Press Send. Rinse. Repeat.
In 2017, Ari Fertel was buried in laundry—five children’s worth, to be exact. Her teenage son Nachshon wasn’t interested in sorting colors and whites, but he thought he might design an app to reinvent the process.
“We were still doing laundry like grandma; there’d been no innovation since the washer and dryer were invented.” That’s Ari’s husband, Mort Fertel, who a year later was CEO of SudShare, a tech startup—or is it laundry startup?—newly based in Minneapolis. The junior Fertel, meanwhile, was as good as his word, creating an app that looked at laundry like Uber looked at mobility, connecting a nation of people who wanted out of the laundry room with an army of workers who suddenly could work from home.
Mort Fertel believes Covid put people in touch with their mortality and drove an interest in outsourcing tasks that put them in “time poverty.” “Our goal,” he says, “isn’t to get a slice of the laundry service market; it’s to change people’s habits.”
Here’s how it works: The company’s app connects the 125 million households that do an average of 50 pounds of laundry per week with gig workers—”sudsters”— who pick up, clean, fold, and return that laundry. The clothes owner pays $1 per pound and the sudster keeps 75 cents of that dollar. Last year 45,000 distinct customers used the app, and 70,000 sudsters in 400 markets did the wash for them. Company revenue exceeded $1 million a month in 2021.
Per the Uber model, there is occasional surge pricing and bonus compensation when the market is imbalanced between dirty clothes and available sudsters, but Fertel says that’s the case in less than 1 percent of zip codes at any given time.
He sees SudShare as a way to provide a recent perk of white-collar employees for blue-collar workers. “Unskilled workers want to work from home like everyone else,” he says. “Our app pairs manual labor with work from home.” He says the most enterprising sudsters make $5,000 per month, plus tips.
When the company hit the VC rounds to tell its story and try to raise $5 million, he says Silicon Valley funders hadn’t seen many family teams. Fertel’s other son Moshe is also working on SudShare. “We’re not three business school hotshots,” he notes, “we’re creating a movement.”