There’s hardly a whim you can’t satisfy today with a simple click on an app on your smartphone. The competition on finding the best ways of matching demand and supply is making the on-demand economy the hottest trend that is believed still hasn’t shown it’s full power. The traditional industries are disrupted by the digital marketplaces offering consumers immediate access to the goods and services by a smart combination of centralised and decentralised labor. The century-old laundry and dry cleaning industry is proved not to be an exception.
Ed Relf, “a serial entrepreneur” with over 15 years of experience, can’t hide excitement when explaining what Laundrapp is doing. Now £5.5m-backed app-based service collects and delivers customers’ laundry to their door. “What can be more satisfying than having the power to change an industry and simplify the lives of customers?” he says, making clear it is not a question. Co-founded by Ed Relf, Antony Pink and Nicholas Bransby-Williams in 2014, the Laundrapp is now operating in 100 cities and towns across the UK and is looking to scale further. The opportunities to grow in the on-demand economy are enormous, as has been shown by high-growth startups like Uber or Deliveroo, but the model doesn’t give any idea a lot of room for error. The disrupter Laundrapp, listed 29th among 100 fastest growing startups, is up for a challenge.
You are widely regarded as a “serial entrepreneur”. When did you realise you wanted to run your own business? What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
For me, the term represents someone who has failed many many times, brushed themselves off then tried again. Looking back, I pretty much had an entrepreneurial streak straight from school-age, however, I hadn’t quite yet learned the word ‘entrepreneur’, so it didn’t have a name back then. In secondary school, I cornered the market for conker supply being the sole distributor of conkers across the school. I also ran a tuck shop which rivaled the school canteen until my school ‘kindly’ asked us to close it down due to declining canteen revenues. I think I always had the entrepreneurial streak however it was only later in life I probably recognised it.
You say “building a new business is a lifestyle choice, not a job.” Can you expand on the point?
Anyone building a business that they perceive as a job is already not in the right mindset to run and operate a business. A business is like raising a family: it’s challenging, things constantly change, and it’s all encompassing and becomes part of you. You don’t switch off when running a business, the business becomes part of you and the most successful people look to incorporate their lives into their business as opposed to drawing clear dividing lines like most employees would around work and life. When being an entrepreneur there’s no such thing as work-life balance, it’s entirely about the integration of the two.
What is your biggest achievement with the Laundrapp so far?
There are numerous, however, rather than focusing on those I prefer to focus on the difficult decisions we made when things didn’t go so well. Those are the source of our greatest learnings. We pivoted our business model a number of times in the early conception of the business, this was probably one of the biggest achievements as it’s enabled us to scale a hugely successful operation.
“When receiving an email either DELETE, DO (if you can provide a 2-minute response) or DELEGATE.”
You’ve been a CMO at Mind Candy. What have you learned from the experience and when/how did you decide to move on?
I have a short attention span, I like to keep things fresh and new and love innovation and disruption. There is lots I’d take away from this and other similar experiences. The biggest takeaway might be that when building your career start with building your own dreams, otherwise, someone will just hire you to build theirs. You get to a point in life where you need to make a decision between having a stable career or a very unstable life of an entrepreneur. It simply doesn’t work for everyone, so make a decision who you are as soon as you can.
We are living in a perfect time to disrupt both existing and emerging markets. Do you agree/disagree? Why?
How could I not agree, I’ve just built a business which is starting to disrupt the world’s existing laundry & dry cleaning industry. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry ripe for technical disruption and innovation and I’m thrilled that it’s Laundrapp that’s in a position to lead this change. There’s nothing more satisfying than creating something that has both the power to change an industry and simplify the lives of customers. What can be more satisfying than that?
How to cut through the noise? Any firsthand advice?
Create a BHAG or a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Use it as a rallying cry for the business and focus all your effort and energy on achieving it. If teams become too large then break them down into cross-functional groups each with their own BHAG and move quickly as if you’re being chased!
Growing a strong core team is so important for startups. What were your criteria for your first hire(s)?
Experience. Hire for what you need today, not what you’ll need tomorrow as you might not even get to tomorrow. Recognise that not everyone will scale and be honest with yourself and your team. We all have strengths & weaknesses, be honest and simply play everyone to their strengths.
Any productivity hacks to keep you organised and on-track throughout the day?
One methodology I find personally useful given the volume of email I receive is the three “D”s. When receiving an email either DELETE, DO (if you can provide a 2-minute response) or DELEGATE. It’s easier said than done, I can tell you.
What are the top three skills a successful entrepreneur needs? What makes a good founder?
That’s an easy one: passion, honesty, and humility. Passion is obvious, as a business leader you must be the most passionate person in the business. After all, you are the person that will define the culture of the business and set the tone for everyone in the team. Honesty is also critically important: treat everyone with respect and prepare to tackle issues head on. People respect honesty greatly even if you’re dealing with difficult issues or topics. Lastly, humility. It is an essential component of being a great leader! You don’t have all the answers and best be honest about this, accept we’re all going to make mistakes and learn together as a team.
What trend do you see in London’s startup scene right now?
I think on the investment side there’s a big swing back to startups / companies that can prove strong economic models. I’m seeing many more startups fail to raise capital by focusing primarily on growth. The ecosystem is turning back to proven business concepts and companies that have tested business models that actually make money.
“When building your career start with building your own dreams, otherwise, someone will just hire you to build theirs.”
Do you already have your next venture in mind? Any sneak peek for us?
Always, why not. I believe my list topped 500 recently… If you’re an entrepreneur you’re constantly asking questions, believing things can be better, always searching for the next idea. This is one of the frustrations with being an entrepreneur. So many ideas, so little time to execute. I can’t say how frustrating it is to continue to see people execute successful ideas you had years ago but that’s the entrepreneur’s dilemma as they say.
What’s next for the Laundrapp?
The big focus now is scale. We have a proven business model and recently we switched live our 100th city. So the big focus is simply scaling what we know already works and this alone represents a number of interesting challenges. We’re thrilled with how far we’ve come but we’re honest enough to know that they’ll be many challenges ahead. We have a great team that believes in what we’re doing and I’m excited to have everyone on the bus for what has already been an amazing journey.
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