What challenges face a startup business using mobile and social technologies?

By: Chris Middleton

August 9, 2016


Customer Experience - eCommerce - Featured -

I spoke to Edward Relf, co-founder and CEO of Laundrapp in the first of a two-part series at #DMWF London to find out what challenges face a startup when it comes to using mobile and social technologies?

Edward Relf is a serial entrepreneur and early-stage investor. His most recent venture, Laundrapp, is an app-based, mobile-first business that seeks to do for laundry and dry cleaning what Uber, Airbnb, and Deliveroo have done for travel, accommodation, and deliveries.

Like many mobile-first businesses, Laundrapp aims to break apart a long-established marketplace and put the benefits at users’ fingertips, while using the network effect to help local businesses make money. It does this by connecting customers with dry cleaning and laundry services. Laundrapp provides the digital platform and the branded door-to-door deliveries, while existing laundry and dry-cleaning companies do the rest.

Says Relf: “The background was a walk down my local high street in north London. I could see that the betting shop, the flower shop, the supermarket, and so on, had all been disrupted by digital, but then I got to the dry cleaners and I couldn’t work out how that had been disrupted. I later found that it’s because it’s bloody hard!”

So is it a luxury to start with a blank page and build a mobile-first business from scratch, rather than try to transform a legacy from within?

“I wish it was a luxury. It’s a different type of challenge. We have a distinct advantage in being able to implement a lot of strategy, methodology and platforms straight away. So yes, we’re mobile first, we’re app based, and the website was responsive from day one, but we have far harder challenges from being an early stage business that’s trying to disrupt a decades-old industry.

“By far the biggest challenge is changing consumer habits and behaviour. That’s not easy, and you can’t counteract it overnight with a paid social media campaign or YouTube video.”

In a sense, Relf isn’t trying to kickstart new behaviour, but to reset it to an earlier time: the 1950s and 60s, when laundry services to the home were commonplace among middle-class families.

In an increasingly digital realm, in which men and women work flexibly and remotely, an interesting side effect is the rebirth of bespoke, personal, analog-style services – now accessed via digital front ends. Such ideas seem increasingly attractive at a time when many people are time- and space-poor and may be less focused on daily chores.

For entrepreneurs to succeed in this environment is not just about technology: you don’t solve problems by throwing applications at them; you need a mixed set of skills. Today’s digital entrepreneurs need to be grafters and to get their hands dirty in the physical world.

Relf knows that his delivery drivers are the real front ends of his brand, and so he’s donned the uniform himself to speak to customers directly on their doorsteps.

He says: “Storytelling is critical to a startup like Laundrapp, because in the early stages you really have nothing but your story, your idea. It’s the story that will get you the seed and early-stage investment in your business. And beyond that, it’s about building trust with the customer. It’s very difficult to win trust, but it’s very easy to lose it.”

“…it’s about building trust with the customer. It’s very difficult to win trust, but it’s very easy to lose it.”