A Chat with Reza Keshavarzi from WipeHero

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Gen caught up with Reza Keshavarzi, Founder of WipeHero.

Founded and based in Sydney, WipeHero brings the carwash to you, wherever you are, using their very own developed waterless technology - From custom to fleet vehicles, homeowner to business, it's the new and convenient way to get your car washed.

Watch the video here or look below to read the transcript:


G: Hey guys, I’m Gen George. Today I’m live in the weird bunker that we’re in at Fishburners. I'm here with Reza from WipeHero. Reza, who the hell are you?

[Laughter]

R: Hey, my name is Reza. I'm one of the co-founders of WipeHero. WipeHero is…we've basically created a technology which allows us to wash any vehicle at any time without a single drop of water. So instead of you wasting your time and our precious water resources going to a car wash, you can sit at your home or office wherever you are and we’ll come to you and wash your car on the spot. It's actually better for your car.

G: That’s awesome. And how'd you get into this startup?

R: Through the start. So I actually came to Australia to do my Master's initially, then I moved to the US to sort of do a PhD and then fellowship from Summerfest start up in the US and came back to Australia. I had no idea what I want to do so I started you know I was like okay…I put a stop…it was going well but you know…

G: So what did you do before this?

R: So it was a bio-tech startup.

G: Nice.

R: So we had some investment that we had raised and I guess things were going okay for the company but you know we went…in terms of the, basically me and the other founder weren't getting along very well. So you know I basically decided to move out of that company sure enough and came back to Australia and I had no idea what I was going to do so I start applying for jobs and I was like, “Oh, I want to do startups,” but then like maybe I need some money now.

[Laughter]

So I started you know applying for jobs and basically I couldn't get a job yeah and that's when the ideas of WipeHero was like…then and started chatting with my co-founder and you know basically…

G: Yeah so from your experience with your first co-founder by the sounds of Who Shall Not Be Named, what did you learn on how to approach you know with your new co-founder?

[Laughter]

R: I think communication is very key, um so if you like I see my co-founder more than I see my partner. Basically you know you see them every day and there's tension and there's money to go over, there’s …

G: Frustration.

R: There’s frustration and you know this and all of that involve…You know most people are not as rational as we want to think we are, we’re Not as rational, as you know as logical and rational we should be. So you know basically keeping the communication up, making it very clear on you know what I stand for, what I think is right and then getting it out of the way before it becomes this big thing in your head.

G: Yep, rip the band aid off early.

R: Exactly, and you know not only that but also having a very clear understanding of how you're contributing and how I’m contributing, making sure that both contributions are very much valued. So it was like…I’ve got to think the biggest issue that me and my other founder at my previous startup was both very similar people.

G: Yes.

R: We could…we were adding the same sort of values and then we were, you know, clashing because you know we basically didn't set things up.

G: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. So if you're going to find a co-founder again how would you approach it from day one? You would jump on Tinder?

[Laughter]

R: I don’t think…it's not something that I've nailed down the procedure for, it’s not like, “Okay I'm gonna go look for a co-founder,” that I know exactly what to do.

G: Yeah.

R: But it's just that you know putting yourself out there, having that exposure, talking to a lot of people and then having those...of these rough experiences or learning from these rough experiences and knowing the right decision to make, from there on. But, you know, if I want to like, “Oh I’m going to find a co-founder tomorrow,” I’ll probably just put myself out there, talk to people.

G: Yeah.

R: And like learn from my previous, like trying to implement the things…

G: Yeah. Do you take any of these learnings into when you're recruiting?

R: A hundred percent. Um, our interviews…

[Laughter]

G: Who are you?

[Laughter]

R: …take a long time. Some of our interviews take up to five-six hours, some don’t.

G: If there’s drinks involved?

[Laughter]

Or is it…?

[Laughter]

R: Yeah, yeah, there’s a couple where…startup life. But you know, we obviously take breaks, it’s not like you know, an interrogation. But it is pretty intense and I think it's the way I try to do it and I try to hit them with the same questions, like I say it's basically the same questions…differently and once you do that enough times you know you end up you know, getting that person even realizing like, “What I'm actually saying…”

G: Yep.

R: …you know the truth starts coming up you know stuff that you should say…

G: Yeah, definitely. So what size is your team now with WipeHero?

R: So we're at 12 people in the office.

G: What’s the breakdown about? Is that ops?

R: Make sure we've got five engineers, two people involved in ops and rest are marketing and you know basically dealing with growth. Um and we have over thirty people who are our heroes, you know actual you know people that do the jobs.

[Laughter]

G: Make that happen.

R: Exactly. Out on the roads in Sydney and Melbourne, cleaning cars.

G: Great.

R: Yeah and doing an amazing job so…

G: Awesome. So when did you make the decision to hire the first person outside of you and your co-founder?

R: When we basically couldn't you know feel would like in the sort of stuff that was coming in and even to this day there's still I think you know you know in a start-up, I’m not too sure am I supposed to look at the camera or look at you?

G: Oh you can look wherever you want. That’s all that your decision to make.

[Laughter]

R: Yes. But yeah the way we do it is that you know you're always under-resourced, at the moment, you know we’re severely under-resourced but it’s just that, you know, it hits a point where you like, “Okay I’m sacrificing too much for something that could be outsourced to someone else and then you…”

G: Or could be done better is it?

R: …could be done better because you know I feel like I have the team that work but I’m actually… there’s so much stuff, running on that, and they’re doing a great job.

G: Yeah, awesome. And so when you return, are you a…do you have a technical background?

R: Um so I've got an engineering background. So I’ve learned how to code a little bit but I can’t, like by any means code at all.

[Laughter]

R: So I know like, you know the basics of coding, but…

G: So when it came to hiring people with skillsets, how did you find them, how did you know that they were you know, legit?

R: Yeah.

G: How did you go about that process?

R: I don’t even know if I still know.

[Laughter]

R: And you know…

G: Your adviser is sitting there going “err.”

[Laughter]

R: Yeah, no, no. See, there they are. I know the rules. Go back to work, you’re the one who talks…No I think it’s, you know, so there's three things that are really important for hiring in my opinion…

G: Yeah.

R: …there's knowledge, skill and just, just, that person and the mentality…and you know sometimes you've got knowledge, but you don't have enough skill, sometimes you've got a lot of skill but you don't have knowledge and you don't have the passion to be full in. I think if you tick two of those boxes then that's, that's fine with me. You can apply the skills…if you tick two of those other…you actually, the passion has to be one of them.

G: Yeah.

R: So you have to have the passion and one of the skill or knowledge points…as long as you tick one of those boxes.

G: You can work the rest out.

R: …then you can work out, you know, you can either apply the knowledge or you can acquire the skill that you never had.

G: Yep.

R: But you know, and from that I think it's easier to hire people, rather than say, “Hey, you need to have this skill set, you need to be like this, you need to be like that.”

G: Yeah.

R: Because you know, I come from completely different background and I'm doing you know car wash here which is like…completely different…anyway, so if I've managed to acquire these skills and I’m pretty sure anyone can…do this.

G: Yes, definitely. And so, I mean as a second time founder, how do you learn to manage your time better? And your mental health, I know it’s a lot of stress having a startup, where people rely on you as a team, how do you go for that?

R: Look again it's not something that I've nailed down perfectly and you're always like learning…but you know, it’s, I think what I try to do is, have set locations where I do some things. So previously I would just like juggle work and like everything else at the same time but you know even at work I've got like certain places, certain rooms that I go to do certain things then I do certain other things that I do and so like at night, you have to, you know, like, I would like to not work, but most of the times I do end up working, but there's certain things that I just decided, like at night is for like, to respond to emails.

G: Yeah.

R: A little bit more chilled, there's no more…not stressful thinking about something, like I could basically close off emails and I could shut down some things.

G: Yeah.

R: So that, that helps me and you know basically taking breaks every now and then…

G: Yeah.

R: …before going insane…is just quite important.

G: Yeah. And do you do any sports or read books - things that aren’t necessarily work-related?

R: I love to say I do, but no, I don’t.

[Laughter]

I used to…no I used to…you know, like go swimming everyday but, you know, I think it’s…I have been pretty occupied.

G: Yeah, which is fine.

R: So you know I try to hit the gym every now and then, which, you know, swimming and gym every now and then.

G: Yep.

R: But it’s not like on a frequent basis.

G: So your average at the moment is once per twelve months?

[Laughter]

R: Not that bad.

[Laughter]

But yeah, no, I think probably once every week or once every two weeks.

G: That’s cool, okay yah. It's funny everyone's got such different approaches to it, they will literally block out their - you know every Thursday at 2 o'clock they're doing a dance lesson or something.

R: Yeah.

G: Just something to get them out of it that their environment, work environment. Or it’s just, just “Yeah, when it fits in, it fits in.”

R: I think of it maybe in the future you know, I will have to fit it in. At this stage I think it's really hard to fit it in.

G: Of course.

R: You know, I did it for a while where I was like you know, you know I'm usually you know want morning lessons, I get up in the morning, do a couple of hours of work, and then right before you know, coming to the office, you know, go to the gym and then come to the office but then it didn’t work out.

[Laughter]

G: Fair enough and that will keep changing. But how do you instill that sort of culture in your team? “What is your team culture?” would probably be a better question.

R: Look we get these, asked this question all the time in interviews and say these amazing things about the WipeHero culture, we Don't have a culture. If you join WipeHero, you’re there to build a culture right? We have set values and we know these things are important but it's not like these are the things that we stand for. No, but there's certain things that we don't stand for, we don't want to be associated with them but the rest we are at that stage where we’re still developing it.

G: Yep.

R: And we want all our team members to be involved in that as it develop. But you know basically the most important thing is as long as you keep the communication up and then the rest of the culture things, you know if you're feeling that we need to do this, we need to do that, this is important for the company culture you know that, that all comes along then you know keep it real all the way.

G: That’s great. Is there any sort of startups or founders or corporate teams that you kind of look to for advice or guidance or leadership I guess?

R: Most of the advice that I get is from the US because you know I've spent a few years in the U.S. initially studying and then having my own startup which, I am finding that is not as relevant for the culture in Australia. Because you know a lot of stuff that you say over there, you know might be working with that mentality in San Francisco or like you know Boston and you know when you apply it to here, to people here, you know, obviously the startups here are different, the culture, every single culture is different and it's not working as well. So you know I am starting to get that experience in the startup community, talk to more people, get to understand, you know.

G: Make new friends.

[Laughter]

R: Yeah, we've got amazing…like, investors that you know, I look up to so…

G: That’s great. How do you go about finding them? Or they find you? Tinder?

[Laughter]

R: Exactly, Tinder.

[Laughter]

I think it's just basically networking, like it wasn't like this, we never had like, “Oh, I'm gonna go like talk to 20 investors to be able to…”

G: Find one.

R: No, like, you know, like basically knew them from before, had a chat, then realized, they knew us and you know, they knew we wanted to raise and they wanted to be, part of it.

G: That's great. And so with your business then, how were you going about from day one trying to hack it together to scale it to then you know, where you are today following…

R: Yeah so supply and demand…we….

G: That’s one of the biggest challenges…

R: Exactly. So we don't have an open marketplace…

G: Yep.

R: It's still very much controlled. And you know because the, the difficulty in business that we have I guess, a unique thing that makes WipeHero incredibly unique and we've managed to crack that is because we're not just a marketplace where you take something to one end to the other, deliver it or you know and that's… that's the first part. And then the rest is actually delivering your service.

G: Yes.

R: Which comes with quality control, making sure they’re on time which it’s there for in the marketplace as well but you know there's a whole lot that, you know comes after they actually get to the address as well.

G: Yep.

R: So we actually do we control the marketplace and we limit…demand, based on our supply side, at the moment. We have let it open, every now and then.

G: Yep.

R: But you know we’re still experimenting on that.

G: Yeah, definitely. And what are the sort of things have you tested out you know when you think back to day one versus what you're testing out now? You know… from outside it's you know we'll just put up ads across the whole New South Wales, fingers crossed right?

[Laughter]

R: Yeah.

G: And then go “Why is no one signing up in Surry Hills? We need them!”.

R: Yeah.

G: Yeah, what sort of things were you doing day one versus what you're doing now?

R: Well, so like day one it was actually a lot of offline. So all the initial customers basically went, came from me or my co-founder. We were going out to car parks and saying “Hey, where would you car wash? Can we get your car washed?” Like you know, basically begging people to get the service. And then it went to us, putting us and you know, like I went out and basically put on an accent for a few of these washers just to get, you know understand well what's going on. Most of our washers do come from non-English backgrounds and most of them have been in Australia for a year or so and say they you know the way they interacted with people was different. So when we started, we basically got into that phase of “Let’s be washers” trying to figure out what was happening. Did that for a little while and then so we got the initial traction up. What we did was that we found that it was basically impossible for us to be able to…keep the density up enough where we can actually make it into a true marketplace. So that's why we went after the businesses.

G: Yeah.

R: So we acquired a lot of B2B clients and that helped us bring up the density, it gave us a very unique value proposition in terms of the marketplace that we had because we were we had density…

G: You controlled ….

R: Exactly and then you can control that plus you know, it was a lot easier for us to allocate an extra B2C customer in the meantime. So that helped us significantly and then yeah, from there we, you know just making everything very targeted, you know, don’t just go all over Sydney, make it very targeted to specific areas you know and not just making it…to areas, targeting to exactly you know, one day you target BMW owners, so use next day to target you know Mercedes owners. Make it very targeted and then again pushing back, going back to those guys, studying them exactly looking at how they came onboard, why they came onboard, why they’re happy, why they are unhappy and then you basically move forward from that.

G: That’s great….

[Laughter]

Bbesides itself, what are you using?

[Laughter]

R: Look in all honesty, you can do anything with Excel. Like you know if you’re starting up and like “what do you do with this…I’m like…just, I always swore because I’m like…totally against it, go f*#king back to Excel and get it done in Excel because…people are like “I need a dashboard to..” like, you know, “…make this…”, I’m like “You don’t need that. You need an Excel file and…” and they’re like, “How do I share that?” I’m like, “Google Drive, you can share that with most of the people.”

G: Yep.

R: And that’s how we started. At the moment, we’ve got a dashboard, where it tracks where these guys are coming from, how much are they paying for, what’s the experience has been like. And even though we have a dashboard, we still make a lot of mistakes, so you know, the dashboard has obviously improved. Yeah that's the most of stuff that we have you know because we've got an amazing tech team you know, you know use you know either tools that are out there ….

G: That's great and so what's next for you guys? I mean obviously…a lot more place to…

R: We’ll wash your car…that’s…the yellow car…

[Laughter]

G: I dare you can wash it.

[Laughter]

R: I did not book that actually…

[Laughter]

G: We’ll can do the next Facebook live getting the car washed. And then I guess you guys are planning on going international.

R: Yeah. We’re just thinking about that at the moment. We've started experimenting with the US market and where we want to be is and in a few years’ time you want to be basically the biggest car wash, not only car wash, we want to be a concierge for all cars.

G: Yes.

R: It's not just car washing. If you think about it from the day you get a car to the day you, you know you do the servicing, all these complicated things that goes on with your car….

G: Yeah.

R: And you know I don't see why you need to go sit at a service center for four hours until “Eh, let me change the oil now”.

G: …with the bad coffee.

[Laughter]

R: Exactly, really s*#t coffee. And there's no reason to do that. I think all that can be done at the push of a button. So the vision is everything that needs to be done with your car at the push of a button, be the biggest player in Australia and be very competitive overseas as well.

G: That's great and would you plan on rolling out to more cities in Australia first or do you think that it's following the most, biggest cities or similar cities, Sydney, Melbourne and outside of Australia first, rather than going across the …

R: I think, I think we have two sides of our business. There's been a B2B side and the B2C side. The B2B side, we know exactly how it works and we can expand that to most cities in Australia so that will happen. But you know the consumer side you know ….

G: Yeah.

R: We're actually in Sydney at the moment you know for I think in the next year or so, we will basically stick to Sydney at the moment and then look into doing it in other cities as well.

G: That’s great. What other startups do you look to for inspiration on what they're doing? Even if they're in different industries they're ones that you look at them and say “Wow, they're doing incredible things”.

R: I think, I think there’s…yeah, no.

[Laughter]

R: There’s not one that comes to the mind. The difference is that, the reason why I don’t like that is because I look at growth rates and look at companies that have made it and I’m like, “Okay, I want to be that” but because like each scenario is different, each business is different, each customer is different.

G: Yep.

R: I can't really bench myself against you know and there's nothing like WipeHero out there in the market, yeah? There's other people that have tried it and they failed it. I just don't want to be those guys.

G: And then Sydney startup community, you know, what do you think is working, what’s not working? What can be done there?

R: I think people were very nice and people don't realize how nice people are here. You know, very supportive community even though I keep telling people like in the Sydney Startup Facebook group, it took me six months before they accepted me getting in. I got rejected like five times.

G: I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t trust you.

[Laughter]

R: It’s probably the beard.

[Laughter]

R: But no it took a while for me to get into that but you know other than that like, actually the Sydney Startup community of people there, people don't realize that they're super nice, supportive and sometimes I think too nice.

G: Yeah.

R: I think the one thing that would probably help a lot of startups is if people were a little bit more real or a little bit more realistic. If you think some things…

G: Call it as it is.

R: Call it as it is, right? And people are like “I know a good idea”… I think like “I think you might do well …but you know these are the risks”, but you know just be aware of the risks in the taking.

G: Yeah.

R: And you know but I don't think that transparency is there…

G: And do you think that's the biggest difference between San Fran and here?

R: Yeah, a hundred percent. People are a lot more real, and you know a lot of time they're wrong. It's not like that culture is you know …

G: Yeah.

R: …is right. But I think the right balance is also like you know, a key. Putting it like, to far right or too left is always problematic.

G: Yeah and from a talent point of view how… what have you found personally?

R: Oh god I haven't had to do a lot of hiring in San Francisco, just…

G: I’m sorry, here in Australia, do you think you’ve got access to great talents? Do you think it's difficult, competitive…?

R: I think it's very difficult for certain areas.

G: Yeah.

R: Generally people…I think you know sometimes…it's growing a lot so…right. I went to the U.S. in 20….

G: 2013 I think.

R: Yeah, 2013. And when I went there, there was like you know going from…spent to like a year and a half-ish and…then when I went, before that I, like at universities, like…I don't think it was a startup thing…

G: Yep.

R: …at all, right? And people like if you have mentioned people I'm going to go…San Francisco. Even though I have…we had investors that I got like, “Oh, probably jobless” like you know…

G: Yeah.

R: I think people have understood that a little bit more, they've seen a couple of successes and it's been getting better, people do want to work as startups. I think it's still quite difficult to take these people onboard which are on like you know is 150, 160, 200k salaries.

G: Says “Well done sir,” I’m not sure if this is a question.

[Laughter]

R: Why don’t you just like it right away?

[Laughter]

G: Probably should have shot things as well at the same time!

[Laughter]

Sorry, please continue.

R: Yeah, we were talking about talent, aren’t we?

G: Yes.

R: It’s really hard sometimes to like you know bring people in…like incredibly high salaries and say “Hey look I’m going to pay you less…

G: “Take the risk”

[Laughter]

Yeah.

R: …more equity” and you know we’ve managed to do that. That’s why we’ve got amazing people onboard, but it hasn't been easy.

G: Yeah. And did you think that those things that people can be doing to assist with trying to bring more people in? Like do you think startups should be creating more visibility around? You know what they can and can't do….

R: 100%. I think you know, Shark Tank is not supposed to be aired like, is it Sunday?

G: I don’t know.

[Laughter]

R: It should be aired at a time, you know like if Big Brother…during the week, you know, when people actually watch it. Those sort of things if it gets shifted towards…

G: …mainstream.

R: Exactly and people get like “This is actually cool, I want to do this.”

G: Yeah.

R: and you know getting that exposure, you know would help a lot.

G: Yeah, that’s awesome. And I guess…there's certain podcasts and things that you listen to regularly or books that you've read that you think people should be reading?

R: I think “Zero to One” is like one hundred percent the best book in the world. But you know like after that I'm very much article reader … like you know “Zero to One,” but …

G: What other sources? Tech Crunch, things like that?

R: Exactly. Yeah you know like any article that comes around…our investors send us a whole lot of article to read, every time they see something, “Read this”...you know very much in a startup you know, and I get this question a lot “I want to start this, what do I read?” I’m like, “Okay, read ‘Zero to One.’”

G: Yeah.

R: But beyond that, it's not something…you know where you’re like “I want to read 20 books” and you know, start something. I think the way I do that is you know, keep moving forward and down the street I’m like, “Actually I know nothing about this,” then I need to read like a chapter of a book, like human psychology, like, “What do you do when the employees are pissed?”

[Laughter]

R: Stuff like that you know, read a chapter on that and then read an article on that. And then move forward. So like…

G: You have to study.

R: You have to study, have to get a bachelor’s degree to be able to do this start up.

G: Yeah, and that makes perfect sense. And I ask everyone this, so apologies for the randomness. If you could have a super power, what would it be?

R: ..it’s like a genie.

[Laughter]

G: And you’ve got kind of like a superhero, on your logo.

R: Yeah.

[Laughter]

G: Yeah.

R: If I had a superpower, I think I would probably bring in a lot more equality to the world.

G: Yep. And what's your experience been with that, in the Sydney startup community?

R: I think it's transformative….

[Laughter]

…it can be done. I think by quality I mean giving everyone you know a lot of times we think we're really talented, we’re amazing, like, “I’m really smart.” This is the phase that I was really stuck in but you know …I am really lucky to be where I am, like you know,  I was born in Iran, like I spent pretty much all my childhood and teenage years in Iran. I was lucky, that you know I wasn't like one of the bad ones in Iran, not bad ones, like one of the underprivileged ones in Iran, and I was like even though we were quite average, but being average is so…I don’t think I would be here today if I was like, let’s say, from an underprivileged families in Iran or from an underprivileged country…family in anywhere in the world. I think having that initial privilege is important to recognize and acknowledge and then from there on you do whatever you have and yes other people have had better opportunities than you in their own style but I think giving more people in the world that opportunity is, I think that's something I’m passionate about.

G: That's awesome. And do you involve in any sort of um community groups or things that actually actively work towards those sorts of things?

R: Having said that…

[Laughter]

Jokes aside, no, I don't think I do enough but you know there’s obviously little communities you know like especially the…a lot a lot of Persians that…when they come here, they’re like very scared and I try to get involved, help them out. I’m like, “It’s not as scary as you think it is, you need to just do this, do that.” But you know basically a lot of, a lot of actually immigrants, they see me a lot…like you just came …“How did you do this?” and I keep telling them like I had a very unique situation, it was like a little bit more privileged, but you know this is I think what you can do…get to that stage.

G: That’s fantastic. Well is there anything else that you want people to know about WipeHero, before we finish up?

R: Yeah, WipeHero is going to take over the world so be those first few people and so then if you see… and say “Look, I was the first…”

G: Initial adopter.

[Laughter]

R: Yeah, exactly, initial adopter. Get on it.

[Laughter]

G: So where can we go to check it out?

R: wipehero.com.au

G: And if anyone has questions about things, what, you know, what can you help people with, what can they hit you up about?

R: Facebook or LinkedIn.

G: Yeah.

R: I'm a bit slow in responding but you know I’ll make sure I respond.

G: Get there eventually.

[Laughter]

R: Yeah you could say like maybe three, four, five days, a week, but, you know, I’ll eventually respond.

G: That’s awesome. Thank you very much for your time. Appreciate it. Anyway guys see you next time and I can’t remember who’s next, but someone will be next.

[Laughter]