Washapp: Changing the traditional way of doing laundry

By Yakuta Dawood

Washapp is an app founded by Kalhara Hapuarachchi, who is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the app. As the name suggests, the app is all about washing, or in other terms, dry cleaning. Hapuarachchi is a person who firmly believes that entrepreneurship is creating businesses that could make a change in the market.

Elaborating on how this idea came to his mind, Hapuarachchi said that he at one point realised that, unlike other businesses that have created a strong digital presence, the field of dry cleaning still seemed like an untapped potential.

“We are in an era where people are in the habit of picking up their phones and ordering what they want. Anybody can simply press a button on your phone and receive a service. I dreamt of the same with ‘laundry’ being involved. My focus was to come up with a solution for one of the most time-consuming chores in life, and that was doing laundry,” he expressed.

When inquired if Sri Lanka was feasible for establishing a new company, he responded saying that there are plenty of opportunities for young entrepreneurs in the country. However, he added that there is still room for the country to progress with regard to building a more supportive ecosystem targeted at start-ups.

Traditional laundry services require people to go to a laundry service centre physically and place the order. But Washapp allows its customers to manage their laundry and dry cleaning services through its app.

Customers are required to place the order either through the Washapp app, their social media handles, or even by calling them directly. Once the order is confirmed, Washapp members pick up clothes from the customer and also deliver them once they are done.

“We are the first to introduce free pickup and delivery service in the laundry industry, first to launch an app, first to combine all laundry-related services under one roof, and also the first to introduce a slot-based pickup and delivery service to make customers’ lives easier,” Hapuarachchi said.

“It comes down to technology development and we spent a lot of time and money on developing the technology to make this possible. So, it’s always going to be challenging for those who come behind us to catch up,” he pointed out.

Start-ups face challenges in the market, especially when they are related to innovation and technology, since it takes time for consumers to become familiar with this area in general.

“Our main rival is the washing machine. It’s an audacious goal; however, we’re going to war with the washing machine and therefore, the biggest challenge we face as a start-up is simply re-educating our customers,” he expressed.

How does the company operate?

Since its inception, the company has been growing in double-digit percentages quarterly and the service has expanded to over 50 towns and cities across the Colombo, Kalutara, and Gampaha Districts, with the aim of further expanding into other districts in the future.

Washapp today has diversified into different ranges of services aiming at all busy professionals, entrepreneurs, students, parents, the corporate market at large, hotels, restaurants, government institutions, and many other organisations, with more investments in line to expand rapidly in the corporate sector in times to come.

Accordingly, the services rendered by Washapp are wash and press, wash and dry, only wash, only press, dry clean, carpet and rug cleaning, and 24-hour express (delivered to customers doorstep within 24 hours from the pickup time).

Hapuarachchi stated that soon after the launch, the company realised that Washapp isn’t about converting traditional customers of laundry services to its app, but rather assisting customers who have limited time for such daily chores.

“A high percentage of customers who used Washapp in the early days aren’t people who typically used high-street launderettes or dry cleaners before. However, we are fulfilling demands of many different segments under one umbrella,” he noted.

Speaking on the topic of its employees, Hapuarachchi mentioned that in the beginning, it was literally him against the world, which gradually grew after six months. According to him, the one-man movement has grown into a laundry liberation movement with over 50 employees in their main processing facility in Ratmalana, with over 20 vehicles running around Colombo that picks up laundry from one place to another.

“Trust is at the core of what makes Washapp’s corporate culture so successful. In fact, one of the biggest challenges of creating a positive culture is moving away from a top-down style of management that sees people as inherently untrustworthy. Instead, why not make people accountable and then give them the resources and freedom they need to get the job done?” he said.

Challenges faced and goals scheduled

Hapuarachchi said that being a company that gets its sales through tourism and indoor/outdoor activities, travel restrictions, event restrictions, work from home situations, and every other situation caused by Covid-19 has impacted Washapp’s business operations and growth in a massive way.

As a measure to overcome these challenges, Washapp kept pushing to tap into new markets, which ultimately worked positively for them. “We still believe the potential is greater than the current situation, and for us, this time is all about survival and we are managing to do so.”

Another challenge, he shared, was not much with scaling the technology or the logistics, but showcasing to their customers that they are a trustworthy company.

“Trust is vital for us. Our customers have to trust us completely because we’re not just delivering takeaways or packages. We’re taking responsibility for some of our customers’ most personal possessions – their favourite top or the jacket they’ll wear to a wedding. Hence, building that trust was very tricky because we’re such a young and rapidly growing business,” he added.

When asked about company expansion plans, Hapuarachchi mentioned that the big focus now is scaling up the company by using the existing and proven business model that they already know works.

He emphasised that there’s no reason Washapp couldn’t become not only Sri Lanka’s most trusted on-demand laundry and dry cleaning brand, but also Asia’s, if not the world’s, since their ultimate vision is to be the Uber for laundry in the world market one day.

Hapuarachchi also mentioned that their immediate goal is the plan of expanding a sizable coverage area in Galle and Kandy, whilst also increasing the focus to rapidly invest in servicing the corporate market by acquiring and setting up two more processing facilities in the upcoming year.

In less than five years of operation, Washapp has received an award for the Best App, the Best Website, and and the Best Digitally Enabled Service in the service sector at the SLT Zero One Awards, and also being awarded as one of the top SME brands of the year at the SLIM Brand Excellence Awards recently.

Speaking on the achievements so far, he said that although there are many, rather than focusing on those, he prefers to focus on the difficult decisions they made when things didn’t go so well. “Those are the source of our greatest learnings. We pivoted our business model a number of times in the early conception of the business. This was probably one of the biggest achievements as it enabled us to scale a hugely successful operation,” he added.

When inquired about the goal for the next five years, Hapuarachchi highlighted that they do have a vision, but how they will get there is still to be determined. Explaining further, he said that Washapp has been overwhelmed by the success of Sri Lanka so far, and hence, based on this success, their plan is to bring Washapp to as many users in as many places as possible, as fast as possible.

“We’re pioneering and innovating in a space yet to be touched by smart technology. Sometimes you just need to jump and build the parachute on the way down. However, we are focused on making this a long-lasting, sustaining business, and luckily for us, thus far, we’ve had the opportunity to do that. Hopefully, we will continue to have that opportunity as the business grows over time,” he emphasised.

Giving the concluding remark, he advised new entrepreneurs who wish to enter into the market that the most important tip is to have a clear initial vision and to focus on that resolutely, whilst also building a great product first and then set to conquer the world.

“Stay lean and try to find companions instead of employees. Learn from your mistakes, since it is okay to make some, but take each onboard,” Hapuarachchi concluded.