John Vincent Lee doesn’t like the term “entrepreneur.” The co-founder and CEO of Loopie, a peer-to-peer laundry service in Seattle, considers himself more of a “creative altruist.” And his year-old creation appears to be taking off.
Launched in July 2018, Loopie is a mobile app laundromat, connecting people who don’t have the time or desire to deal with their own dirty laundry with people who can wash and dry at home and earn money doing it.
Loopie has raised just north of $300,000 from a variety of angel investors, including Jeff Lill, a Microsoft veteran who is also the company’s CTO, and Howard Lee, the tech vet who is John Lee’s uncle. They’ve grown to about 20 employees at an office in Seattle’s Lower Queen Anne neighborhood and attracted a network of certified washers across Seattle.
“I’ve always been interested in creating a dual-benefit venture,” Lee said. “For the last 10 years, if not longer, I’ve been compelled by businesses that are able to benefit multiple parties simultaneously. Obviously Loopie is a dual-benefit venture as a peer-to-peer laundry service where we can provide a platform and an opportunity for washers to make income from the comfort of home and on the flip side, anyone who hates doing laundry or doesn’t have the time, we’re able to remove that problem.”
Despite not owning a single washer or dryer, Loopie is growing quickly. It has established partnerships with hotels in Seattle as well as commercial entities, such as the Salvation Army — Loopie launders 100 beds worth of blankets every week for a new homeless shelter in the Harborview Hall building.
Lee views the business as extremely scalable. As they add more washers to the network, the distance between customers and any individual washer will shrink, further lowering operational cost.
And Loopie has more capacity through its network than if it was to go out and buy a laundromat or build a facility. That separates the startup from others who have attempted to create a mobile app laundry service.
“I’m the first person to say that this has been done previously and in fact is not necessarily rocket science,” Lee said. “The big differentiator lies in our business model. If you look at some of these other big wash-and-fold mobile app companies, whenever they wanted to scale to a new city, that involved investing in a brick-and-mortar laundry fulfillment center and then staffing it with people to work the graveyard shift. That’s a very different opportunity and very different company than what we’re building at Loopie.”
Unlike Uber or Lyft drivers who might sit in a car all day, or dog walkers at Rover who actually have to get out and walk a dog, Loopie washers can fit in loads of laundry around other obligations at home, and make $15 per bag while doing it.
Lee believes that’s fair and reasonable and a great deal for washers.
“The best part of doing laundry, as I’m sure you’re aware, is that when you’re washing a load of laundry you’re not actually working for the 25 or 30 minutes that it’s in the wash,” he said. “Our washers are able to make this money, some of them as much as $2,000 a month, if not more, while they’re watching Netflix from the comfort of home; while they’re making food with their family; while they’re spending time with their children. And that’s an opportunity that other peer-to-peer networks just aren’t capable of providing.”
Continue reading for more of Lee’s answers to our questionnaire in this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Think “Uber, but for laundry.” Loopie is the the first peer-to-peer laundry service to operate in the U.S. Through our mobile app or website, customers can schedule their laundry to be picked up, washed, dried, folded, and delivered by our certified drivers and washers within 24 hours. Loopie is the perfect laundry alternative because it connects people who need their laundry done with those who are looking to make additional income from home.
Inspiration hit us when: A few years ago our CEO was working in a restaurant and one of his tasks was to manage the various food delivery applications (i.e. Caviar, UberEats, DoorDash) — working so closely with other peer-to-peer platforms was helpful in showing the experience of existing opportunities.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’ve raised more than $300,000 in angel investments since we launched in July 2018. We are expected to receive additional funding next month which will likely close out our seed round. We are looking to raise capital so that we can achieve our long term vision.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Mayonnaise (with a little bit of ketchup)!
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Recruiting Jeff Lill to become a member of the Loopie team as our CTO. Jeff is a 25-year Microsoft veteran with significant experience in software development. Jeff is currently creating our new software using cutting-edge technology (i.e. Cadence, Kubernetes, Postmates API, Docker) which will allow us to scale our operations to 10 new markets rapidly and efficiently in the near future. Also, having our CEO take over our Instagram to share our story — @loopielaundry.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Overall, a big issue we’ve experienced since our launch has been ensuring the quality and consistency of completed Loopie orders from our certified washers. This has prompted us to switch from our original yellow Loopie bag to the Loopie duffel bag.
Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? If I could have any entrepreneur in my corner I would want to have Paul Newman of Newman’s Own because of his bold and uncompromising approach to creating dual-benefit ventures, such as his natural foods line which donated all profits to charitable causes. I would then be able to ask him how he went about scaling such a venture, and ask him more about his creative approaches to business which he outlines briefly in his book, “Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: Exercise. Many of our team members are on the younger side and are very active outdoors and in the gym! We recently purchased a membership to a gym below our new office space in Lower Queen Anne.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Excitement, commitment and dedication, and a willingness to learn.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Champions adjust.