BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Some say it’s lazy. Others call it a time-kill. Either way, there’s an unmistakable truth that spans generations of college students – one that Indiana University senior Zachary Burr hopes to capitalize upon.
“We hate doing laundry. The physical task of washing, drying and folding clothes takes several hours out of your day,” Burr said. “If you don’t have a car, it’s worse. There’s students who take Uber just to get to the laundromat. But I can help people like that. I can do what they’re already doing — but do it more cheaply.”
Through his startup company Tydee Laundry, Burr – a finance major at IU’s Kelley School of Business – offers semester-long subscriptions to wash, dry, fold and package 10, 15 and 20-pound bundles of clothes each week. For a flat fee of $20 per week for 15 pounds, customers can cancel their subscription at any time. All plans include free weekly pickup and delivery at times of the customer’s choice. Dry cleaning also is available on a piece-by-piece basis.
On average, a student who washes, dries and folds 15 pounds of clothes a week – taking Uber to and from a laundromat – spends about $391 based on a 17-week semester, Burr said. By subscribing to Tydee’s 15-week semester plan, students spend only $340 for the same amount.
As the semester progresses, plan prices adjust downward as well. By the second week of February – and a month of IU’s spring semester already gone – Tydee reduced its semester-plan prices to $180 for a 10-pound bundle, $225 for 15 pounds and $300 for 20 pounds.
A 20-pound bundle generally includes four pairs of jeans, two button-down shirts, two pairs of shorts, six T-shirts, nine pairs of underwear, two towels and eight pairs of socks, Burr said.
For now, Tydee is a website-only business, with Burr processing the orders and off-campus cleaners handling the rest.
“We partner with the cleaners, who weigh the bundles before and after washing to make sure nothing is misplaced,’’ Burr said. “They use lightly scented detergent and dry clothes on low heat to avoid shrinking.”
An idea takes flight
Tydee recently earned top prize at the second annual Demo Day competition hosted by IU in January. Demo Day culminated a four-month mentorship program for student-run startups known as B-Start, which is offered through the Bloomington Economic Development Corp. Financial support comes from IU’s Innovate Indiana initiative, Cook Group and the Gayle and Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship at Ivy Tech Community College-Bloomington.
Last fall, B-Start was recognized during the University Economic Development Association’s Annual Summit as a national finalist in the organization’s Awards of Excellence contest.
“B-Start is a pre-accelerator program designed to help IU and Ivy Tech students launch innovation businesses. It arose from a need to better coordinate all Bloomington’s entrepreneurial assets and address the lack of connection points for entrepreneurs,” said Dana Palazzo, vice president of the BEDC.
“Although IU offers significant entrepreneurial assets, its student entrepreneurs often operate separate from the Bloomington and IU startup communities. As a result, many student startups are slow to launch and have few ties to keep them here once they graduate. B-Start seeks to engage students with the idea that if they become invested in Bloomington’s entrepreneurial community, they will be more likely to stay after graduation and grow their ventures locally.”
Like a growing pile of clothes, the impetus behind Tydee gradually expanded since Burr’s freshman year before he decided to act. Yet Burr admits he “probably would have never” launched the company if not for B-Start’s existence, which he learned about from Kelley entrepreneurship professor Gerry Hays.
While the accountability aspect of B-Start – which included weekly progress reports — played a significant role in Tydee’s progress, Burr gives much of the credit to his B-Start mentor, IU alum Brad Wisler. Wisler is founder and CEO of Bloomington-based Periodic, which builds booking software for e-commerce companies.
“Brad has been a huge help in getting my website started and being able to manage subscriptions,” Burr said. “We would meet for two hours on some mornings and talk about how to set up the business, marketing strategies, how to set up subscriptions. I’ve really learned a lot from a person who has helped start several companies.”
Some of Burr’s B-Start counterparts offered their support as well.
“During B-Start, we had these weekly pizza nights where you could share great ideas with peers from a variety of backgrounds,” said Burr, who is from Wayne , N.J. “As far as my background goes, there’s not much technology involved. But I met people such as Wes Wagner, whose own company, Intask, placed third. He has more of a technical background and was very helpful in putting my Facebook ads together and knowing how they should look.”
Wisler, who also co-founded such companies as SproutBox, Visible and Wolfsen Apparel, offered a single word — sagaciousness – to describe Burr’s approach to business.
“That’s a big word … but it’s really the only way to describe Zach. He’s got keen insights and big ideas, but they never get in the way of just doing the practical little things that need to be done every day,” Wisler said. “So many young entrepreneurs are so busy dreaming about where the road will take them, that they forget to start walking down it. Zach just started walking and now he’s picked up the pace to a light jog. I’m sure he’ll sprint in no time.”
What are some examples of sagaciousness?
“Zach has no coding experience. But that didn’t stop him from building a great website. He knew nothing about payment processing. So he learned. He didn’t know how to hire, pay or track drivers. So he became the first driver himself so he would know exactly what it was like for his future workers,” Wisler said.
“In other words, he’s a doer. But he’s always thinking and documenting what he learns along the way, so he’s ready to replicate it as the business grows. This is one of the most important skills an entrepreneur can have. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s just a super nice guy.”
As Tydee enters its fifth month in business, Burr has only made about $500 worth of investments into his venture so far – mostly in packaging, stickers and web maintenance costs. Most of his earnings have come from winning Demo Day – a $2,500 cash prize – plus an additional $500 awarded to all B-Start graduates to help their ventures further develop.
Yet all of that is bound change soon as a key decision for Burr lies ahead. Upon graduation from IU, a job as a stockbroker awaits him on the East Coast. At the same time, the BEDC would love for Tydee and other rising companies to make Bloomington its headquarters.
For now, Burr is exploring his options.
“Locally, I’ve talked with the manager of Renaissance Rentals about offering services to their tenants here,” Burr said. “But a bigger idea – whether or not I stay in Bloomington – is possibly franchising the business, as many Big Ten towns share similar demographics to Bloomington. In fact, I’m talking with a guy about expanding to Columbus, Ohio, and the student market that Ohio State University provides – perhaps as early as next semester.”