After nearly 15 years in the retail business, Balachandar R wanted to do something on his own, that too something unique. That is when his discussions with Durga Das, who was first an investor in Balachandar’s venture and later came on board as co-founder, helped Balachandar firm up his business plan.

Based on her experience of living in the US, Durga Das suggested that Balachandar look at the laundry business. Balachandar found the idea appealing and unique. He founded Wassup, an on-demand laundry service based in Chennai. “When we started in 2011, we were one of the first professional players to come into the business,” says Balachandar, now 36, who has a Master’s in international business.

Emerging business

While doing background research for the venture, Balachandar says he found the laundry business in India was worth over ₹2-lakh crore and that there were no organised players with a pan-India presence and a brand identity. The industry, he says, was dominated by dhobis, mom-and-pop stores and family-run businesses. He was convinced there was potential for a venture to create a pan-India brand.

He draws a parallel between the laundry and the hair dressing businesses; in the last 15-20 years, the hair dressing industry has undergone a major transformation. There are a lot more air-conditioned parlours, barbers are now called hair stylists and the cost of a hair cut has gone up. With new garment brands coming in, he feels the same change will happen with post-purchase fabric care, which has always been a problem.

Balachandar says Wassup is an integrated omni channel player it has its own space at the back-end to wash or dry-clean and iron the garments, it has shops where people can drop off their clothes for washing, it has a mobile app through which an order can be placed and there is a telephone number on which customers can call and have their clothes picked up.

Wassup is present in eight cities, has 50 stores and in the last five years, has serviced close to three lakh customers washing more than 50 million pieces.

In each of the cities, Wassup has a facility where washing, dry-cleaning and ironing are done. Against an all-India capacity of 50,000 clothes, Wassup handles about 30,000 clothes daily, according to Balachandar. The clothes are washed, bar-coded and wrapped in plastic covers. It takes four days for an order to be handled, and 24-hour washing facility is also available at higher rate, of course. It has various pricing models – per piece, monthly and three-monthly packages. Balachandar says giving out clothes for washing and ironing may cost more than washing at home, but then look at the convenience – if both the husband and wife are working and if water quality is suspect, there is somebody else to do it for you.

Major clients

According to him, Wassup has both corporate and individual customers. It counts large hotels such as Taj, Oberoi, Marriott and Radisson as its clients, for both hotel linen and guest laundry. This gives the company a steady income, accounting for half the business. The other half comes from individual customers.

Wassup has raised about ₹18 crore so far, with a ₹3-crore cheque from Durga Das being the first money raised from outside.

It then raised about ₹13 crore ($2 million) from individual investors and is looking to raise a bridge round of ₹6.5 crore ($1 million) before a Series A round of ₹50-60 crore ($7-10 million), including from a strategic investor, once the fund raising environment improves.

It bought EzeeWash in Hyderabad earlier this year and Chamak in Mumbai last year. After the Series A round, Balachandar plans to expand to 25 cities and start operations in South-East Asia and West Asia.