Dan D'Aquisto (Duh-qwist-oh) is the Cofounder and Chief Revenue Officer of 2ULaundry. Dan grew up in a small hockey town outside of Minneapolis, MN called Red Wing, home of Red Wing Shoes. Dan grew up playing hockey before graduating and attending the University of Minnesota pursuing a degree in Marketing. After school, Dan worked in sales for a fast growing startup in Minneapolis called Sports Engine which recently sold to NBC Sports. In late 2015, Dan quit his job, packed up his car, broke the lease on his house, broke up with his girlfriend, and moved to Charlotte, NC to go all in on starting 2ULaundry. To date, 2ULaundry has raised $3M in venture capital, is a Techstars alumn, has 75 employees, live in Charlotte and Atlanta, and just recently opened the first of its kind retail laundromat in Charlotte, NC in partnership with Electrolux. 2ULaundry is looking to raise its Series A within the next 6-8 months for expansion.
Shantel: Hi, Dan. Welcome to the Imagine More Podcast.
Dan: Hello, hello. Thanks for having me.
Shantel: Of course. We're friends offline, too, but we're so excited. I'm thrilled for you to share your story of starting 2ULaundry with all of our listeners, and I suppose, to kick things off, can you tell everyone what 2ULaundry is, and then we'll dive into a little bit more of how you guys started?
| THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET |
Dan: Yeah. Yeah. No problem. 2ULaundry is everyone's dirty little secret. It's innovating the solution to the world's most hated household chore, which is, obviously, laundry, so now, with just a simple text, you can sign up for our service, schedule pickups with customizable cleaning preferences. We'll actually pick up any laundry, dry cleaning, hang dry that you have from right outside your front door, clean it to your exact preferences, and bring it back the very next day perfectly clean, folded, hung, so you don't have to do laundry or make those annoying trips to the dry cleaner's anymore.
Shantel: I love that. I don't think I've heard the tagline "dirty little secret."
Shantel: A good one.
Dan: ... that's new. Yeah.
Shantel: That's great. I actually, and I kid you not, I put in an order yesterday, and so it should be getting delivered any time, maybe even when we're on the show.
Dan: Yeah, you might get that text message.
Shantel: Yeah. Well, how, I mean, how did this idea come about?
Dan: Yeah. I wish I could take the credit for it, but it's not like my co-founder and I invented anything new. We really took a traditional problem that a lot of people have at home, or an annoyance and an errand, and layered on an incredible customer experience and technology and brand to create 2ULaundry. The actual idea stemmed from my co-founder, who went to school at Wake Forest University, where he ran basically a laundry pickup and delivery service for college kids. At Wake Forest University, the funny thing is, laundry is actually included in tuition, where the kids can do it for free, but he somehow convinced all these parents to pay for a subscription laundry service for their kids to quote-unquote "focus on school more" versus doing laundry. The idea took off. He grew it. His sophomore, junior, senior year, ended up becoming a finalist on Shark Tank with that same idea and then ended up selling the business to his, to some incoming students at Wake Forest. It was definitely an entrepreneurship class project, essentially, where it all stemmed from, and then he ultimately reached out to me after we had our big boy jobs and came back together, and we wanted to decide to go in on essentially starting 2ULaundry and really finding an idea to be able to work together. We were both at stages in our lives where we wanted a big change, and we were becoming complacent in our traditional careers. We've always been entrepreneurial-minded, and we thought this would be a good time to tackle a problem that we knew was getting bigger, especially as we saw companies like Uber, and Lyft, and Postmates, and DoorDash, all starting to blow up with this convenience and service economy. We looked back at our roots and found Alex had some success with this laundry, and laundry is a recurring, habitual chore, and if somebody can find a solution to make it easier and better in today's world, we thought there was a kind of a win-win recipe there, so we decided to join forces and go all-in on starting 2ULaundry in Charlotte, North Carolina, in January of 2016.
Shantel: Wow. Well, Alex sounds like a heck of a salesman, too, convinced all of those parents.
Dan: Yeah, no, it was exciting. Then he convinced me. I was actually in Minneapolis at the time working at my job. He was down in Charlotte, working for Ernst & Young as a consultant, and we were talking about business ideas and what we wanted to do and started talking about laundry, and literally after one conversation, two weeks later I was living in Charlotte. No plans, no idea where we were going to begin. I quit my job in Minneapolis. I actually broke up with my girlfriend, broke the lease on my house, packed up my Jeep, and literally drove 20 straight hours to Charlotte to take advantage of this opportunity and kind of make a pretty big change in my life. I was 24 at the time and really saw an opportunity that I wanted to jump on, and Alex was very convincing. He's a guy that, he's my brother. I mean, he's a very close friend of mine since third grade, and we knew it would work out, no matter what we put into it.
Shantel: Well, you don't sound like a risk-taker at all.
Dan: You got to go all in.
Shantel: I mean, if you don't mind me kind of getting into the personal piece of this, but you quit your job, and I'm sure for a lot of listeners wanting to start something, that's scary, because it's the stability gone. I mean, did you save a ton before starting this, or you got lucky with some seed investment, investors?
| ALL IN |
Dan: Yeah, so I didn't save up a ton. I was not a smart 24-year-old with the money that I was making. I had a great job. I was living the life that I wanted, and money was the motivator at the time, but I was definitely not good at saving it, and to be honest, the opportunity, I think I found myself in a world where I really had this opportunity where I knew I was complacent, and I really, really wanted to make a big change in my life. It kind of, the stars aligned, and this was the opportunity that I knew I had to go all in on. Part of that was quitting my job and moving to Charlotte to start it, because we knew we wanted to start the business in Charlotte, so any risk-takers out there, I mean, I don't think being an entrepreneur is something that you can dabble in and do 50% of the time. Whatever that 100% is and whatever going all in means to you is what you have to do, and to me, going all in meant I had to basically physically be in Charlotte, and I knew the decisions I had to make to get there. The funny thing was, going back to the question you asked was, did I save any money, and I didn't. I think that ultimately molded me into who I am today, really going back and looking on like, I really believe in constraint equals creativity, and when you have constraints on your financial budget, you get pretty creative, and you hear the stories, like Mark Cuban, who made like ketchup and mustard sandwiches, or whatever it was, for the first year. It didn't get that bad, but we were very creative. I mean, we were living five guys in a three-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot condo. I was sharing a room with my two best friends, three queen mattresses on the floor, paying $200 a month in rent for a year. Alex and I didn't pay ourselves for about a year and a half because we wanted all the money to go back into the business. We just really, truly believed that all resources had to be in the business and making the business grow. That ultimately meant our priorities had to change. There was no more being 24 and going out and having fun at the bars. Our whole lifestyle changed completely, and looking back on it, I wouldn't change a thing. We're still have that same mindset. We're very scrappy. We figure things out. We solve problems really quickly. We make a lot of mistakes, but we learn from them, and one mistake, or I wouldn't call it a mistake, the one thing I learned from is definitely having to go all in and getting creative with how you basically not only keep yourself afloat, but the business afloat. In today's world, there's a lot of opportunities to make money to keep your business afloat. One specific example we had was, every single morning, Alex and I would wake up at 6:00 AM, and we both had cars, and we became Uber drivers, and we would work, we would drive Uber from 6:00 AM until 9:00 AM every single morning, get back to our condo, which was our office, essentially, and worked for 10, 12 hours on 2ULaundry and getting it up and running, and then we'd go out during the busy time, 5:00 PM to about 9:00 PM, to drive Uber again. We did that for a really long time to make ends meet, just personally from a financial perspective. Looking back on it, those are the things, again, that I think have attributed to why we are, or why we are where we are today, and it ultimately kind of defined us as individuals, and leaders, and founders, and I think allows us to feel comfortable to tell our story of really going all in, and like this is the true startup story that we lived through to make it happen. It's ultimately part of the story that we're writing, which we believe heavily in.
Shantel: I'm hopeful that you guys aren't still on the three queen beds on the floor, you've moved on-
Dan: Nope. Nope.
Shantel: ... from that.
Dan: I've grown up. I have my own place in Atlanta now-
Dan: ... and everyone has their own rooms, but it was fun. I mean, it's part of the story. We joked about, I mean, we literally had a master bedroom with three queen mattresses on the floor and a dog, a Golden Retriever at that, which wasn't a small dog, and we were just living and working, living and working. It's just really funny to look back on, pictures, videos, and just really thinking how far we've come along. It really, truly does keep you humble.
Shantel: Certainly, and I think it's so interesting, I'm glad you shared the Uber piece, too, and I wonder if, looking back, you guys were experiencing that customer journey on a very, on a brand that was kind of forefront and really setting a new trend or a new path of kind of this ease and outsource. You can probably speak to it a little bit better, but what I'm trying to, you put yourself in a situation of a company that was doing what you were trying to do, just in a different vertical, and I'm sure you learned a ton by just integrating yourselves in that way as well, indirectly.
Dan: Yeah, no. No, completely spot on. I mean, looking at the trends in basically 2010 to 2012, 2013, when Uber and Lyft and these companies started, it was hyped up, and it was this gig economy, shared economy, services, outsourcing, etc. Uber was one of those companies where it's crazy, like, "What do you mean, you're expecting me to get into somebody's random, somebody random, their car, they're going to drive me to my destination, and I'm not going to take this yellow taxi, and I have to trust this person, and it's all through an app, and I'm not even going to be able to talk to them, etc., etc.?” It really helped us define what are the customers, what's the customer experience? What do customers what? What is somebody like Uber, who has millions and millions of dollars, doing with their money? How do they get people to break down that barrier to make it kind of like a normal thing with their life? Laundry, outside of cities like New York, San Francisco, it's one of those things that nobody does outsource, and we're this new company in Charlotte that is defining this message that's saying, "Hey, stop using that washer and dryer you have," or, "Break this habit that you have," which I think is really powerful. Something that's really resonating with me today in our messaging is, our competition isn't your local laundromats or your local dry cleaners. It's really your washer and dryer that you have at home, but more holistically, it's the habit that you have, your inner habit, where you do the laundry yourself because you have machines, but we're ultimately enabling you, as consumers, to not spend the time on things that are very mundane, and recurring, and provide a very high-quality, awesome customer experience. We really learned that from companies like Uber, and Lyft, and even I look at Warby Parker and Casper and just the brand and the customer experience that they're building into a lot of their business models has driven a lot of the influence in where 2U is today.
Shantel: Yeah. It's so interesting. You just also mentioned Casper and Warby Parker, and maybe I fit the demographic of all these companies, but I use all of these companies, and I'm a customer. I imagine you're kind of being able to, with 2ULaundry, you're getting in this subset of other companies that are doing something simpler, and people are craving that and jumping on it, and I mean, it doesn't take a ton-
Dan: Yeah, it-
Shantel: ... of convincing.
Dan: No, yeah, it's, if you have something as practical and tangible as laundry, and everybody has to do it, nobody likes doing it, there is a few people who say they do, but do they really? It's something that if you can layer on an incredible, professional-looking brand and customer experience that is just so easy to use and understand, you have a winning recipe, and it really just comes down to economics if you, as a business, can make it work financially. Warby Parker and Casper have just simplified the user experience and the customer experience in general. It's like an Allbirds. Allbirds goes in there as well. They do one thing really, really well, so we want to do one thing really, really well. We want to be really good at cleaning clothes and laundry and dry cleaning. That's where you see these companies just finding their niche, and then they can expand later on, just get really good at one thing. Amazon was really, really good at selling books, and look where they are today. I think that's super motivating and helps build a passion around entrepreneurs' kind of vision today of what can it be, but really starting in a niche and finding those 1,000 customers who just love your brand, the 1,000 advocates, and then going from there and layering on that vision that we have along the way.
Shantel: Certainly. You mentioned earlier on just having this innate scrappiness, and something that we use in the office quite a bit is the word "grit." What I'm finding, and I would love to hear your experience too, you're not super small anymore. You're not working out of a house. You are growing and scaling, and as you get bigger, naturally you have to introduce new process, and systems, and compliance, and kind of the stuff that is not fun and kind of takes away, takes a ton of time, and it's not naturally as scrappy, so how have you adjusted? I mean, are there, now you guys have employee handbooks and process documents. How has that felt for you? Maybe you can elaborate a little bit.
| BUILD THE PLAYBOOK TO SCALE UPON |
Dan: Yeah. I mean, it's a great question. In the early days, and however long that takes you for some startups, you're scrappy. With us, I look back on it, and I wish we could be in that ... That was the, that has been the most fun of, that is zero to one. I think we're past the zero to one stage, and that whole zero to one stage was making a ton of mistakes, but it was a lot of learning, and just going, and we were just moving fast. People were scrappy, the way that we were spending marketing dollars, and getting the word out there, and going to local events, and putting flyers on people's cars, and all this random stuff to hustle and build the business, but then you obviously have to hit a professional, more of a professional standpoint. With us, that was when we hired our HR director and because we were doing a lot of recruiting and hiring, and then we ultimately had to have a lot of these processes in place. It's been tough, and we're still going through it. I wish I had a perfect answer for it, but we are starting to define this playbook that we need to build. I look at this as like a McDonald's or a Chick-fil-A. They've been really good at building this playbook and then replicating that playbook, and that's essentially what we're trying to do with 2ULaundry is build this playbook that we can scale upon. A lot of what it comes down to is the processes and compliance that you have in place to operate a business in today's world, and everyone, we've just built this ... I think it's all around the culture and the mindset that you have, is part of our core values that we have here at 2ULaundry. One of them is scrappiness, and then do things that don't scale, but it's also really tough, because, again, like you said, you need to have those things in place. Everyone just needs to have that open mindset, and open to learning and getting feedback, and I think it just comes down to how you manage the people and expectations, and roll things out, I think, is clear. We start with the leadership team who ultimately communicates it down to the people they're working with, and it's just an easier message to deliver when you're talking about rolling bigger things out, like benefits, or an employee handbook, or a guide that we need to train against. We've just been very methodical in how we approach the end of the funnel who are going to be using it day to day, and it just comes down to communication and clearly communicating what needs to be done.
Shantel: Certainly. Was the HR director an, pretty early hire in kind of the, in your org chart, essentially?
Dan: Yeah, I think we should have done it sooner, but, I mean, we're about two and a half years old now, so I would say it's still pretty early for us, but we have it in place because we have a lot of manpower operating our business, so we're not, we're a tech, we have layers of tech, but we're not a SaaS or a business that you can just scale with technology. A lot of it comes down to people, and our people are our business. They're the ones who keep the machine running every single day, and without them, we wouldn't have a business, and those are our drivers who are on the road, operating our vans. Those are our facility workers who are in there actually sorting, folding, cleaning the clothes, packaging them up, and those are all W-2 employees that we have, so we knew really early on to build this culture, this retention, this great foundation for us to scale, and with people, was ... It has been very difficult, and the HR director hire has probably been one of the best to date to kind of formalize a lot of that, because filling the top of the funnel on the marketing side with customers, we need to fill the top of the funnel on our operations side with people who are actually operating. It was definitely a no-brainer of a decision and something we realized we probably should have done a little bit sooner, given the volume of, actually, people we need on the backend.
Shantel: Well, thanks for sharing that. Yeah, it's interesting. I don't think we're in a place yet to bring on an HR director, but oh, boy, does it sound nice to have someone to help with onboarding, and recruiting, and paperwork.
Dan: No, it makes sense, because it sound, and from what I've known about Imagine, and even how we look here at 2ULaundry, culture's the biggest thing. You want ... I mean, these are people who, essentially, you're bringing into your family, and that's the way I look at it. I mean, I want to be spending more time with these people internally than I do with my family, and that you just have to be on the same page, so recruiting and onboarding are probably my favorite part of our business, and something I am very, very, very passionate about, and bring that again, that methodical approach to hiring and understanding people. I think that's one of my strong suits and skillsets, and I'm very thoughtful in the process when it comes to recruiting and onboarding, because that kind of sets the stage for how they'll interact day to day with your business. Like anything, if it doesn't start off great, it's going to be a rocky road to the top, and mitigating those road bumps early on is key and huge, and especially in the early stage of startups where cash is king. It's really expensive to hire people and onboard people, and a lot of people don't know that or understand that, so slow to hire, quick to fire is our big thing in startups, and I back that 100%. I mean, we have a very, very lengthy interview process that we put everybody through because, again, we're bringing family members onto our team, so we kind of bring that approach, in all aspects, from marketing, to HR and hiring, etc. It's definitely something that a lot of people should be aware of.
Shantel: During that onboarding process, do you mind elaborating or sharing ... I mean, do you sit down ... You're doing the one-on-one training, or you're just checking in every day. Kind of what is the cadence now, at the size you guys are in, to make that new teammate feel welcome?
Dan: Yeah, I think this is really relevant. I actually have a new marketing analyst starting tomorrow who I've been building out today, and my calendar has all been onboarding, scheduling. To me, the way that we do it today is, obviously, they sit with our HR director for a couple hours, just doing the regular onboarding of getting access to email, and payroll, and Dropbox, and Slack, etc. We've kind of automated a lot of that stuff, but then, depending on which department they sit in, that sort of department head kind of owns the process to get them acclimated to the day-to-day. In a startup, I mean, you're going to be drinking from a firehose for the first two weeks of just information overload. That's the approach I take, because getting that information and resources, allowing, enabling them to access this stuff earlier, at night, is key. It's for them to just, almost like machine learning, they're just digesting all of this information. With me, like tomorrow, I'm going to be spending probably six, seven hours with this individual, going through the company history. I basically go through two, three-hour presentation of why we started, where we are to date, and everything in between, because I think that's so important to understand the buy-in, and really understand our vision, and strategy, and culture. We go over the core values, the org chart, and how everybody operates, and how people communicate, and, obviously, our internal resources. Then the other biggest thing I have them do is talk to every department head and understand how they may interact with them, and have, let them tell you why they joined 2ULaundry, and let them tell you what their day-to-day looks like. That's day one and day two. Then day three is getting into the business and the nitty-gritty, so I actually have everybody do a driver ride along in the morning to understand like, "These are what drivers go through. This is their problems. This is the customer experience from the driver's side." Then in the facility as well, like getting them in there, folding clothes, sorting clothes, they can truly understand the full customer journey from end to end of how our business operates, and then we'll bring our team to Charlotte.
Shantel: So Dan, you mentioned you have someone starting tomorrow and part of the process is doing drive ins with the ... Not drive-ins, ride-alongs. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Dan: Yeah, no. The vans and the drivers are a big part of our business and obviously we're a pick up and delivery service. So I think a lot of the action even from our customer side happens on that front end of actually doing the pick up and delivery. So I think it just creates transparency and respect throughout the backend of our business in how each role functions to really gain, again, that respect for each role. So people on the marketing side, who joined the marketing team, I want them to go through that full customer journey of what it's like on the driver side, what it's like in the facility folding, sorting, packaging clothes, et cetera. And really understand all the impacts that we have on a customer. And I think it just holds true to us as a business of really redefining this customer experience and seeing the end to end operation and full customer journey I think is a huge part of immersing yourself in the business and really understanding how you can make an impact no matter what role you're in essentially.
Shantel: I think that's great. I also love how you touched on you have essentially a presentation where you're talking through the history of the company where you guys are at now and the vision for the future.
Shantel: And it's something that in the past I kind of started when any new teammate joined on, I did all of the administrative stuff. And we probably just breezed over that piece and then I passed it over to our office manager. And I've kind of taken a backseat to any onboarding. And not because I don't care but just I needed a reminder like this that it is that foundation and that it's such an important piece of the puzzle so that they buy in and they feel invested right away. So I'm definitely eager to incorporate that back into our training. And I appreciate you sharing that.
Dan: Yeah. No, not a problem at all. I think we're the ones as founders who obviously started this for a reason. And I think telling the story in your words is ... people can relate to that and it drives the passion and really sets the tone for the business. And having that power and impact on everyone that comes through the doors and who signs away or leaves their last job to come join your business to help you hit your goals and make the ... build the vision and the rocket ship that you want is something I just hold to heart. And I think that I've just found that my biggest motivator when doing all this is our people and the people we surround ourselves with. Whether it's employees, customers, investors, mentors, advisers, friends, family, et cetera, those are the people who are the foundation and as much attention as you can give to them, the better. It sets up the rest of your success.
Shantel: Yeah, absolutely. I just have a couple more questions for you, Dan. And first is a little bit we'd love to dive into you and Alex's relationship. And I imagine you guys wore a ton of hats initially but have you really separated the roles now as business partners?
Dan: Yeah. That was really natural for us which looking back is exciting. I gravitated towards the people part of our business which is I look at like growth, marketing, sales, revenue, product, customer service. And Alex is very much finance and operations. So he handles a lot of the backend stuff and the investors. So it was a really easy, natural extension for us to just separate those responsibilities. And it's basically stayed that way since the beginning. I still oversee all marketing product, customer care, customer experience. And Alex focuses heavily on operations, HR, finance. Again, which was natural for us. And so it's evolved into just growing within those departments and obviously hiring department heads for as you break those apart. So that was really natural for us which was exciting. Because you don't want two people who are really good at marketing to run a business or somebody who doesn't understand finance. You just need those pieces and separate those accordingly. And Alex and I have fought one time, one time only, really early on and haven't had a fight since. So I think that's success when it comes to founder relationship.
Shantel: Certainly. And I imagine some healthy disagreements or some conversations, tough conversations, are okay. So for those listening that maybe have quote/unquote fights, some of that could be healthy but unless it's a huge blow out which you may be alluding to.
Dan: Yep. That's definitely what I was alluding to.
Dan: We definitely have conversations where we go back and forth. And we're just ... I think we like holding each other accountable and poking holes where needed. But other than that, we really believe in each other and trust each other to make the best decision for the company and for our people. And so far, it's worked out.
Shantel: That's great. Well, and last, do you anticipate growing into other cities? I'm sure people who are not in Atlanta or Charlotte would be really interested to have 2ULaundry come their way.
| DEPLOYING THE STRATEGY |
Dan: Yeah, yep. Our big goal here for this year is just defining that playbook that I mentioned and really feeling comfortable to take on a larger sum of venture capital and deploy our strategy against our playbook. And so, we want to do just that. We want to finalize our playbook here the rest of this year and ideally, we're looking to raising our series A in the next six to eight months. Shooting for $10-12 million and you can do a lot with that. And for us, we want to use that for expansion. So I don't know what the next cities are. I know we want to stay below the sunbelt line and the southeast is exciting for us. So Raleigh, Miami, Tampa, Nashville are good cities. But I know we also want to get into Texas as soon as we can so Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio are also very exciting.
Shantel: That's great and super exciting. I can't wait to bring you on the show maybe in a year or two and hear all the cities. How can people get in touch, learn more about 2ULaundry is they are in Atlanta or Charlotte right now?
Dan: Yeah, yeah. So personally, I'm always willing to help provide feedback or just hear other stories as being a founder. So reach out to me via email. Mine's just firstname.lastname@example.org. And then, getting in touch with 2ULaundry. That's what I want everyone to do. Try us out. It's simply visit 2ulaundry.com. You can use promo code DAN2020. That will give you $10 off your first two orders. And create your free account. Schedule a pick up and we'll deliver you the bags. And you can get started and try us out. And we're always wanting feedback. So feel free to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Shantel: That's great. Well, thanks so much, Dan, for being on the show. We really appreciate your time.
Dan: Yeah, thanks for having me.