Startup pivots to offer laundry services amid pandemic

Washbnb founders Cat Simpson, chief design officer; Daniel Cruz, chief executive officer and Brian Mandelin, chief operating officer.

A local startup has found a way to adapt during the economic downturn to not only save itself, but also help others in need of an essential service – laundry.

Milwaukee-based washbnb recently launched a wash-and-fold laundry service for the elderly and immunocompromised during the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with the uncertainty of the travel and hospitality industry, the startup pivoted from its previous plan, which was to provide AirBnB hosts with linen rentals and laundry services.

The company’s founders had just quit their jobs and enrolled in gener8tor’s accelerator program gBETA before the pandemic evaporated its market overnight, said Daniel Cruz, chief operating officer and founder.

“At the same time, my co-founder Cat (Simpson) identified a need especially for elderly or low-income people who would be without laundry services during this time,” Cruz said. “We thought, if we’re already going to go find AirBnB hosts and try to wash whatever they have, why don’t we extend our services to people in need?”

Through washbnb’s website, customers in the greater Milwaukee area can request laundry to be picked up at the door, cleaned and returned to their doorstep in a no person-to-person contact system.

Washbnb services are designed to keep employees and customers safe, so the startup is following the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. This means all employees are required to wear disposable gloves, sanitize clothing and disinfect common touch points including surfaces on vehicles, machines, hampers and folding stations.

As former service industry workers themselves, the company’s founders have specifically made it a goal to hire people who have become unemployed during the pandemic, Cruz said.

“We came together as a group of entrepreneurs without a lot of experiences building businesses, but who also knew we wanted to build strong communities and create a company that gives back to all of our stakeholders,” Cruz said.

Because the health crisis has posed financial challenges for many, washbnb has also started a gofundme campaign and a “pay what you can” system to bring services to those in need. The funds will not only pay for those who can’t afford washbnb, but help pay the wages of services workers employed at the startup, Cruz said.

“I’m so proud of the hardworking washbnb team, which has made major lemonade after its intended market dried up a week ago,” said Molly Dill, director of gBETA Milwaukee. “Daniel and his team have shown great ingenuity, and turned instead to helping our most vulnerable populations in this difficult time.”

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