Preface: Yoav Farbey speaks to Ed Relf, Founder and CEO of Laundrapp. With over twenty years of experience in digital businesses, Relf talks to Yoav about scaling trust, the struggles with personalisation with on-demand technology businesses and how launching a startup changes a person.
What made you decide to start Laundrapp?
Well, Laundrapp wasn’t actually my idea and, to be honest, I thought it was a bit bonkers when I first heard about it! I approached it very sceptically and did a lot of research before I realised the industry really was ripe for this sort of disruption. Dry cleaners are nearly all still cash and paper businesses based out of brick and mortar stores – but that’s increasingly removed from what customers actually want.
After I realised that, I was hooked. I saw this huge opportunity to revolutionise the industry by bringing in cutting-edge technology that made things easier for customers and partners alike. The fact that nobody else had ever done it motivated me even more – I love a challenge!
What were your struggles as a business?
This is an incredibly tough business and there’s no shortage of challenges when you’re revolutionising such a traditional industry. Interestingly though, our biggest challenge wasn’t scaling the technology or the logistics – it was showing our customers that we’re trustworthy.
Trust is vital for us. Our customers have to trust us completely because we’re not just delivering takeaways or packages. We’re taking responsibility for some of our customers’ most personal possessions – their favourite winter coat or the jacket they’ll wear to a wedding. Building that trust was very tricky because we’re such a young and rapidly growing business!
How did you handle building trust with consumers at large?
Time. You can’t rush it, try as you might. Laundrapp has really exploded over the last six months and we’ve had consistent double digit growth since launch – but it still takes time to build trust whenever we expand to a new area.
It helps that we’ve got such great partners on board and decades of dry cleaning experience in the team, so we can confidently offer a quality guarantee. That means our customers are really the best advocates for our service, because once they try us out then they know they can keep coming back to us, again and again.
Laundrapp hasn’t been around for very long. You said it was tough to start. During those times, did you think it might fail? If so, what pulled you through?
I never thought it would fail, ever. As a CEO, you can’t think that way. You need to have conviction and passion for what you’re doing – otherwise what’s the point?
Personally, that passion is what gets me through and what’s kept us flexible so that we can pivot when needed. I love working like this; that satisfaction of building something new. It gives me so much energy to face these challenges, to defy expectations and keep the business growing every day.
That’s true for everyone else in the team too, by the way. Nobody here is doing this because it’s easy; we’re doing it because it’s worth doing, no matter how hard it is!
Do you think spotting opportunity is something that can be learned?
That’s a really good question. For me, I’ve always found ideas come naturally when you’re in the right sort of environment. If you’re surrounded by entrepreneurial people, ideas come easy and opportunities multiply as you seize them!
What I would say though is that ideas aren’t worth much on their own. Execution is everything. The best idea done poorly isn’t worth as much as the worst idea done well!
Has your approached to business changed over the years? If so, how?
I‘ve become a lot less precious and headstrong about my ideas than I once was. I’ve learned that businesses need to be flexible if they want to survive and that it’s much more important to iterate quickly than to get it right the first time.
Not long ago, you’d sit there and build your product, refine it until it was perfect and then launch. Now it’s the other way around – you need to launch quickly and build momentum. If your product is perfect to start with, you didn’t launch fast enough.
Was there a tipping point that made you embark upon an entrepreneurial journey?
I remember that moment very clearly, actually! I was working for a large company at the time and I needed to book a flight. It should have been simple and the ticket only cost £60 – but I still had to get seven different people to sign off before I could get on the plane. It was a nightmare.
I was 24 and didn’t have much to lose, so I quit my job shortly after that and joined a start-up based in Nottingham. I haven’t looked back since.
How do you unwind and handle pressures of being a CEO?
Honestly, being CEO can be one of the loneliest jobs in the world. The hours and responsibilities can be intensely isolating, so it helps that I’ve got a young family and can play with my children when I get home. That’s really grounding for me, even if they don’t share my passion for video games just yet, but I’m working on it!
What does the future look like for Laundrapp?
That’s a question I’m asked a lot, but the honest answer is that there’s no great strategy document or iron-clad roadmap for us right now. History has proved we grow best with loose milestones and a strong vision to revolutionise this industry!
We do know that international expansion is on the cards for next year, however. We want to show the world that Laundrapp makes you look smarter, easier!
What do you think most entrepreneurs don’t know, but think they should?
Validation doesn’t mean spending lots of money on advertising to get hundreds of thousands of hits, only to then realise the product doesn’t work. Validation means getting a small group of customers on board, then watching and learning from their behaviour.
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