The Village Laundry Service - A Lean Startup
Akshay Mehra spotted an opportunity for making laundry services available to people who previously couldn't afford them. He joined the Village Laundry Service (VLS) and began a series of experiements to test his business assumptions.
In India, washing machines are very expensive and very few people have one in their homes Usually people hand wash their clothing at home or pay a Dhobi to take them to the nearest river, wash them, bang them against the rocks to clean them and hang them to dry (All of which takes between 2 and 7 days). Akshay Mehra spotted an opportunity for making laundry services available to people who previously couldn’t afford them. He joined the Village Laundry Service (VLS) and began a series of experiements to test his business assumptions.
For his first experiment, he put a commercial washing machine on a pickup truck and parked it on a street in Bangalore. He encouraged people to handover their laundry ) and then took it offsite, washed it and brought it back to his customers by the end of the day (the washing machine on the truck was just for show).
He repeated the experiment for a week, parking the truck on different streets and talking to his customers to find out more about them. He wanted to know how to encourage people to come to the truck, whether cleaning speed mattered, did the level of cleanliness matter, what people asked for when they handed over their clothes. He found that although people were happy to hand over their clothes they were nervous of the truck and throught Akshay might be going to drive away with their clothes and never come back. The solution was to build a more substantial mobile cart that looked like a street kiosk! Other interesting feedback was that customers often wanted theri clothes ironed and were willing to pay double the price to get their laundry back in 4 hours rather than 24 hours.
As a result of these experiments, VLS created booths, measuring 6x6 ft, that use modern washing methods such as good quality detergents and high-efficiency, front-loading washing machines. The booths are operated by an entrepreneur who is trained and mentored by VLS. This allows lower-income individuals to generate additional income to be self-sufficient and improve their lives.By growing through small kiosks, VLS has been able to start shops literally anywhere, just like the neighbourhood dhobi. Compared with standalone laundry services or high-end laundry shops that charge by the garment, washing, drying and ironing at VLS comes at Rs 50 for a kg, making it widely affordable.