Wednesday, August 31, 2016

WASHIO SHUTS DOWN, NINJAS REMAIN INVISIBLE

Washio suddenly ended its Uber-for-your-clothes-like business of smartphone application-based laundry service to and from wherever you are, effective Aug. 29.

The company's founders addressed customers in a letter on the Washio webiste:

As of Aug 29, Washio will be shutting down its operations. No more orders will be accepted and outstanding orders will be returned promptly to customers.
 

We are not alone in believing in Washio’s core business, technology and team, and hope it lives on in some shape or form in the future. But, that story has yet to be told…
 

From the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank you for all of your support and belief in Washio, our vision and our love for sharing cookies and clean clothes.

The cookies are a reference to the cookies given to customers at each visit, the mobile service's version of a hotel mint on your pillow.

I wonder how much ever-changing contracting policies for their pick-up and drop-off staff, called Ninjas, led to this abrupt shuttering.

I am trying to find some to talk, but I expect it to be challenging. When I first wrote about the Los Angeles gig economy for LA Weekly last year, the Ninja I spoke with insisted on anonymity, and painted a picture of a controlling company that prioritized profits and secrecy over efficient scaling and a productive culture. At the two laundry facilities where the Ninjas pick up and drop off loads before and after shifts, no one directly tells them not to talk among themselves, compare notes, or share advice. It's just a silent but palpable edict in those two 'Drop Shops,' one Hancock Park-ish and one Palms-ish, the Ninja said.

The outlets (TechCrunch, Los Angeles Times, Business Insider, Quartz) who've reported the story were not able to get comment from Washio on the specific operational missteps that led them to fold (no pun intended).

It's unlikely they spent too much paying Ninjas, according to my source's account in the Weekly piece:

Washio's pickup and delivery drivers, each assigned the job title Ninja by the company, uniformly oppose the unpaid pockets of time tacked on their shifts, according to one Ninja who spoke anonymously. 
Calls by L.A. Weekly to the app companies, aside from Washio, were not returned. Washio responded by saying it had no comment. 
The Ninjas meet one another when they pick up and deliver loads of laundry to a "Drop Shop" at two locations in L.A. The locations give Washio's Ninjas a chance to share notes about their unseen bosses, a more personal version of the Facebook and Meetup groups where Uber and Lyft drivers trade job stories and woes. 
"The biggest thing is money," the source says, because Washio's pay has fallen off a cliff since 2013 — not to mention the work they're allegedly made to do for free. 
According to the source, "shift preparation and completion tasks" at the two Washio Drop Shops take about 45 minutes — and this is deemed off-the-clock by Washio's owners. 
After the company's 2013 founding, Ninjas were paid $18 per hour. Then Washio instituted a per-stop payment of $7.10, with a $2.01 subsidized tip. 
But now the per-stop payment is just $5.09, with the rest expected to be made up by tips from customers. If a customer in L.A. forgoes a fair-sized Washio tip, that Ninja loses nearly 30 percent of his or her per-stop income.

For New Yorkers who are willing to pay a pretty penny to do laundry with a few swipes on their phone, FlyCleaners is still in business. Another Washio imitator, Prim, has already shut down.

If you want to get someone to come to your home to do laundry, TaskRabbit's housekeeping "taskers" are still an option.

Here is the full letter posted to the Washio homepage, no longer live but still cached:



Wednesday, August 24, 2016

IS THE SMARTPHONE MICROLABOR ECONOMY A MODERN GOLD RUSH?

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I am wrapping up my project for the ICFJ-S&P Global Financial Data Journalism Program. I am honored to have won the first prize fellowship to expand my dig into the LA gig economy that started at LA Weekly. My piece on two LA millenials making the gig economy more navigable runs on Thrillist Los Angeles on Friday; the rest of the project will run here, as a series:
Wed. Aug.  31   Mileage, mapping, and weather applications
Wed. Sept.   7   Gig economy accounting
Wed. Sept. 14   Out-amenitize the competition
Wed. Sept. 21   Lawyer up
Wed. Sept. 28  Side hustle your side hustle
Wed. Oct. 5      Cash out early
Wed. Oct. 12    Monetize your mistakes
Wed. Oct. 19    Find your people
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