How one startup company found success by embracing the unknown challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In February 2020, Daniel Cruz took a risk and eagerly launched the startup company washbnb, providing a service that automates luxury linens for accommodations providers—including rental, logistics, and laundry—and eliminating the hassle of laundry from property management life.
“I’ve always been fascinated by learning and intentionally adding discomfort to my life,” Cruz says. “But if you had asked me five years ago what I would be doing for work, there’s zero chance laundry and linens would even crack the top 1,000 things I could have answered with.”
washbnb was born from Cruz’s experience as an Airbnb host, fed up with the lack of options available to improve the bed and bath experience for guests, while also solving for the laundry chore. “For the first time in my life, I’m doing work that I was meant to do, and nearly everything I did over the last 20 years helps me succeed in this startup.”
While the launch of a startup is challenging in itself, Cruz had no idea of the real challenge that lay just ahead—a global pandemic.
Weathering the Storm
In its first month alone, washbnb covered 50 checkouts. Cruz, along with his co-founders, thought they were off to the races. “By mid-March, though, we were dealt the same hand that everyone in the world was—complete shutdown.” Not long after, all of their bookings were canceled. “I thought washbnb was dead,” Cruz says.
“As a first-time founder who had just quit a full-time corporate job to chase this dream, it was a true nightmare,” he says. “It was that scenario that probably keeps most people out of entrepreneurship: What happens if it all goes to zero?”
Cruz and his team wasted no time. Instead of crumbling under the pressures of their now uncertain future, they set to work to help others struggling in the midst of the surging COVID-19 pandemic. “Over a weekend, we completely pivoted to doing laundry for seniors and others who couldn’t go to laundromats anymore—and did it for free if they couldn’t pay,” Cruz says. “That kept us busy and taught us a lot about being scrappy entrepreneurs.”
After a new boutique hotel reached out and inquired about their new hospitality service, the washbnb team thought that, just maybe, this was still a good idea. After winning the contract, they were once again able to launch washbnb that August. However, the going hasn’t been easy by any means. As COVID-19 came roaring back in late summer, their reservation volume slowed to a trickle.
"That gave us time to take a look at what we had built, ask our customers (and potential ones) a ton of questions, and figure out a best way forward,” he says. “We added perseverance to our list of core values and emerged from the winter stronger— literally forged by the pandemic to not just survive, but to build something valuable for our stakeholders and help accommodation providers like ourselves weather the storm and thrive when the guests return in full force.”
A Safety-First Foundation
washbnb was built around safety (Trust in Clean) and is priced by the reservation, which eliminates the incentive for cheating by reusing linens without laundering them.
Although safety was always at the forefront of their business, there were now a new set of protocols to consider amid the pandemic. “We added contactless delivery/pickup and appropriate personal protective equipment for our staff, but the core service has not changed because of the pandemic,” Cruz says.
“Although, one could make an argument that the pandemic highlighted the need and utility of a service like ours that helped managers put their best foot forward with linen quality/safety while affording them the extra time to focus on enhanced cleaning protocols.”
The value washbnb creates for owners/managers is centered around four main pillars:
- Convenience: By eliminating laundry, customers save time from the never-ending chore of doing laundry. Additionally, eliminating procurement ensures massive time savings related to purchasing and maintaining enough inventory to be sure you’re never out of stock. washbnb is able to reduce both capital and operating costs while de-risking the procurement process by making linens a variable cost tied to reservation volume.
- Quality: Quality is a cornerstone of service. Their goal is to help customers replicate the bed and bath experience a guest would receive from a top luxury chain. This is achieved through both the linens they use in their program and the quality of the wash/press/fold process. Additionally, quality control checks remove linens that are no longer suitable for guest use due to damage or end of life.
- Sustainability: washbnb is designing their entire system around reducing the impact that decentralized travel has on the environment, starting by completely eliminating plastic from their supply chain. All linens are made from 100 percent natural fibers that are responsibly sourced, manufactured, and guaranteed to biodegrade quickly. Their laundry process uses up to 80 percent less water and energy compared to residential machines. They also work with a linen upcycling partner who takes linens when they’re no longer suitable for guest use and turns them into healthcare products for hospital facilities in developing areas.
- Trust (in clean): Ensuring their products are sanitary and ready for guest use is critical, and they accomplish this by using accredited laundry facilities and investing in technology like Ozone, which is both effective at eliminating 99.9999 percent of all pathogens and does so at cold temperatures, which helps to further reduce environmental impact
"The more problems that we’re able to solve sustainably and at scale,” Cruz says, “the more time our customers will have to enhance their guest experience while lowering the environmental footprint of travel.”
Know Your Values
Cruz reflected on what he hopes to see post-pandemic, starting with knowing your values, communicating them often (both internally and externally), and ensuring you have buy-in from all stakeholders. “When everything else is gone or taken away from you, what you’ll have left are your values and those stakeholders.” Whether they be employees, customers, community members, or investors, Cruz believes if they’re value-aligned, they will move with you when you have to pivot.
“We must emerge from the pandemic with a values-based approach to capitalism and design an ecosystem that creates true win-win outcomes for our employees, guests/customers, environment, communities, suppliers, competitors, and investors,” He says. “What a waste it would be if, collectively, we’re not able to take this opportunity to fundamentally re-evaluate our approach and build continuity into travel from the ground up. Hospitality done right can be a north star for just about every business, and it’s time we stepped up and showed the rest of the world how it’s done.”
About Daniel Cruz
Daniel is the co-founder and CEO of washbnb. An avid traveler and Airbnb host, Daniel founded washbnb in 2020 after struggling with laundry at his short-term rental properties in Milwaukee. Daniel relocated to Milwaukee from his native San Francisco in 2016 to become a full-time entrepreneur and is a strong proponent of stakeholder capitalism and environmental sustainability. www.washbnb.co.
Cady Stokes is a former editor of Arrival.