overall. WashClub appears to have been the first startup laundry business in New York City.
We’ve previously covered FlyCleaners and Cleanly (our sister site Technical.ly Philly has covered a service there that delivers laundry on bikes), but WashClub predates them both. There was a striking difference in focus in speaking to WashClub versus the new entrants: FlyCleaners and Cleanly led with software; Rome led with laundry. WashClub also has, by far, the bigger footprint.
With customer acquisition as expensive as it is, Rome believes it’s important to control every single facet of the supply chain in order to deliver the best quality product (that is, clean, well-cared-for, well-folded clothes picked up and delivered as promised).
That said, software is enabling Rome to scale part of his business.
Early last year, WashClub started a beta test with its first licensee, WashClub Long Island. WashClub Long Island is not the same company as WashClub NYC. It’s another laundry operator using WashClub NYC’s software, under a license arrangement. Rome said he expects to announce his next licensee shortly. He sees a capacity for his software to be used in all kinds of communities, suburban, urban and small towns. Anywhere that people are too busy to do their own laundry and want that convenience.
He also said he isn’t requiring licensees to lead with WashClub branding. They can white label it if they want. Whatever makes sense for their business works for Rome.
WashClub NYC is currently a company of 25. Rome said they have more than 10,000 customers throughout New York City. The company is profitable, he told us, though he wouldn’t disclose revenue figures.