Rick Rome found a second career in cleaning up New York City’s laundry. Luckily for him, we have a lot of it. After starting out in finance working for Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase, he left Wall Street in 2002 to work on entrepreneurial projects. In 2010 he launched WashClub, a tech startup pickup and delivery service for door-to-door laundry and dry cleaning. The company, which has an app for Android and iOS, currently services Brooklyn and Manhattan and he hopes to expand it soon. Rome, 41, lives in Williamsburg.
Why did you leave finance?
I left finance because of my entrepreneurial cravings. I wanted to move on and be my own boss. Basically, Wall Street, it's politics. I got fed up with the politics of corporations, of how things are.
How'd you get the idea for WashClub?
While I was working on Wall Street ... I was being horribly serviced by my local drycleaner. It was sloppy customer service, sloppy craftsmanship that sent me out on a mission to create eco-friendly customer service-oriented, high-quality laundry and dry-cleaning business.
How did you start WashClub?
I bought an existing laundry and dry-cleaning facility in Brooklyn, Sunset Park.
What's the status of your biz now?
In less than three years we’ve gone from zero customers online to over 10,000 and growing. We have two large facilities in Brooklyn, 15 [pickup and delivery vans] and growing and over 15 [employees]. When I first started, my first van was my Honda.
What's your main role as the boss?
I've worn every single hat in that place and I still do to this day at times. I definitely don't drive as much, I definitely don't process orders as much. I focus on growing the business, which is growing very quickly. But I would never ask anybody there to do something I haven't done myself. Everyone there is my family. Nobody goes hungry where I work.
Any unexpected challenges in launching WashClub?
Logistics is the biggest challenge -- trying to navigate New York City roads, traffic, in a timely fashion that is acceptable from a consumer standpoint and profitable from a business standpoint. So I developed a proprietary software.
What is the software you patented?
Years ago we used to do it old-fashioned where you had to call people and send text messages to let people know that we're on our way . That allowed other integrations of Google Maps to help with traffic patterns as well as tracking from the consumer standpoint. You get an email and text message alert from us that tells you we're 30 minutes away. In that message you can click on Google Maps and see the traffic and see how long it will take us to get to you. It's a cloud-based software. It's an order-entry system that allows a customer to order his or her laundry or dry-cleaning online and automatically the order gets sent to us.
How have your profits been?
Put it this way, when I started the business I had four employees, I now have well over 15. I had no trucks and now I have 15. I had no software and now I have a phenomenal software package. So I pour every penny I earn back into my business and that's why I've grown exponentially. I believe in what I'm doing.
Have anything else coming up?
We are adding more pickup coverage to Brooklyn and Manhattan as well as more available time slots, more convenient time slots.
Are you glad you started in finance?
Where I'm gonna take my business, I'd like to take it nationwide, so yes I think it is important to have the lessons I learned working in corporations. I'm glad I did both , I like learning about different things.
What is the strangest thing someone has asked you to launder?
We have found all sorts of crazy stuff in people's laundry, from sex toys to Nintendos to women's boots, drugs, all sorts of weird things. I've had guys want me to clean up their Halloween costumes. Broadway shows have given me their big curtains. We have celebrities who use our service. We run the gamut. I had a lady ask me to dry-clean her sock.
Do you have any advice for readers who are considering a career 180?
Get used to "no." Go out and get yourself "no's" because you get more "no's" in life than you do "yes." But don't let it discourage you; you have to keep going on. If you believe in yourself then you will make it. Through adversity comes success.