An Internet of Things startup that began in 2014 is hoping to capture a greater share of Australian laundromats by adding digital wallet integration to its offering.
Ian McFarlane is the founder of Eziwash, a Brisbane-based technology startup that is attempting to remove cash from laundromats around Australia by replacing them with internet-enabled washers and dryers.
“We’ve got about 15 clients across Australia, with about 20 sites between them,” McFarlane told StartUpSmart. McFarlane owns four of those sites, and across all 20 locations, the startup accepts $50,000 in payments every month.
Eziwash is now hoping to increase that number, thanks to a new app that allows users to pay seamlessly through mobile. Previously, Eziwash required users to scan QR codes on machines, which linked them to a sign-up website.
Eziwash functions through a low profile solid-state webserver on the front of the machine, which is connected to the machine’s controls. Through the recently released app, users can sign up to the service and deposit money to run the machines, along with remotely stopping and starting the cycle.
A tough market to crack
McFarlane readily admits he has encountered challenges when attempting to scale the business, with finding the right partnerships one of the key hurdles to overcome.
“It’s growing, but not growing as quickly as I’d like. There’s not much of a laundromat market in Australia, and the owners are usually not very tech savvy,” he says.
While finding interest in the product hasn’t been an issue, training workers to install the machinery has been.
To overcome his difficulty, McFarlane has sought out partnerships with other businesses that already do installations of laundromats.
“We’re getting a lot of interest from other washing machine manufacturers, and we want to partner with them now. The thing now is getting workers trained up so they know how to install the hardware,” he says.
Recently a competing startup has entered the market, but instead of lamenting the potential lost customers, McFarlane says he welcomes the competition.
“We have one other competitor on the market now, and it’s good to have a competitor. When people have to compare and evaluate we stand out more,” McFarlane says.
The competitor only offers card-based payments, so McFarlane believes Eziwash’s digital wallet technology puts his startup a cut above.
“That’s why we built it the way we did, to embrace digital wallet technology. Running a card system with a surcharge for each swipe isn’t cost effective,” he says.
However, McFarlane says being first to market hasn’t been all it’s cracked up to be.
“People think that being first or the only one to market is a good thing, but it’s not, it’s a hard road,” he says.
“Once there’s more than one business in the market, their marketing ends up helping us.”
Eziwash’s system is built to be compatible with phone based contactless payment systems such as Android Pay and Apple Pay, and is fully integrated with customer’s smartphones. This has huge benefits for both customers and laundry owners, says McFarlane.
“With the new online service laundry owners can remotely stop and start machines, which can help with basic level maintenance,” he says.
The registration for the service also helps Eziwash market to customers, and McFarlane says knowing your customer is “essential” for all small businesses and startups.
As for why the market has taken so long to embrace cashless payments, McFarlane believes prevailing attitudes in the industry are to blame.
“Truthfully it’s the owners. Many of them are in the mindset that laundromats are a cash business and they will always be a cash business,” he says.
“In Australia there’s going to be cash for quite a while. With Eziwash, I hope to get rid of cash-changing machines, I’ve been robbed four times because of those.”
Not content with only focusing on the Australian market, McFarlane is also casting his eyes to international opportunities.
“We’ve been getting a lot of interest internationally, from the US and Spain. Next year we’ve been given the opportunity to present at the US trade show,” he says.
“We’re continuing our Australian roll out, but the markets uptake on new products is definitely slow and steady.”
For other startups and entrepreneurs looking to tackle the burgeoning IoT space, McFarlane says partnerships are key.
“I’m a true believer in partnering, [and] getting partnerships right at the right level,” he says.
“Startups can’t be the sole channel to market.”
“It’s a slow process, but it’s necessary to get the people with an industry knowledge, that is the key.
“It’s not just having good ideas, it’s about engaging with the market through existing channels.”