The Silicon Valley Way

By Bob Nieman, CLA Member posted 02-26-2018 11:39

When someone mentions “Silicon Valley,” your mind probably envisions high-tech behemoths such as Google, Facebook and Apple, or leading edge startups like the ones lampooned on HBO’s critically acclaimed comedy of the same name. However, there also are tens of thousands of small businesses all across the U.S. that run successful operations “the Silicon Valley way.”

What exactly does that mean and how can it help your laundry business grow and thrive? Here are nine lessons to be learned from companies that have struck it rich in the Valley:

1. Network like crazy. The first, and most important, rule of Silicon Valley is that your power comes from your network. You’re most likely to get a job, find an employee, or land a deal through friends or friends of friends. So be committed to developing and maintaining your network. Get out of store, join organizations, look for meet-ups, and get active in social networks.

2. Innovate. “Innovation” is an overused word, and vended laundries don’t necessarily have to be on the bleeding edge. But, as a store owner, you do have to evolve, embrace change, and be open to new technology. This means regularly updating your equipment and service offerings, as well as improving your overall operations.

3. Concentrate on high profit margin offerings. Silicon Valley companies rarely compete on price. Instead, they add value – such as Apple, through design and functionality – or they dominate their field – think about Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. Focus on selling services with higher profit margins, or perhaps develop new offerings that boast high margins. (For more on margins, don’t miss “Managing Your Margins,” the cover story in the March issue of PlanetLaundry magazine.)

4. Be nice to everyone. In Silicon Valley, everybody knows that your employee today may be your boss tomorrow. Everyone’s got an idea for a startup, and people there routinely change jobs every couple of years. Not long ago, Instagram founder Kevin Systrom was a barista at a local coffee shop. The takeaway here for laundry owners is that anyone can turn out to be a potential future client or business partner. So don’t burn bridges.

5. Treat employees well. Attract and retain the best people you can by paying well, offering competitive benefits, treating attendants fairly, and providing a lot of perks. You don’t have to give everyone free food and free transportation like some Silicon Valley companies do; however, create a workplace environment where everyone on staff wants to work hard to keep their great job.

6. Share. Silicon Valley has an “open source” attitude. Sharing is common, whether it’s information, connections, profits, or even company ownership. Tesla founder Elon Musk released the intellectual property for electric cars. There’s a feeling that the more you share, the more you get.

7. Failure is OK. You started a company, and it bombed? OK, according to the Silicon Valley way of thinking, now you’ve got experience. Perhaps someone else tried a particular business idea before, and it didn't work? No problem – you can do it better this time; their timing most likely wasn’t right. Again, the thought process should be: don’t let failure stop you.

8. Make the world a better place. On the television show “Silicon Valley” (which will upload its fifth season later this month), a running joke is that everyone – regardless of what they’re working on – thinks it will change the world. In real life, as laundry owners, it definitely helps to have that strong sense of purpose and passion toward solving some of the problems facing the communities the industry serves. By making a difference in your own neighborhood, you are indeed making the world a better place. (For more on how you can reach out to those in your community, visit:

9. Have fun. Silicon Valley tech companies are famous for elaborate company outings, as well as on-site massage therapists, pool tables, and even swimming pools. Of course, you can’t very well afford to pay your laundry attendants to play ping pong all day, but you get the point – find opportunities to build a positive company culture and have some fun at work.

All over the world, business owners are trying to recreate the success of Silicon Valley. In New York, there’s Silicon Alley. In Los Angeles, they have Silicon Beach. There’s even a Silicon Savannah in Africa.

So why not try to capture some of that Silicon Valley magic in your own laundry business? “Silicon Suds” has a nice ring to it.


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