SA’s Washr aims to preserve first mover advantage in on-demand laundry

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On-demand is all the rage across Africa, and the on-demand laundry space in particular is getting busier. But in South Africa, Cape Town-based startup Washr believes its first mover status gives it the advantage.

Washr was first to market when it rolled out in mid-2014, but as Africa’s on-demand sector grows, competition has become more fraught. Competitor JustLaundry launched in Johannesburg in February.

Co-founder David Shleifman, however, said Washr was not worried about new entrants to the market given the startup’s first mover advantage.

“At the moment is seems as if there are a couple other competitors trying to enter the market around the country but luckily we are the South Africa’s first online laundromat so we have a great advantage with regards to clientele and operational expertise,” he said.

Shleifman and fellow co-founder Flavio Bezzeccheri built Washr from their apartments, spending long nights working on they wanted the business to run.

“This would all happen after a long day slaving in the office at work. Flavio and myself stayed next door to each other so it made brainstorming and putting our heads together simple,” Shleifman said.

Washr was born from the fact that, for Shleifman and Bezzeccheri, laundry was an “unsolved problem”.

“Ironing shirts, dry cleaning our suits, and putting extra care into our delicate items was not our forte and, most importantly, the main problem was that we had to drive all the way to the laundromat and we did not enjoy this task very much,” Shleifman said.  

“I also used a service similar to Washr when I was overseas and it made perfect sense for South Africa seeing as there was nothing else like it. We saw this problem, we experienced it and decided to solve it with Washr.”

The startup has been bootstrapped from the ground up, without any external funding.

“We kept working hard on improving the platform, acquiring new customers and getting new great, liable suppliers on board,” Shleifman said.

“We have had interest in some funding opportunities that we are currently looking into but at this stage our main focus is growth.”

Initially only operating in Cape Town, Washr recently launched on the West Coast in the Table View, Blouberg and Sunningdale areas.

“There are a couple other areas where we think Washr would be viable in Cape Town that are in the process of being set up, but other than that we will be expanding into Johannesburg by the end of 2016 along with a nationwide rollout,” Shleifman said.

Since the customer pays when they get their laundry, he said the company’s cash flow model is very good.

“You can make money from your first order, even though Washr is a business that needs to be scaled to do big volumes to generate enough money to make profits. Due to the deliveries, which require two trips to the customer, one to pick up and one to drop off, running costs are extremely high,” Shleifman said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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