Laurel Hess pictured, Founder & CEO of hampr.
Every month we feature some of our Everything Marketplaces community members to help highlight their story, marketplace journey, and share more about what's ahead.
In this member feature we highlight Laurel Hess, who's the Founder & CEO of hampr. Hampr is an on-demand service for laundry that makes it easy for anyone to request wash or fold service. Hampr has quickly scaled as a marketplace and is now operational in multiple cities just a year after launch.
My background is in marketing, and I started my career off in public relations. Prior to starting hampr, I worked for a large PR firm in Dallas, then was the Sales and Marketing Manager at the Superdome in New Orleans. I also ran a digital marketing agency in Lafayette, LA.
I started hampr out of my own frustration as a working parent. I have two sons and they create a ton of laundry, so on the weekends we are always running from activity to activity with no time to spend getting laundry done. I felt that if I can outsource our grocery shopping, I should be able to just as easily outsource laundry. At the same time, I had a friend who was a stay-at-home mom and was always looking for things to do to earn money, but she couldn’t leave home for long periods of time. That’s when I realized that there is a whole untapped workforce that the gig economy leaves out. This personal pain and insight is what led to me starting hampr.
The first thing I did was pitch the idea to my partners at the digital agency that I was working at. I wanted to start by getting feedback and trying to validate my idea first. One of the partners really latched on to the idea and started to try and poke holes in it. I also asked my mom network if this service would be of interest and it was a resounding yes. That’s when I knew we were on to something.
We launched two months before the Covid shutdown (January 2020) which turned out to be a really stressful time with all of the uncertainty. We had verbal commitments for our fundraising round that dried up, but looking back it ended up being a great thing for us. We were forced to get really scrappy, be resourceful, and find a way to stay alive without the stress from growth expectations that can come with fundraising.
As a working parent, I’m always short on time. The last thing I want to do on the weekend (when I might have time) is laundry. Not only that, but I actually can’t. We are so busy on the weekends between birthday parties and activities that laundry simply piles up and doesn’t get done.
Hampr is a win-win because it serves a big need and also helps the community on a hyperlocal level. We are a peer-to-peer marketplace, so we’re matching busy families who are short on time with people in the local community who are looking to supplement their income. Our washrs are typically retirees and stay-at-home parents who have previously been left out of the gig economy because they can’t leave their home for long periods of time, which excludes them from being able to drive for Uber or shop for Instacart.
Not only does this solution work because of the hyperlocal focus, but it’s also asset-light and highly scalable. We can launch into a market very quickly without the typical capital requirements that other marketplaces or services might need.
We are building a new category, so a great deal of education and brand awareness needs to happen. Our consumers need to know that on-demand laundry is a thing. Not only that, but they have to know about us as a brand and trust us. We are taking people’s clothing items and they are trusting us to bring them back as promised, so social validation is absolutely critical when we go into a new market.
To that end, referrals was the first post-MVP feature that we built. Every consumer receives a special code in the app they can share with their friends to receive $10 off a membership and also gives them their first load of laundry for free. This is crucial for early adopters and social validation.
The network effect we’ve created is proving to be strong and every week we review our out-of-market requests and pull open our existing boundaries to accommodate for the demand. I think it’s also critical to have a strong user feedback loop that goes beyond just user interviews. There needs to be a feedback loop that encompasses what marketing sees in social media comments, what support is hearing from supply and demand, and what product sees happening in the app as consumers use it. These are all critical to staying in tune with customer needs and if we focus on building a truly great experience, the rest will work out. We also stay very focused on the key drivers of our businesses and what features and changes will have the biggest impact on these. We try to not get too distracted by outside influences or shiny vanity metrics that don’t actually impact the metrics that matter.
It’s honestly almost borderline scary how fast we can open up a new market and that kind of ability to scale can be a little heady at times. For instance, what’s stopping me from standing up and saying, “let’s launch Austin!” and us quickly being able to do so? This actually happened by the way and my team still doesn’t let me forget about it.
The biggest learning for us is that our users and data are everything. We don’t make decisions based purely off data, but we think it’s critical for us to make decisions that are backed by data. I think with early stage marketplaces, there can be a lot of "gut" instinct, but if you take the extra time to back this up with data, then you’ll likely be more successful. I tell our team that it’s also ok to be wrong while we’re still at an early stage, as long as we know why we’re making decisions, evaluate what works, and can improve. By doing that, we’ll also be able to make directional progress.
On-demand laundry is predicted to become a $56b industry by 2025. I think the world is finally ready for it with the rise of marketplaces like Airbnb, Lyft, Shipt, and others. Our ultimate goal is for hampr to become a verb, so people will start to say “let’s just hampr this weekend.” To achieve that level of ubiquity, we need to scale on a national level, create a household brand that people love, and also evangelize. This is what we’re heads down working to achieve today.
I am absolutely obsessed with tackling issues that arise from the mental load that plagues parents, specifically women. Our on-demand services and building hyperlocal communities are just the starting point for ultimately solving this. We see that we’re starting to solve the pain points with parents that are using hampr already, so the potential is huge. With that in mind, be sure to follow along as we begin to launch new service lines and in new cities!
Connect with Laurel in the Everything Marketplaces community.