Longtime friends Ajay Prakash and James Joun combined the entrepreneurial spirit of Prakash with a passion instilled in Joun from his parents to create a company that is working on altering the dry-cleaning industry.
Simply called ‘Rinse’, the company is creating a seamless dry cleaning and laundry experience for their customers through a combination of technology, incredible customer service, and strong back-end partnerships, according to the website.
The company, which is available on Apple and Android devices, works to provide one simple, consistent, high-quality solution to take care of everything in a user’s closet.
Prakash told India-West in an email that he was actively looking into starting a company in late 2012 to early 2013 in the consumer services space when he caught up with Joun, who threw out the idea of dry cleaning.
“I hadn’t thought of dry cleaning or laundry before, but when he brought up the idea, all of the bells went off in my head,” Prakash, the 38-year-old Indian American CEO of Rinse, recalled to India-West. “Dry cleaning was perfect for the trends I was looking at.”
Joun’s parents and extended family are all in the dry cleaning business. Given the combination of factors, the pair became very excited and decided to run an early test, and that’s when things took off, according to Prakash.
They signed up 11 of their friends, and personally picked up and delivered their dry cleaning and laundry.
“We had it cleaned at James’ parents’ store, and we added some nice bells and whistles to the experience, including text message alerts, pictures of items we picked up, and an itemized receipt,” Prakash explained of the early days.
“When we returned back each of our customers’ orders, we received a unanimous response of excitement, with many asking when we were coming back,” he said.
At the time, they hadn’t thought that far ahead, but those interactions made it very clear that the idea was worth pursuing deeper.
Rinse was incorporated in March 2013 and commenced service with a select group of “alpha” customers in May 2013. It then brought on a third co-founder, Sam Cheng, in August 2013, and officially launched service in three San Francisco zip codes in September 2013.
Rinse aims to make trips to the dry cleaner and the washer-dryer obsolete, while building one of the first national (and global) brands in clothing care.
“Simply put, we pick up, clean and deliver your dry cleaning and laundry, and we have created an experience that removes the many points of friction that customers have had to put up with for decades in dry cleaning and laundry,” Prakash elaborated to India-West.
“In addition, we are working to remove the friction for existing cleaners so they can do what they do best, which is simply clean the clothes. We have worked to create a win-win for our local cleaning partners since day one,” he said.
Since launching in 2013, Rinse has expanded services to the Washington, D.C., metro area, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston.
“We are addressing a universal need, so our customers are spread across all age, gender, and other demographics,” he noted. “We have found our best customers tend to be older, professional, and couples (with or without kids).”
A Dartmouth College (bachelor’s in economics) and Stanford Graduate School of Business graduate, Prakash added that the company’s promise to customers is to provide a differentiated experience via better quality, convenience, technology, and world-class customer service – but to do it at a price that’s comparable to local cleaners.
The plan for Rinse, Prakash told India-West, is to “rapidly expand our service area” in the coming years. To date, the firm has raised $25 million, with the most recent funding completed in early 2017.
The company CEO said the plan for Rinse is be the first national brand in clothing care and have long-term ambitions of being a household name across the country. Longer-term, he said, Rinse plans to expand services internationally.
“We are providing a universal service and addressing a universal need – not just in the U.S.,” he said. “Ultimately, we will have more influence on the full life-cycle of clothing, helping to influence customer purchase decisions for clothing and facilitating the ‘retirement’ of certain clothing items, via donations or re-sale.”
Concurrent with building Rinse, Prakash has built a family as well, including a wife and three children.
While many entrepreneurs look to build up and sell, Prakash seems content with sticking out at Rinse for the long haul.
“My short-term and long-term plans are very focused on family-building and company-building, since both my family and Rinse are still very young and have a long way to go,” he told India-West. “I’ve really enjoyed building Rinse for the past six years – we’re solving an important need for our customers, I’m doing it with one of my closest friends, and we’ve assembled an incredible team to solve a complex problem and build the first national brand in clothing care.”
Part of that brand building includes the launch of Rinse Repeat, the company’s wash-and-fold subscription product.
Rinse Repeat is an all-inclusive subscription for laundry that’s priced by the bag, not by the pound, like traditional, outsourced laundry has always been.
The subscription service, Prakash noted, offers customers the same, high-quality service they’ve come to expect from its standard wash-and-fold service, but is more convenient, simpler and more affordable for people who want to completely remove the pain of worrying about laundry.