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Washio’s Tumble and the Decline of On-Demand

Of all the on-demand businesses that swept through tech in the past couple of years, few were as hyped and strange as laundry. At the center of that spin cycle was Washio, a Los Angeles startup that promised to be an “Uber for Laundry.” Customers could use an app to order their dirty laundry picked up and returned clean the next day—and with a complimentary cookie.

At its peak in mid-2015, Washio’s service was operating in six different cities including San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Boston, with a workforce of 100 employees. Founded by Jordan Metzner, once a child actor who appeared in “Tales of the Crypt,” the company was frequently in the press. It raised around $16 million from investors that included Ashton Kutcher and the rapper Nas as well as Canaan Partners. In a lengthy New York magazine feature in 2014, Mr. Metzner dreamed that Washio was going to “demolish laundry.”

In the end, Washio itself got demolished, and became a poster child of the flawed logic of much of the on-demand startup world. Last August, Washio’s customers got a cursory note advising that the company was closing. The shutdown was so abrupt that some laundry was returned to customers still dirty.

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But none of the former executives who spoke to The Information have plans of diving back into the “Uber for X” model again. They’re happy now to watch from the sidelines, chastened by the Washio cycle, and wait for the next on-demand shoe to drop.

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The environment was “go, go, go. Grow, grow, grow and more money will be thrown. That was the broad thinking at the time.”