Helping the app generation turn their backs on household chores

Dublin start-up is one of a new crop offering services enabled by technology

It was while working for a major multinational that Evan Gray came up with the idea for a service that would make his life a bit easier.

The service in question was an on-demand laundry app that would allow customers to schedule a pick-up and return of their dry cleaning within 48 hours, at a time and location convenient for them. And so his start-up, Laundrie, was created.

There are very few people who enjoy doing laundry. Washing, ironing, dropping the dry cleaning off; they are all tasks that are best left to someone else. For most of us though, there is no “someone else”, which is where Laundrie thinks it may have found a lucrative source of business.

Launched in June last year, Laundrie has been working on building up its Dublin customer base, allowing people to schedule pick-up and return of their dry cleaning through its app.

Eight months down the line, it has 5,000 customers signed up, with about 50 per cent typically using it once a month.

“We get a lot of people who will test us out with two items, or they might use their partner’s clothes. Then they’ll come back with the rest,” said Gray.

The company has been pushing the dry cleaning side of the business in its advertising, but it found, surprisingly, that a lot of people use the service for the standard “wash and fold” laundry, as a way to catch up on home chores. “I just didn’t think that was going to be such an important part to so many people,” Gray said. A lot of new parents have been using it, he said.

Convenience factor

Laundrie manages all the logistics side of things; it partners with experts to provide dry cleaning and laundry. But the logistics is where the added value is for customers, Gray said. The convenience factor is what people are paying for, although Laundrie says its cleaning charges are competitive too. The service will pick up dry cleaning and laundry free of charge if the order is more than €20; below that, there’s a fee for pick-up.

The service has brought technology into a market that may not have seen the need for it before now. In fact, Gray said persuading dry-cleaning services to sign up for the app was more difficult, with the company facing scepticism from established firms who were already seeing their business pick up as the downturn faded.

Some weren’t keen on the additional hassle that operating the app could bring, while others misunderstood its aim and thought Gray was trying to set up his own dry-cleaning service.

“If you’ve done something a certain way for 20 or 30 years, it’s hard to see why you need to change,” said Gray.

Laundrie is just one of a new crop of companies that is offering more traditional services to consumers enabled by technology. Push a button on an app and you can have a taxi at your door within minutes. You can order takeaway without ever having to speak to another person. Your groceries can be ordered and delivered online, at a scheduled time convenient for you. There are plenty of companies making their mark in the services market.

In 2012 in Boston, US, Irishman Oisín Hanrahan established HandyBook, which has now been renamed Handy, offering a range of home services from plumbers and cleaners to lighting contractors and general handymen. Need someone to to mount your flatscreen TV on the wall? Or how about put together the flatpack furniture you thought would be a doddle? Handy is signing up professionals who can be booked and paid for through the app. The company has been establishing itself in US cities and Canada, but has begun to tackle the European market and now offers services in the UK. It has more than 160 full- time staff and thousands of contractors.

Closer to home, Hassle. com has been offering cleaning services in Ireland since 2014. The company was set up in 2011, born out of a previous enterprise Teddle.com, which cofounder Jules Coleman set up after realising how difficult it was to find a piano teacher for her son. It turned out that one of the most requested services was for a cleaner, so in 2012 the company refocused and rebranded as Hassle.com.

The idea was simple: match vetted house cleaners with professionals who required their services. Cleaners are rated and reviewed, and can be booked online.

It obviously got a bit of attention. The company was sold for €32 million in 2015 to German rival Helpling, which was set up in 2014 and quickly began expanding into new markets, reaching 12 by the time it took over Hassle.com.

Hassle.com still operates under its own name, offering its services in the UK, Ireland and France, but now it has the financial muscle and speed of Helping behind it; the German firm has raised more than €55 million in a short space of time.

And there’s more: HomeAdvisor in the US aims to connect users of its platform to contractors who can help improve your home, from fencing to building full extensions of your house. Ratings and reviews for contractors are available on the site, and HomeAdvisor has a screening process for contractors signed up to its service.

Jiffy is offering home services such as barbecue cleaning, painting and tyre- changing in the Toronto area, with plans to expand further afield. It seems as if everyone wants in on the act.

Lucrative

It’s not difficult to see why there is a surge in activity in recent years. The potential for the home services is huge and lucrative for companies that can not only establish themselves as a trusted brand with consumers, but also get them coming back regularly to ensure there’s a continuous cycle of business.

It seems that technology is transforming the delivery of a lot of traditional services. That's before you even start looking at the impact transport company Uber has had on markets in the past few years.

There is a tendency to label everything that is on-demand as “the Uber for” the specific industry. “It gets the point across to a lot of people,” Gray admits.

But this is a tag that Laundrie isn’t courting. “It’s something that gets thrown around so much; everyone is saying they want to be the Uber of flowers, and so on. I’m always cautious when I hear people say the want to be ‘the Uber for’,” Gray said. “What’s your market size? How are you going to manage your logistics? When will you be busy?”

The on-demand economy may be booming, but perhaps he’s right to be cautious. Just offering on-demand services doesn’t make it an automatic winner. Take Homejoy for example. The San Francisco-based company offered house cleaning services through its platform, concentrating mainly on the US, Canada and the UK. But it shut down in 2015, suffering a number of problems from difficulty maintaining profitability to the legal action it was facing from employees over their status.

The US market is a hotly contested one. Unlike a lot of startups, US domination isn’t on Laundrie’s agenda, although Gray said there is the possibility of expansion into other markets in Europe, perhaps through software licensing. Among those markets may be additional Irish cities; at present, Laundrie is only available in Dublin because the company works with a single dry cleaner in the city. It’s to ensure quality of service, Gray said.

“It’s going to be challenging to (take on Europe),” he said, “but I think there’s a great market out there.”