Talking to Washio about the Challenges of Funding and Effective Ad Tech

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Nick Greenfield, Vice President of Marketing and Growth at Washio, a startup that wants to do your laundry and dry cleaning. Washio has recently expanded its services to the Boston area after raising an impressive $14M in funding in the past year. We talked about the vision that Washio started with, the challenges of funding a wash and fold service, how Washio is using ad tech, and Nick’s experiences as an early stage employee at Lyft and now Washio.

This year, we’re excited to share Washio with our conference attendees, who will all be receiving a special gift so they can try out the service themselves and finally have a sock drawer with no missing socks. Seriously- there must be some little troll who comes and steals that one sock every single time I do laundry!

Meltem: Tell me a bit about Washio. What was the burning pain that made this an obvious idea?

Nick: Jordan [Metzner] and Juan [Dulanto], the founders lived in Argentina from 2005 until 2011. In Buenos Aires, every neighborhood has many a wash and fold laundry locations called lavanderias. When Jordan and Juan got back to the states, they really missed the convenience of having that service, and realized that in the US, laundry services are few and far between, and are often too expensive to be practical. They did some surveying and research, and it turns out - a lot of people don’t like doing laundry!

The founders started with a vision to create a peer-to-peer laundry platform, where we would pair people with unused washers and dryers with individuals who didn’t have time to do their own washing and folding.

However, we quickly realized it made more sense to work with commercial facilities that have unused capacity, so we could streamline our process. By centralizing operations, we opened up the possibility of adding dry cleaning as a service to make Washio even more valuable to the end consumer.

One of the topics we’re talking about at our conference is how the funding environment is changing. Washio has been tearing it up, raising $14M, but I imagine VC’s weren’t really jumping on a wash and fold laundry service at first. What was the funding process like?

Nick: When the company started in March 2013, the founders were doing everything: all the customer support, driving the laundry around, sending texts to customers manually, updating the back end data base. They quickly realized that to grow, they needed capital, so in May 2013, they started to raise funding.

Every VC, seed fund, and incubator said no thanks. However, there was one angel [Haroon Mokhtarzada] who said yes and that really changed everything for us. Haroon helped us raise an angel and seed round from some of the smartest investors around including SV angel, Pejman & Mar ventures and Ashton Kutcher’s A Grade. This summer, we were lucky enough to welcome Canaan Partners as our Series A investor, leading a round of $10 million+. Each step in the fundraising process elucidated new ways in which we could improve our business and analyze our performance. Once you take institutional money, everything changes. Your business is quantified and measured at every turn along a broad range of metrics, and you have to deliver results.

Meltem: At this year’s conference, we are actually hosting a panel on the evolution of marketing and advertising, which has become an incredibly quantitative science thanks to startups like Localytics, DataXu, and Pixability – just to name a few in the Boston area. In your role as VP of Marketing and Growth, how do you use new advertising technologies and other startups with amazing ad tech products to reach your target customers?

Nick: For our marketing strategy, it’s important to keep mind that our service area currently covers less than 2% of the US population, so we have a limited audience we can actually serve. Additionally, we have to find the right people in our coverage area that fit our customer profile further limiting our pool. Think about Washio as a hyper local dry cleaner with a national presence.

In terms of technology, we use Nanigans as our Facebook API partner – they’re really strong at helping us understand our social media funnel and driving user acquisition. I also use Yozio, which is probably the most exciting ad tech company out there for organic growth and mobile attribution. They’re at the forefront of tracking of organic referrals for companies such as pinterest and airbnb. Their technology for deep linking, passing metadata and tracking attribution helps me understand the metrics I need for improving our marketing strategy.

Meltem: Nick, let’s talk about you for a second. This is the second rocket-ship company you’ve boarded – you started at Lyft, and now you’re at Washio which is just taking off. For our conference organizers and my fellow Sloan classmates, a lot of us are inspired by the idea of joining a startup but that comes with risk. What motivated you to take the path you have?

Nick: For me the “aha” moment came in college - being young and graduating, it seemed like a much bigger risk not to take a risk. It’s so much better to do something that has a HIGH risk of failure at this stage in your life! I started at Lyft when it was still Zimride. I was hired to do sales but very quickly moved into working on user acquisition, simply because we didn’t have anyone else with the capacity to work on marketing. Eventually I had the privilege of hiring my own boss which was a phenomenal experience.

Every three months I’d meet with John [Zimmer], one of the co-founders, for a review. He would provide me with suggestions and advice on ways I could improve personally and professionally. One area in particular that he hammered home was focusing on numbers and metrics. John would always tell me the number one thing I could focus on was becoming a data-driven marketing professional.

As Lyft continued to grow from startup to growth company, I decided that I wanted to find another opportunity that would let me maximize my learning and personal growth potential at the fastest rate possible. Enter Washio. The responsibility you have at a small company is astounding, and that’s where I thrive. When there’s only a handful of employees, the risk of failure (and success) is riding on your shoulders! That knowledge is a powerful motivator that forces you to learn, and quickly.

Meltem: Thanks Nick – this has been an awesome chat, and very much appreciate you taking the time to speak with us! We look forward to seeing what Washio does going forward, and I’ll certainly be using your services soon so I can elude the mysterious sock troll who seems to strike every time I do my laundry.

We encourage everyone to attend this year’s MIT Venture Capital & Innovation Conference to learn more about exciting changes in the funding landscape, awesome new technologies driving advertising and marketing in new channels, and to get a chance to sample Washio’s services!

- Meltem Demirors, MIT Sloan Class of 2015 and Conference Managing Director