For many business owners, the focus during the last 12 months of the pandemic was on survival. For others, it was a time of unprecedented and unexpected growth. However, in the throes of a crisis like Covid-19, this came with its own set of challenges.
When laundry and dry-cleaning platform Laundryheap was launched in 2014 it was competing in a crowded market, with many other startups entering the on-demand laundry sector across Europe. Its door-to-door service, enables customers to schedule a collection slot, with laundry items collected, washed, ironed, and returned within 24 hours.
In 2017, after three years of bootstrapping, the company secured £2 million in angel investment that enabled it to optimize its services across the U.K. and launch into Europe.
Then in 2020, as the pandemic gathered pace, founder and CEO Deyan Dimitrov was braced for a massive financial hit, but it never came. Instead, demand soared, as hotels, restaurants, and bars increasingly used their services to drive up hygiene standards and reassure their customers.
“We doubled down on this trend, offering special packages and services to businesses in the hospitality sector,” says Dimitrov. “And while demand for dry-cleaning services slowed, the demand for hot-wash laundry spiked, so we developed new services, including our ‘virus wash’, which appealed to both B2C and B2B markets.”
The company’s well-established logistics and on-demand infrastructure enabled them to scale up operations in response to this growing demand when the pandemic hit, and expand even farther overseas into new markets that included New York, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Singapore, and Tel Aviv. The workforce more than doubled, and the business secured over $3.2 million in VC funding, but as Dimitrov soon discovered, rapid growth came at a price.
To meet this surge in demand the company urgently needed more drivers, and during the crisis had to resort to hiring and training via video calls, which proved challenging.
“We’ve always focused on building trust with our drivers, which has helped us to recruit people quickly,” says Dimitrov. “This time around, in a virtual situation, we focused even more on ensuring that drivers understood the valuable role they play in the business and also how deeply we care about their job satisfaction and welfare.”
The difficulties of ensuring impactful communication led the company to ensure that every driver, in every country, had a point of contact at head office, someone they could go to with any questions, updates, or concerns.
As the business continued its international expansion it introduced a series of educational videos and questionnaires, and added safety checks to ensure that standards were rigorously maintained in every market. For example, drivers carry out daily face and location verification to ensure that the right person is doing the work.
As the company became increasingly global it became clear that different countries had different issues during the pandemic, most recently, for example, while the U.K. was reopening, staff in India were going back into lockdown.
The most challenging country to launch in was the U.S. as each city and State had its own regulations and policies, as well as different customer behaviors and demographics.
“We also had to closely monitor Covid-19 regulations in each State, to ensure we were operating in line with the latest government advice,” says Dimitrov. “Launching in the U.S. felt like launching in many different countries at the same time.”
Managing different time zones across new international markets also proved tricky, particularly when it came to urgent communication. This was resolved by working around employees’ and partners’ working hours, and communicating clearly what was needed and by when.
Travel restrictions created additional barriers, forcing the company to halt or delay some of its global projects. “We didn’t want to put too much pressure on newly recruited overseas team members, without the in-person support and guidance of someone from our U.K. head office,” says Dimitrov.
Despite the challenges, the business has grown by more than 150% in the last 12 months and turnover is on track to reach £10 million ($14 million) this year. In February 2021, Laundryheap completed a $3.5 million Series A funding round.
“We are fortunate that our investors believed in us and in spite of the pandemic uncertainty, recognized the opportunities that existed in the market,” says Dimitrov. “What strengthened our pitch was that in spite of Covid-19 we had continued to grow, innovate and adapt. We didn’t necessarily grow in the areas we’d originally planned, but growth was still consistent and exceeded our projections.”
Regardless of how fast an organization grows, retaining the drive and flexibility of a startup and being ready to move with the market, no matter what it throws up, is critical for managing unexpected growth in a time of crisis.
For Laundryheap, clear communication with stakeholders, partners, staff, and customers, and staying focused on its core business values – quality service and customer satisfaction – have also proved pivotal to its growth.
Dimitrov says: “You have to provide the best service to your customers regardless of any external circumstances. This has been key to retaining our clients and customers during a time of crisis. Be agile and be flexible, adapt quickly to how the market is changing, but always with a long-term view. You should always be looking ahead at the opportunities on the horizon.”