Presso is a full-stack automation company using AI-powered robotics to create the first on-demand and ultra-fast garment freshening service.
In Nishant Jain’s opinion, the biggest strength of a startup is not in their technology, but in their ability to listen to market signals. This thinking is what helped his company Presso to deliver once-in-a-century change to an otherwise unmoving dry cleaning industry.
Moving the needle on dry cleaning innovation
Having dabbled in ride-sharing and group decision-making apps in college, Nishant realized he wanted to invest his life in something truly meaningful and impactful. So he asked himself: ‘What is something that I’ve always hated doing, but I’ve never really questioned why I’m doing it the way I’m doing it?’ And the first thing that came to his mind was laundry.
“I had to pick something that was so fundamental that it is almost taken for granted,” said Nishant. “There was no momentum in the [dry cleaning] industry. Forty to 50 years from now, I would be doing laundry and dry cleaning in exactly the same way. So if I could move the needle of innovation even a little bit, I would impact a significant percentage of the population.”
“I had to pick something that was so fundamental that it is almost taken for granted.”
“It’s definitely not one of those industries that you want to go back and tell your parents, ‘Hey, I’m trying to fix the clothing care problem,’” Nishant added with a laugh.
Trying to overhaul an unchanging industry
One thing that Nishant knew would distinguish his endeavor from the get-go was his focus on developing new hardware for an industry that had not seen a major technology change in half a century. He set out to create an entirely new method of clothing care that included pressing, cleaning, and disinfecting, all in a single product.
In Nishant’s words, Presso serves as the equivalent of the microwave in the dry cleaning industry, taking a dirty, wrinkled piece of clothing and making it ready to wear in only three to five minutes. Integrated “Stretch AI” technology in the EcoRobo garment care machine tells the robotics in the machine how to perfectly stretch the garment, which is part of the key to making the process work.
Presso also uses seven times less water and three times less electricity per piece of clothing than standard dry cleaning equipment.
The biggest muscle is listening to market signals
Aside from a few technological hurdles to overcome in the early days, Nishant said that finding product-market fit was a bigger challenge. He started by looking at business models that had worked well in other industries, such as on-demand services for entertainment or food delivery.
“We humans want things now. We want grocery deliveries in 15 minutes. We don’t want to plan ahead of time. And that’s what we have done with really every industry you look at.”
Nishant and his team went out to six different market verticals with six different versions of the product in the first year. They started in venues with fast clothes cleaning needs like gyms, apartment complexes, and hotels. They soon found that listening to the customers led to a lot of unexpected insights.
“From the get-go, we were focused on finding the burning and frequent pain points. The biggest muscles are always [in listening to] market signals. About four months in, I quickly realized that there were far more pain points than my own.”
“The biggest muscles are always [in listening to] market signals.”
What Nishant learned was that customers were not interested in Presso for bulk laundry washing but rather being able to have a specific piece of clothing ready at any time.
Don’t scale until the product has enough robustness
After a few iterations, the Presso team started getting requests for the product from all over – including the costume design department of a major Disney+ television show – before they had even worked out all of the kinks in the technology. Nishant explained how you don’t always need a 100% finished product if the customer’s need for the solution is strong enough.
“If you’re able to find a minimum viable solution, [customers] would be happy to take it from you,” said Nishant. “If you find that need and get adoption very fast, then you can grow at the pace of a startup.”
“A lot of companies fail because they try to scale too early when the product isn’t robust enough yet.”
While Presso was agile in its growth, Nishant wisely avoided the pitfall of scaling too quickly when the product was still in development.
“A lot of companies fail because they try to scale too early when the product isn’t robust enough yet,” said Nishant. “Not only does it create a bad experience for the customers, but if your product is breaking down every other weekend, you have to send someone in person on site. You’re never going to be able to get your margins. Timelines change in the hardware world quite a bit. The more you can grow with your product, instead of ahead of it, the better you’ll be at getting to your milestones.”
- Founders can first look to their own pain points as inspiration.
- Listening to the market rather than focusing wholly on the product is a strength that effective startups must have.
- A minimum viable product is all you need to get started if the customer has a strong demand for your solution.
- Avoid scaling until your solution is robust enough.