College CEO: Soapy Joe’s Laundry Service

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Owner: Spencer Lewin, The George Washington University
www.soapyjoes.com

Imagine getting your clothing washed by a company called Wiener’s Cleaners. Soapy Joe’s laundry service was almost called just that – until the owner’s mother interfered. “The logo would have had a picture of a really dorky guy, like a big weenie,” says Spencer Lewin, who started the company when he graduated from The George Washington University in 2003. Too bad he changed his mind!

Soapy’s clients get laundry done once a week for about $200/semester. Labor is completed by outside workers at a piece of a Laundromat the business owns. The company even has a contract with GW now, so parents are notified of the service.

But everything wasn’t always as smooth and lucrative as it is today. Unlike most of his business school peers, Lewin wasn’t ready to jump into corporate America. So he and a pal got some start-up capital (about $20,000) and ran with an idea.

‘We started doing some of the interns’ (who lived in GW’s dorms) laundry over the summer,’ he says. ‘If we messed up it would be fine because they’d all be leaving anyway.’

Well, the guys didn’t screw up. Lewin talked to people before getting off the ground, important because “Once you start a business and you ask someone for advice they won’t really give you a full answer because they see you as competition.”

The company’s grown immensely since its inception. Its services about 1,200 students and corporate clients in D.C. Soapy’s earned in the high six figures this year, but Lewin would like to see it in the millions next year. He’s also willing to speak to kids at other schools to help run branches.

Though Lewin’s company is doing well, he’s not living the easy life. “There’s a really big misconception that when you run your own business you’re your own boss. The truth is that the customers are your boss,” he says. “It’s also a challenge because no one tells you what to do. You wake up in the morning and have to make your own schedule and figure out how to make Soapy Joe’s better and the customers happier.”

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