Growing up in Australia, Chad Zani had two passions: cars and surfing. And he had a requirement for both: keep them as clean as possible.
So, years later, when he decided to launch a car wash business, he embraced an innovative idea: Don't use any water. His company, Envi, uses a biodegradable paste made of ingredients found in make-up, artfully applied with a microfiber towel. "You get a surpassingly good car wash inside and out," he says. "It's much more shiny, and without the micro scratches" that drive-through car wash systems can inflict. "And using no water means we get to save the planet."
Envi follows an Uber-like model: customers use an app to request the services they want, indicate where the car will be parked at the time of desired service, provide other information as needed (such as a pin code to access a locked garage), and Envi's workers show up and get to work.
Envi came in first at Get Started Orange County, one in a series of fast-paced pitch competitions held around the country in which local entrepreneurs present their ideas to a panel of experts. Cox Business created the series to help elevate local entrepreneurs and provide them with cash and resources to help them take their companies to the next level.
As Zani works to expand his concept, he took time out to share his thoughts on how entrepreneurs can clean up by going green:
Learn From the Past
While Zani's idea is innovative, he was able to find and learn from a previous attempt at on-demand car cleaning, called Cherry, which had gone under. He dug into old online forums to find the reason for their demise -- their cleaning wasn't that good. "They used the same type of bio-degradable auto cleaning solutions we do, but they were just buying them off the shelf and not receiving proper training from the manufacturer," he says.
In contrast, Zani focuses a lot of attention on training: His workers use a microfiber towel and a technique of rolling their hand so they clean the car in straight lines, lifting and trapping the dirt and then lifting and inspecting the towel. "It's a meticulous, panel by panel process," Zani says. "It takes us 60 minutes to do a car."
Adjust Pricing As Needed
Originally, Zani set a price point of $150 per wash, assuming that the kinds of "eco warriors" who would be receptive to the company's method and mission wouldn't balk. Instead, he says, "People laughed at us." By striking a deal with the manufacturer of the cleaning solution to become a major shareholder and provide the solution at cost, however, he has managed to bring the price down to just $30. Zani is now assessing the prospect of dynamic pricing, allowing smaller cars (which take less time to wash) to pay even less.
Choose Partners Carefully
When Zani decided that his business would be app-based, he first linked up with a company that had built an app for the Australian government. Despite that credential, he found their technology outdated. As a result, they couldn't provide the features he needed within the agreed-upon deadlines. Unraveling that relationship took more than a year. Zani invested time to research and vet a new developer for his next iteration, eventually signing on with the Silicon Valley Software Group.
Spend Capital Judiciously
Zani spent a lot of money developing apps for both the iPhone and Android platforms. "In retrospect, we should have just focused on the iPhone, because that's what 85% of our customers use," he says. "If you're someone like Uber, who has $50 million to spend on an app, that's OK, but for a small company like us who has $200,000, we should have been more focused."
Be Passionate, But Not Reckless
"He was very passionate, very genuine, and a true risk-taker," says Ken Kraft, a Get Started judge and vice president of marketing for Cox Business. "But he was also very methodical. He had a smart business plan about starting in a certain part of Los Angeles, establishing a foundation, and branching out."
Zani realized he "couldn't wait for the app to be awesome." To keep the company moving forward, he pitched large companies on the concept of providing on-site car washing for employees and visitors, making deals with the Peninsula Hotel, US Bank, USC and other downtown enterprises.
See Past the Hype
Even though Zani believes that "green" consumers are a huge and growing audience, he has also found that "many people aren’t as environmentally conscious as they pretend to be." As a result, he decided to pitch the company based on its on-demand benefit and overall quality, rather than its environmental advantages. His slogan is "World's best car wash. On demand."
Part of the problem, he acknowledges, is that the concept of "waterless" cleaning can be hard to grasp. "It's a huge educational effort to make people understand how their car can get cleaned and not scratched without using water," he says. "When you say 'waterless car wash on demand' it's an entirely different conversation than just saying 'car wash on demand.' "
His miscues to date are now (waterless) water under the bridge, as he prepares to meet the demand his on-demand business should enjoy thanks to winning the Cox Business Get Started event.