Doing laundry, like enduring telemarketers or slow internet, is universally hated. At the same time, a society without laundry would be a dystopian one –– a world where lawyers and doctors and politicians were constantly distracted by bad smells and marinara sauce stains.
But imagine your laundry still getting done without your having to do anything. That’s the paradise that on-demand laundry service SudShare has in mind.
Billing itself as Uber for laundry, SudShare boasts a nationwide presence in over 400 U.S. cities with a network of over 55,000 laundry couriers and washers, whom the company dubs Sudsters. Modern Shipper spoke with SudShare founder and CEO Mort Fertel to get the story of the company that’s washing and drying its way to success.
Wash, dry, fold, deliver
As Fertel remembers it, the idea for SudShare came from a conversation with his wife about the tediousness of doing laundry for each of their five children.
“She’s like, ‘This is crazy, I can tap an app and get to the airport, FaceTime someone on the other side of the world, but I’m still doing laundry like my grandmother,’” Fertel recounted.
That got him thinking. As he told Modern Shipper, automatic washers and dryers were invented nearly a century ago. Since then, there haven’t been any major technical upgrades to the way laundry is done, and that didn’t sit right.
Fertel’s tech-savvy son Nachshon, hearing about the idea, got to work and developed a pair of apps for his parents, one for customers and the other for Sudsters. With an Uber-reminiscent model in place, the business launched in Baltimore in 2018, run by Fertel, his wife and their triplets. Before long, thousands of people stopped doing their own laundry.
“Turns out it was a lot more than my wife who liked the app, because it caught on, and we spent the next two and a half years kind of in beta, perfecting the policies, the procedures and systems, building the infrastructure, working on quality control, getting the bugs out of the app,” Fertel told Modern Shipper.
During that trial phase, SudShare expanded to a few other cities and continued to refine its service. By January 2021, Fertel decided the company was ready to expand, and expand it did, building courier and customer presences in over 400 U.S. cities this year alone. And according to Fertel, Sudsters get just as much out of SudShare as customers do.
“It’s a marketplace for laundry,” he explained. “So on one side of the platform, we have our customers who outsource their laundry to us, freeing up hours each week. And for them, it’s very simple. They just tap the app and it’s done — wash, dry, fold, pickup and delivery all included. And then on the other side of the platform, we have our washers, who we call Sudsters, and they turn their laundry room into a work-from-home gig.”
Unlike other gig companies like Uber and Lyft, SudShare’s 55,000 Sudsters do the vast majority of their work from home, and the onboarding process is intentionally quick and easy.
Aspiring Sudsters can simply download the SudShare for Workers app, go through a 15- to 20-minute in-app training course, pass a short test and immediately become eligible to start taking orders. Sudsters can then set a custom radius and be notified of orders within that area, accepting and declining them as they please, much like an Uber or Lyft driver would.
“It’s completely flexible,” said Fertel, “so you have no responsibility or obligation to accept any number of orders. So when they’re notified of an order, they can accept it or not accept it.”
After accepting an order, the Sudshare app guides Sudsters through the entire process. It first provides them with a pickup address and a deadline, and it alerts customers to leave their laundry out for pickup. The Sudsters then record the number of bags and provide photo confirmation of the pickup before bringing the laundry back to their homes for washing.
From there, the app walks the Sudsters through the washing and drying process, provides reminders –– such as separating whites from darks –– and notifies them of any special washing instructions. Then, the Sudsters fold the clothes, pack and organize them by family member, and weigh them, which triggers a charge for the customer. Finally, they receive a drop-off address and deadline, return the clean laundry to the customer, and take another photo of the completed drop-off.
Orders received by 3 p.m. are delivered the next day, and the customer and the Sudster can communicate via the SudShare app throughout the entire process. To track all of its orders and couriers, SudShare uses a custom app that was also developed by Nachshon.
SudShare has caught on among independent contractors looking for a way to work flexible hours while also working from home. But Fertel says that customer demand is also red hot, for a couple of reasons.
“I think that there’s been a lot of growth during COVID, because COVID really put us all in touch with our mortality,” he explained. “We realize now, I think, as a society, that life is short and anything can happen at any time. And I think that’s really prompted people to be more introspective and ask, you know, ‘How do I want to spend my time here? And what really is valuable?’ I don’t know too many people that answered that question by saying, ‘I want to do my laundry.’”
As COVID demonstrated, people will pay a premium for convenience, and that holds true for laundry, as evidenced by the exponential growth of a company like SudShare. But people might also be enlisting SudShare’s help because there’s simply more laundry to be done.
“Pre-COVID, we had lots of people that were going to work in suits and ties, and those clothes went to the cleaners,” Fertel said. “Now you’ve got all these people working in sweats and pajamas –– those clothes go in the hamper.”
It’s simple math –– more laundry and less time means fewer people are willing to do their own laundry. And for Fertel and SudShare, that means business.