"How convenient is it being tied to a time-slot?" Dragons' Den entrepreneur takes on tech giants
8 min read
27 March 2019
How many entrepreneurs can say with conviction that their business helps SMEs survive and prosper? Serial entrepreneur John Buni can. His business, CleanCloud, provides software for independent laundry businesses that helps them stay ahead of their larger counterparts.
John Buni is an entrepreneur on a mission. The quest in question? He’s making sure that independent businesses hold out against the global domination of big corporates, and against tech giants in particular.
His business CleanCloud offers an efficient and easy-to-use piece of software that allows independent laundry businesses to keep up with emails and process receipts, he’s ensuring that SMEs up-and-down the country preserve their livelihoods in the tough high-street climate.
Real Business, (RB): Where did your interest in the tech industry come from?
John Buni, (JB): It stemmed from an early age. My brother was, and still is, quite an enthusiastic computer programmer, and I would sit around and watch him coding and playing with computers.
My Dad was a satellite engineer, so technology has always been there.
I’ve always wanted the latest phone, the latest console, so I think it’s a part of me. I’ve always been fascinated by what tech can be used for. Especially in today’s world, when technology is so low cost, you can build something quite big really fast.
RB: Tell me about the CleanCloud founding story?
JB: Soon after I started my first business, Tailor Made London, we needed a way to manage garments going to and from alteration. When suits are made there are often adjustments required, so we needed a way to track where garments were at any one time.
At the time my CleanCloud co-founder David was renting a desk from me in the office, and he was working on a couple of online businesses. I was telling him about my problems and he said, ‘I could probably build something quite easily to fix that’. So we went away for a few days and built a system that allowed us to do what we wanted to.
It just so happened that I was in my local dry cleaner a few days after this, and I couldn’t find my suit that had been taken in. I didn’t have my ticket, and it wasn’t very efficient. So I said, ‘I’ve actually got a system that could help you manage this, help you keep your customers updated, and I think could really benefit you’.
We then gave him this technology and his started using it, giving us regular feedback, and over the next few months we built out the system. We realised that this was perfect for the dry cleaning and laundry industry.
RB: Why did you focus on independent dry cleaning businesses?
I’ve always been passionate about championing smaller businesses. It’s not easy when you’re trying to manage every part of your business day-to-day, and I felt that tech could help businesses like that just as it had helped me in the past. So whereas the larger dry cleaning chains have the resources to do all these things, independent dry cleaners who have great stories – their own heritage and brands – don’t necessarily have the technology to manage their business day-to-day. That impacts their sales and the quality of the service that they can offer their customers. So I thought by using technology, we could help businesses like this. It’s a $9 billion industry, and independent dry cleaners make up 80% of that.
RB: What would the global economic landscape look like without the contributions of SMEs?
SMEs are the powerhouse of the global economy, plain and simple. That’s why it’s so important to protect and defend their market share where possible. If it were not for SMEs, the laundry and dry cleaning sector would be dominated by people offering a homogenised product and offering. Smaller businesses also allow customers greater access to these services. Without them, you’d have larger chains in higher density areas, but outside of that you potentially wouldn’t get these smaller businesses, because it’s not worthwhile for the big chains to operate in them. So it increases the reach of the sector, and that goes for any given industry.
RB: Can you break down for me just how a SaaS solution works and why independent dry cleaners should use it?
Rather than buying an on-premises solution that you pay a one-off fee for, which is the old model, a software-as-a-service provider like CleanCloud is guaranteed to give you the most up-to-date tech solution. We’re always rolling out new features, every week. By paying a relatively small monthly instalment, our customers are guaranteeing that they’re always benefitting from the best system, and the best service, which you wouldn’t get from a traditional solution.
RB: Is there a risk that global businesses could one day wipe out SMEs? (Look at the way Amazon and Apple dictate the market). If so, how can we stop it? Do we need more government regulation?
That’s definitely a risk. You could see someone like Amazon investing in huge laundry plants and using their logistics network to run direct services to customers. The way to stop that from happening could partly be down to regulation. It’s not fair that a local dry cleaner has to pay business rates, sky-high rent and so on whereas an Amazon is able to avoid those costs, undercutting smaller rivals.
The benefit of SMEs, especially physical stores, is that they can operate in more convenient locations. A huge tech company might offer to come to your home or your work, but how convenient is it to be tied to a particular time-slot? If you’re walking past a store on your way to work, that fits more neatly into your day. So technology will allow smaller independents to challenge the likes of Amazon, because they’ll have the same technology, but to add to that you’ll have a more personalised and convenient service.
RB: Can you give me some growth statistics (from your two businesses), that you’re especially proud of?
CleanCloud has grown 200% year on year. We have 5,000 customers in 62 countries – everywhere from Kiribati to Burkina Faso, Chad, Haiti, and Iraq!