Bader Al Kalooti quit his job at an international investment bank in Dubai, to launch Laundrybox, automated and smart lockers where users can easily drop off and pick up their laundry. “The innovative and simple laundry service makes modern life easier,” the young Kuwaiti entrepreneur explains.
Since his idea was the first of its kind in the region, Al Kalooti told me that convincing friends and contacts to invest was easy. “My idea is not confined to Dubai but is [applicable] worldwide. Therefore, within two months, I managed to raise $1.3 million USD from nine individual investors.” This initial funding was allocated to developing a business plan including research, designing and developing the lockers, and building the laundries and facilities.
After around 12 months of work, Laundrybox was launched in May 2013 (in four locations as proof of concept). Today, it is in 25 buildings, attracts over 1,000 clients, and employs more than 30 people. Al Kalooti says “when you start a business, you don’t worry about making money but about people loving it. It was quick… People loved it and were encouraging. That’s why we started a second round of funding.” Laundrybox secured $1.4 million USD from Al Zarooni Emirates Investments (ZEI) to move forward with their activities and achieve expansion plans.
Al Kalooti explains: “if you want to quickly develop your company, you have to get investors. We didn’t choose Al Zarooni Emirates Investments just for the money but because at this stage we needed a partner [that could provide] an added value to our company.” ZEI has a long history in strategic investment, effective management of existing companies, and is an active investor in SMEs of different sectors.
Laundrybox didn’t launch a big marketing campaign but relied on flyers and word-of-mouth. Al Kalooti added that the “lockers spoke for themselves. The tenants would see them, get curious, watch the video, and become customers.”
How does Laundrybox work?
The idea of Laundrybox relies on laundry lockers in building lobbies available for clients anytime. The client creates an account online or at the locker kiosk, personalizes their preferences to get the laundry done as they wish (normal or dry cleaning, ironing, etc.). Then they drop off the laundry in one of the lockers and chooses the payment method.
The Laundrybox team collects the clothes, does the laundry at the warehouse, and delivers them the next day back to the locker or the client’s home. The customer receives a SMS notification upon delivery to the locker or a phone call to set a delivery time for home deliveries.
One of Laundrybox’s features is to offer per item prices similar to those of traditional laundries, but with faster deliveries. This, Al Kalooti says, has expanded his client base. Also, he says, “everybody considers it a hassle-free and easy-to-use system. We have clients from different ages and backgrounds, housewives, maids, grandmothers, so not only the business people or the bankers.”
Al Kalooti considers traditional laundries “indirect competitors.” For him, “it’s like Nokia vs. iPhone. It offers the same basic function but is different.” Also, he claims, Laundrybox has succeeded in combining the human element with the machine one. “The machine is here when you don’t want to talk to anyone. But, as soon as you want, we have a very responsive customer service available 24/7.”
The company’s ambitions have no limits. Expansion plans include providing lockers to even more residential and office buildings, universities dorms, and three- and four-star hotels. Laundrybox is also looking at providing more services within the lockers system. However, Al Kalooti didn’t disclose any more details.
The most important plans remain to expand on the regional and international levels thanks to franchise programs that will be ready by the end of the year. Al Kalooti explained that they will include manuals, trainings, and procedures. He also disclosed starting negotiations with potential clients in other Gulf and English-speaking markets.
The development process wasn’t easy: it took a while to “get to a simple and easy system that accommodates with all human behaviors.” Laundrybox hasn’t yet started to turn a profit, but is working on “developing the name, educating the consumer about the concept, and expanding our business.” This is the best proof of the creativity and potential of Arab entrepreneurs who have not limited their thinking to the Arab region.