The Next Hot Side Hustle? Dirty Clothes. Meet ‘The Uber of Laundry’

An image to accompany a story about hampr, the Uber of laundry Courtesy of hampr/Robert Rodriguez
hampr, a platform that helps busy families outsource their laundry to local contractors, is yet another example of technology accelerating the gig economy in America.
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If you’re looking for a mostly-at-home side hustle, washing strangers’ clothes could be the thing that helps you bring in extra income and work toward your financial independence goals.

“Laundry was a personal pain point of mine,” says Laurel Hess, the co-founder of Hampr, a company whose app pairs contractors with families who want to outsource laundry. “I have two boys, had gotten back from a business trip, and came home to laundry everywhere. My kids had tee ball and three birthday parties the following day.” Feeling stuck and overwhelmed, Hess made a phone call that would end up kickstarting a new side hustle opportunity for hundreds of Americans. 

“At the time, I had a stay-at-home mom friend who was always asking if she could do things for my marketing company to earn extra money,” says Hess. “She couldn’t shop for Instacart, she couldn’t drive for Uber — she had five kids at home. I told her I didn’t have any work, but offered my laundry as a way to earn extra money.” Thus, the idea for Hampr was born.

Hess’ laundry epiphany helped her understand two things about her market. The first was that there is an untapped workforce of stay-at-home parents and retirees, people who want to participate in the gig economy, but can’t be away from home or their children for hours at a time. The second was that there were people like herself who have no free time and are willing to throw money at a problem to save them a few hours. Hampr is similar to platforms like Lyft, DoorDash, and TaskRabbit in that users are paired with contractors ready to get the job done. The company, which launched in 2020, now has over 10,000 users on its platform, 500 of whom are “washrs,” contractors who pick up and wash clothes for Hampr clients. 

Companies like Hampr can help you participate in the gig economy and make more money without needing to be away from home for hours at a time. Here’s how it works. 

She Got Expert Feedback on Her Idea First

Hess was the president of a digital marketing agency at the time, so she pitched the idea to one of the company partners, Spencer Hoyt, in 2018. She wanted to ensure someone else saw the value in the potential service. The partner wanted to validate the idea further and get confirmation it could work.

An image of Laurel Hess, the founder of hampr.
Laurel Hess of hampr.

“[Spencer] knew the person who started Waiter, a company that was a food marketplace like DoorDash,” says Hess. “He said ‘Let’s go to lunch with this guy and see if our idea has legs.’ We did that, and [the Waiter founder] validated the idea.”

Hess and Hoyt started working on creating what is now Hampr, with Hess taking on the branding and marketing and Hoyt handling operations. The pair worked on sourcing the Hampr bags, which are crucial to restricting load size and a vital part of the business.

They Launched the Business While Working Full-Time Jobs

The two co-founders built the business on the side in their first year, using their own money to fund their efforts. In May of 2019, the partners brought on a technical co-founder to help them create the Hampr app and provide the necessary tech expertise. In January 2020, the app went live. 

Hess and Hoyt didn’t take a salary, but their technical co-founder did, and they also wanted to hire in order to get things off the ground. The founders went to local investors they knew, pitched their idea and its current status, and raised $500,000 to get the apps built. In addition to the tech co-founder, they also had one developer who drew a salary and one developer who worked for equity. 

“The first customers were excited,” says Hess. “We had a lot of comments saying, ‘How is this not a thing already?’ We had positive feedback in the first two months.”

Editor’s Note: Closing The Gender Gap In Funding

Women-owned businesses produce $1.9 trillion in annual sales, but a woman’s ability to operate autonomously both in terms of personal finances and entrepreneurial funding is still recent.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 gave women the ability to open their own credit card and loan accounts. However, women were still not allowed to receive business funding because of the perception that they were “less reliable” borrowers. A woman had to have a man to co-sign their business loan up until 1988, when HR 5050, the Women’s Business Ownership Act, was signed into law. Since the 1970s, the number of women-owned businesses has grown by over 3,100%, but 88% of these businesses make less than $100,000 in revenue a year.

There are funding resources specifically for women entrepreneurs available at the US Small Business Administration and your local Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). A searchable database of CDFIs is here.

A Pandemic Pivot

Understandably, Hampr’s business model depends heavily on busy professionals not having enough time at home to do their laundry. It’s a great idea — unless, of course, everyone is suddenly staying at home due to a pandemic. COVID-19 lockdowns began in March of 2020, less than 90 days after the app had gone live.

 “Our busy families that we were targeting — dual-income families with two or more kids — were now home with their kids,” says Hess. “The needs changed and shifted.”

The Hampr team needed to make a pivot, so they started targeting first responders who were working around the clock and needed help with their household laundry. When children returned to school in August 2020, business picked up again because activities were resuming, and people needed to outsource. 

In 2021, Hampr joined the Techstars program in Austin. Techstars is an investment accelerator that provides access to capital, mentorship, networking, and programming for early-stage startup founders. The program helped Hampr figure out what metrics to focus on, and as a result the business went from getting 40 to 60 new members a month to over 300 new members a month. Hess says going through Techstars helped “unlock the drivers to their business.” 

How Hampr Works

Hampr is an on-demand service where members can schedule wash-and-fold laundry services via the Hampr mobile app. The member’s laundry is picked up, washed, folded, and delivered by local “washrs.” Washrs are usually stay-at-home parents, retirees, or individuals interested in earning a side income.

To use the service:

  • Download the Hampr app
  • Once downloaded, choose your preferred plan.
  • You receive a welcome kit in less than a week with four pop-up hampers, instructions, and QR codes. 
  • Fill the Hampr bags with laundry.
  • Schedule a pickup by scanning the QR code. 
  • Wait for your freshly washed and folded laundry to be returned within 24 hours.

There are many customization options, including what time you’d like your laundry to be picked up, and your laundering preferences, such as whether you want a specific detergent to be used. The washrs have been vetted by Hampr with both a background check and an equipment verification process. 

There are two ways to pay for your laundry service. The first is to become a member for $39 a year, which gives you access to the platform and Hampr bags. You can also use the service a la carte as a non-member and use a 13-gallon kitchen trash bag as a substitute for the branded clothes hamper, but the cost per load will be dependent on your market.

What It’s Like to Wash a Stranger’s Clothes as a Side Hustle 

Today, Hampr has over 500 washrs, and the company advertises that their top washrs are earning an average of $2,000 in a four-week period. This can be an appealing side hustle because you set your hours and how much work you take on.

The company’s washrs are paid 70% of what is charged per Hampr/load. Hampr also charges a service fee on orders of less than four loads; washrs receive a portion of that fee. Washrs also get to keep 100% of their tips. Payouts are weekly, and are delivered to a washr’s bank account every Friday via direct deposit.

“This company literally saved me,” says Andrea Bolda, a stay-at-home mom and washr. “I started in May 2020 as a mom of a new baby with cerebral palsy. I was able to start working from home and get some money flowing after my husband was demoted at work. I was able to write my schedule and earn an income without having contact with people.” Bolda says contactless side hustle options were especially compelling at the time. 

“My experience of being a washr has been very positive,” says Betsy Aker, a washer who does Hampr for extra income. “I like the flexibility it offers. I can choose if I want to claim an order or not, and how far away I want to go.” Aker says that it’s convenient to be able to take her kids along with her for pickups and dropoffs. 

“I feel good helping my community.” 

The requirements to be a washr are:

  • You must be at least 18 years old. 
  • You must pass a general background check. 
  • You need a valid U.S. driver’s license and auto insurance.
  • Have access to a reliable vehicle.
  • Be able to lift 20 to 30 pounds. 
  • Have an iPhone (iOS 10 or newer) or Android (5.1 or newer) smartphone.
  • Have a washing machine that is at least 4.2 cubic feet.

“Most of our washrs are doing it to make a bit of extra income,” says Hess. “Most of them are doing it for vacation funds or extracurriculars, or just something to be able to contribute to the household income. Income can vary wildly [based on how much] you want to work.”

Side Hustles Can Create Financial Independence

Hess started Hampr on the side while working a job. It’s now grown to nine states and 35 markets, and closed a $5 million funding round this summer, according to a press release. Hess sees hampr growing to a national brand and becoming a verb, like Uber, and says the company is committed to providing a lucrative household income for people who can’t leave their homes for long periods of time.

“It’s community-driven and hyper-local,” says Hess. “I’m passionate about helping people in the community help other people in the community.”