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mark evans

Did you know it can be illegal to wash your car in your driveway in Toronto?

According to Chapter 681 of the city's municipal bylaws, "no persons shall discharge directly or indirectly, or deposit or cause or permit the discharge or deposit of sewage into a sanitary sewer."

Translation: You can't wash your car because the soap, dirt, oil and lubricants will go into the sewer.

It's a window of opportunity for Washly, which lets consumers make online bookings to have someone come to their home or office to wash their car. The cleaning system of the Mississauga, Ont.-based company uses a special polymer compound that is biodegradable, and uses only 170 millilitres of water.

It's not Washly's primary marketing message but it does let the company wrap itself in the eco-flag and provide consumers with another good reason to use its services. The concept emerged last year when Karan Walia realized he could provide consumers with a more convenient way to wash their cars.

"I went out, did some market research and some surveys, and came to the conclusion that consumers found it an inconvenience or were too lazy to get a car washed," Mr. Walia says.

The problem was that Mr. Walia needed a partner to develop the technology to launch Washly. While participating in Startup Weekend last November, he met Aysar Khalid, a developer, who quickly bought into Mr. Walia's idea. They started working on the project, launching the service in Mississauga in March and in Toronto last month.

"We are a platform that brings busy car owners and car washing enthusiasts together," the 22-year-old Mr. Walia says.

Mr. Walia adds that the people who wash the cars are professional detailers with lots of experience. After doing a background check, Washly gives them additional training and provides them with equipment and cleaning products. After an online booking is made, car washers nearby are notified by text message. Once a job is accepted, the customer will get a message that the cleaner is on the way, they get another message when the job has started, and a final message when the job has been completed. Washly customers can rate the work and provide additional feedback online.

Mr. Walia says the response has been enthusiastic, with more than 125 customers booked so far, including a growing group of repeat clients. To get the word out, Mr. Walia says he has been using social media, including offers of free car washes to customers who recommend the service to three friends on Twitter or Facebook. Washly has also been using guerilla marketing by having teams leave pamphlets on dirty cars to offer a 25-per-cent discount.

With aspirations to expand the service nationally by selling franchises, Mr. Walia says he is in discussions with angel investors and venture capitalists. He is also working on a related venture that would see Washly expand into the on-demand car-maintenance business, which would offer services such as oil changes, washer-fluid refills and tire rotations.

"We want to take brick-and-mortar mechanic shops online, and we want to provide service in on-demand fashion," he says. "The main reason we go to a mechanic is because our cars break down because we don't service them ourselves.

"This new business will be possible after raising money because there are a lot of expenses, including creating the hardware and talent."

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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