Like many enterprise concepts, the self-esteem for Juliette, a tech-enabled laundry service in New York Metropolis, began out as a option to resolve a private ache level for its founder. It was 2013 and Rechelle Balanzat, then a advertising exec at a startup, might get her dinner delivered to her door however she could not get her dry cleansing as simply.
“I might name my cleaners and ask if I might get my laundry and dry cleansing picked up and delivered,” recollects the now 35-year-old entrepreneur. “Typically they’d, generally they would not. That was a lightbulb second.”
A 12 months later, she had based the boutique dry cleansing and laundry enterprise that in the present day affords its prospects simple decide up and supply by way of an app, alongside with newer upgrades together with synthetic intelligence-assisted texting, GPS monitoring, and ETA updates. Balanzat says the instruments give prospects larger peace of thoughts that they know the place their orders are always by way of the laundering course of, but it surely additionally simply helps sustain with the competitors.
“Once we went to market in 2014, simply having an iPhone app was modern,” she says. “Then you definately fast-forward a couple of years, and everybody has an app.” You need to hold innovating, she says.
Balanzat’s reverence for know-how has been a fixture because the early days of social media. In 2009, she launched her personal New York Metropolis-based social media company, Johnny Social. On the time, Fb was within the early phases of increasing past its preliminary audiences of faculty and highschool students–and she noticed that as a possibility. She ran her enterprise for rather less than 4 years, however in the end hit a bump within the street. “I might signed on some big purchasers, however then they ate up all my time and I could not tackle any new purchasers,” she says. “Studying find out how to construct an organization that might scale was an actual challenge–ultimately, I used to be only a high-end freelancer.”
As soon as she made the choice to close down her social media company, she joined an early-stage tech firm referred to as Romeo, overseeing its advertising. She, once more, targeted on social media. It was there that she turned acquainted with the tech world, and made connections with engineers–one of whom she finally persuaded to assist her construct Juliette’s app.
However launching Juliette wasn’t fairly so simple as simply creating an app that might streamline laundry pickup and supply. Certain, Balanzat considers Juliette a tech firm first and foremost–but she additionally needed to be sure that orders have been washed to the very best requirements. “At first I assumed I might outsource the cleansing to a laundromat, however I shortly realized it is a belief situation,” she says. “I could not simply hand these garments over to anybody.” After cold-calling quite a few native laundry companies, she made a cope with one to hire out the area for Juliette’s orders. As a result of the corporate did not launch with a capital funding, these sorts of alternatives to chop corners have been important in sustaining the enterprise.
Whereas Balanzat has managed to lift some funding, it hasn’t been simple. She first tried to safe outdoors funding round 2017, and was met with rejection. In 2019, after opening Juliette’s flagship location on the Higher West Facet of Manhattan and a second location within the Bronx, she tried once more. “It took me two years to essentially set up myself and have sturdy sufficient footing and to ask, ‘Why would we be nice companions?’ as an alternative of attempting to hunt approval and validation,” she says. Whereas she declined to share the quantity she’s raised so far, she says she’s primarily raised funds by way of private connections and individuals who straight strategy her, reasonably than going by way of enterprise capital companies. Her traders embrace the mannequin Alexandre Cunha.
In 2020, nonetheless, issues took a flip. As a result of dry cleansing companies have a significantly greater revenue margin than wash-and-fold laundry, Covid-19 hit the enterprise onerous. New Yorkers nonetheless wanted their laundry performed, however they weren’t laundering their fits and cocktail clothes anymore. Juliette misplaced 90 % of its annual income in 2020 and needed to lay off 70 % of its employees. “I actually needed to ask, ‘Are we going to make it by way of this?'” Balanzat says.
Fortunately, she had a robust community of entrepreneurs to lean on throughout this era, as a graduate of Goldman Sachs’s 10,000 Women Initiative, an academic program for feminine entrepreneurs, and a fellow of the Tory Burch Foundation, which helps feminine founders of early-stage firms develop and scale by way of mentorship and networking alternatives. Balanzat secured a Paycheck Safety Program mortgage to get by way of the worst of the pandemic, and by the fourth quarter of 2021, she says the enterprise stopped “hemorrhaging cash.”
Whereas Juliette’s employees is at simply 70 % of its pre-pandemic ranges, Balanzat says that the corporate is poised begin a hiring part. This 12 months, the corporate plans to open three extra areas in Manhattan. Previous to the pandemic, Balanzat says that dry cleansing made up about 60 % of orders, and 40 % have been wash-and-fold. As we speak, that steadiness is nearer to 50-50. The typical order frequency for a Juliette buyer is as soon as per week, and the typical order value is $50. Balanzat declined to share the corporate’s annual income.
Regardless of the reams of laundry trade flame outs in latest years–among them Washio and FlyCleaners–-Juliette’s competitors stays stiff. The San Francisco-based dry cleansing and laundry startup Rise, based in 2013, has raised $25 million and affords comparable companies in eight metro areas, together with New York Metropolis.
However Balanzat thinks that Juliette has the potential to face out with its luxurious appeal–and that is the reasoning behind its black velvet hangers and its distinctive branding. Juliette’s app and web site are designed with black and white pictures that evokes vogue editorials–a stark distinction from the easy, mass-appeal design of Rinse’s app. Balanzat needs Juliette to be recognizable and is inserting her wager that she will appeal to prospects that place worth in a luxurious expertise. “We’re a bit extra premium,” she says. “New Yorkers love their clothes–they do not need to ship their Burberry sweaters and Donna Karen clothes to simply any cleaner. That is the model worth I constructed the corporate on–and that is nonetheless our model worth in the present day.”