This entrepreneur built a cloud-based business to address a common challenge that many dry cleaners face. Here he shares his business story and key lessons.
A fairly typical, frustrating experience led entrepreneur John Buni to found CleanCloud, a cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) business. Buni went to his local dry cleaner to pick up his shirt, except Buni couldn’t find his ticket. Without a ticket, the dry cleaner couldn’t find the shirt. Sound familiar?
Buni had already built a successful tailoring business, called Tailor Made, using high tech body scans for precise measurements to make bespoke suits. He instantly realized that a solution for the lost dry cleaning ticket problem existed. The real problem was that most small dry cleaners couldn’t easily access or even identify technology that could help simplify their businesses and make them more profitable.
In 2014, he established CleanCloud, a service providing back-end digital support to dry cleaning businesses. Three, tiered packages are based on the number of orders a business processes. Each offers services like a branded app for customers, a website builder, a pick-up and delivery booking system, a payment system, and, a tracking system for the customer and owner. Businesses can also select marketing management services, with special offers distributed via SMS, email and the app. Buni sees CleanCloud as a way to empower small businesses to keep up with technology and stay competitive.
“There are lots of families running dry cleaning businesses,” Buni says. “They can be slow to adopt tech, which has allowed digital laundry businesses to chip away at the market. They may not be offering the best services or conveniences like pick-up and delivery, because they don’t know how. We give them the tools to do that. We handle all of the operations for pick up and delivery. They literally just need a car and driver. We manage the logistics for the driver, telling them where to go, we manage the payments; everything they would pay someone a lot of money to do.”
Monthly prices range from $30-65. Buni says the affordability is deliberate.
“There are dry cleaners everywhere. We’re interested in market share; that’s how it’s priced. That’s the beauty of running a software-as-a-service business. The actual cost is so low. Ten years ago we couldn’t have run this business for the cost we can run it now.”
Buni is passionate about finding ways to strengthen the small, locally-owned businesses that populate cities, towns and villages. He sees CleanCloud as a model for other merchants, like butchers and bakers, who could use the app for things like deliveries and marketing offers.
CleanCloud currently has more than 5,000 users in 70 countries. Buni raised $1M from angel investors and recently, US-based payments company, called Clearent, bought 20 percent of the business for $2M.
Buni shared a few key lessons from building both of his businesses.
Amy Guttman: What were the biggest challenges?
John Buni: Hiring. Early on, you definitely need to map out the skills and characteristics of the people you need to get to the next level. For example, in sales you need very good communicators and listeners and people who are very patient. They can translate that into a very good sales process.
I don’t necessarily need someone to be like me. They need to tick boxes. That’s how we’ve mapped out our team. You want people to challenge you. You don’t want people to simply agree with you all the time and that’s how we approached hiring. One of our business development guys said, ‘Look, I’ve been speaking to customers and they’re all asking about this feature that we don’t currently offer. I think if we offer it, we’ll get a larger part of the market.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you build a business case for it. Figure out how we’d do it and then ask the customer: if we built this, would this work for you? Present the business case and customer feedback to us and if it’s compelling, we’ll do it.’
Guttman: You appeared on Dragon’s Den in the UK back in 2009 for your other business, Tailor Made. What was your biggest takeaway?
Buni: It was a really good experience, but they said the margins were too small. I learned to accept criticism and use it to improve the business. I changed the business model as a result and increased the margins. None of them invested, but we still make suits for some of the dragons now.
Guttman: What are your plans for CleanCloud’s growth?
Buni: We’re continuing to grow in the dry cleaning space. Also, we’re moving into the coin-op/Laundromat space in the US. We’re looking to integrate with a very large, smart washing machine company so people can track usage. We’re also looking at introducing artificial intelligence (AI) and data science so we can help businesses predict when they’ll be busy.
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