Picture the scenario. You are a busy business person, always on the go, juggling work and family life, with no time for mundane things like laundry to be getting in the way of your day. So what do you do? Leave work early to get to the Laundromat before closing time or rush around in your lunch break? Or start your own mobile laundry business to fill this very obvious hole in the market? That’s exactly what Lorenzo Franzi of ZipJet did and here is his story…

 

Tell us a bit more about your company and what it does

Our company’s name is ZipJet and we are a mobile based pick up and delivery service of dry cleaning and laundry. We pick up in convenient 30 minute slots and we offer 24 hour turnaround time and deliver back to homes or offices in central London.

So are you currently only near the central end of London?

Yes at present only in Zone 1 and 2 and greater central London. We are also launching in Berlin shortly.

How long has ZipJet been in operation?

We started development last year and launched operations on the 10th of November 2014. So yes we are a very fresh company. A pure startup! (laughs)

So have you always wanted to do your own thing? How did you get into it and what makes you passionate about this?

I worked in London as a banker from 2007 to 2011, so for four years. A colleague and I found we were struggling to get to the cleaners in between office and commuting and it was cumbersome to bring the items to the office. Quite frankly it was annoying! We spent some time looking at dry cleaning spaces and considered building a sort of vending machine that functioned as a dry cleaning shop to avoid the hurdle of opening times etc. It was intensive. The machines were big and expensive and a lot of the London commercial real estate were not willing to have these machines installed in their premises as it would require too much transformation.

So that’s how i looked at this industry before launching. Now we find that more affordable mobile technology is bringing us the tools we need to bring convenience to laundry and make it more interactive.

So basically you were a heavy customer of the laundry business and you spotted a problem where there is a big hole that can be filled?

Exactly. I was working long hours wearing a shirt every day and struggilng to make it on time to the shop when it closes. I travelled a lot on weekends and couldn’t always get to the laundry. That’s how I saw the opportunity.

Tell us a bit more about your family background. Were there any influences that made you want to become an entrepreneur?

I grew up in Brussels with an Italian father and Belgian mother. My Belgian family was very entrepreneurial. Since I was a young kid I was involved in business discussions. We did a lot of work in catering and restaurants. I have always been in the business of service and customer satisfaction, logistics, events… In the end you aim to bring a service and a great experience to people. When I was young in Belgium we used to go to the beach and sell paper flowers so I learnt the commercial side of things very young. 

 

When I was at university I looked at bringing a franchise model of successful Belgian restaurants to the Netherlands where I was studying but in the end I didn’t do it because it was too time consuming with my studies. But for a long time I have wanted an entrepreneurial challenge. Finance was an important topic that I wanted to learn so I spent a few years at JP Morgan first. It was while at JP Morgan that I became involved in a startup collaboration between JP Morgan and McKinsey called Voice. This was a micro polling platform where users coulkd ask and answer closed-ended questions from their mobile phones. The vision was to provide a tool for people to express a collection of opinions quickly and with high reliability. It was here that I realised that I still needed more managerial experience so I took an offer from McKinsey to join them.

So this was after JP Morgan that you first had a startup?

Yes I graduated from university and went to JP Morgan for 4 years which was a great experience but it was through the crisis years and lifestyle was pretty tough, but it was a great learning experience. I then did an MBA in Paris and Singapore and that’s where I got to know a lot of the Rocket Internet people and I started building new relationships. After that I spent a year and a half with McKinsey.

And do you have a business partner?

Yes, Florian Faerber is my business partner. He is in Berlin supervising our central functions like product, IT, business intelligence while I am here in London supervising the business of fundraising, finance etc. We split country responsibilities so that we can manage on an integrated basis. We have a bit of history behind us. When I met him I was at McKinsey and he had just left a company called Boston Consulting Group to join Tirendo, a German online tyre shop and he was building a whole new set of activities for them in car parts etc. which was very website based and very much moving away from the traditional channels in a very established industry and bringing new channels in. So we got talking and we realised that we were a strong match from a background perspective. We looked at different subjects and realised that while he was very product and tech orientated I was finance and operations orientated. So we talked and when this opportunity came along it was a no brainer to do this together. It was a great opportunity for us.

So what makes you better than the competition? What is your unique selling point? Are there any companies offering anything even remotely similar?

Yes there are a few competitors especially in London. The very big difference of ZipJet is the convenience and speed of the interactions. We don’t require you to itemise in our app – you just book a 30 minute pick up or drop off slot and that’s it! All your details are stored so it’s a very short interaction. We provide you with the bags and you just throw the items you want in the bag and our driver will come pick it up. The interaction is brief and smooth with very little time wasted on the customer part. We want to make it a very smooth path where you completely forget laundry and dry cleaning – its’ all taken care of for you.

ZipJet Laundry Delivery

And would you consider building corporate relationships with businesses in the city?

Yes we are working on that. We are very flexible and can offer quite a few benefits to corporations for their employees either on site or on multiple locations combining home and office. We are building on that flexibility which existing partner facilities over larger scale can’t offer. We are much more agile.

Tell us about any challenges that you encountered or key learning areas

There were many challenges. We launched very fast so there were a few technical issues at the beginning as well as a few operational problems like traffic or drivers not showing up or customers not being home on time. Every day there is something that we need to manage and I think where we are very lucky is that we have a very strong team on board and have experience to cope with these difficult situations.

 

We are growing fast and sometimes get overwhelmed by the volume we get but we are learning very quickly and delivering and customers are coming back more frequently than we hoped for and with great satisfaction levels so we really believe that we are on the right track. But it’s an operations heavy business so it’s never easy and we I think we went through and are still going through our fair share of small mistakes and learning that we have to take and build our model.

And your goal for the next say three to six years?

Overall we want to completely remove laundry and dry cleaning from people’s minds. We hope that in three or six years people associate ZipJet with something that lets them spend more time on the subjects they really like, be it family time, hobbies, sports or anything that’s more interesting than doing laundry. We are hoping that our expansion will bring this to as many people as we can and improve people’s lives in as many places as possible and follow our customers – people travel more now and we hope to expand so that people will find our services in many cities. Incidentally we are also currently supporting the British Red Cross by collecting clothing donations on their behalf from customers during pickup and delivery. We will be running this initiative until the 9th of March 2015, however it is something that we would like to become a part of our company DNA so to speak, for the long term. We aim to be an asset to the communities that we are active in.

ZipJet Team in London

I believe you have a plan as to what countries you want a presence in?

We just launched in Berlin and have plans to expand in Germany and the UK and also launch in a few other cities in Europe. We believe we can bring this to other continents – North America, South East Asia. Anywhere where people work hard and where the convenience of our service can bring them more free time in their lives.

So it’s really about finding the right process in the particular geographic location?

Yes. We learnt for example that Berlin is very different to London so we tested variations of our model. London is very concentrated in residential versus office. Berlin is more spread out. There is much less traffic in Berlin but you have to drive much further. We are trying to see how much is proximity important versus centralisation from a quality and cost perspective as for us it’s very important to bring the economies of scale to our customers and bring the convenience. We want to reach everyone, not just high end because laundry impacts everyone.

Do you have any investments in ZipJet yet?

We are lucky to be backed by Rocket Internet, who incidentally are about to launch a new venture called Bonativo, similar to our laundry business except delivering farmer’s market and local produce to your doorstep, rather than laundry. Rocket’s experience in tech enabled companies and ecommerce is unparalleled so we learnt a lot from them and our team can benefit from that knowledge. We are able to grow at a speed that we would not be able to do otherwise but we still keep this freedom and entrepreneurial spirit that is essential to make such a project work. Some people may argue that this is not really entrepreneurial but I can tell you that I dream and the rest of the team dreams of ZipJet and laundry bags every day! It’s an accelerator and high quality fuel we need to make our engine – our very strong team – work and deliver the service. We are 14 here in London and we very excited that we are able to grow and learn from a company like Rocket.

And if you had to give one bit of advice to anyone starting up?

Launch quickly and get the feedback from your real customers! Go out there and test your product for real. For example in my first start up we spent so much time developing the product, making it perfect, without testing. When we launched we realised that it wasn’t a product that the market needed. With ZipJet we launched with a small area in London but we wanted the feedback of the customers so we went ahead. We are now expanding quite fast so we are moving away from testing but we are always valuing the feedback from our customers who share their experiences with us so we really believe we are onto something and it’s an area that has been overlooked for a while.

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