Reported by Liku Zelleke
John Henry is a New Yorker that many in the startup community not only know of, but aspire to imitate. At 22, he built and sold an on-demand concierge service – in just two years.
Working towards becoming a jazz musician, Henry had to work in any job he could land to make ends meet. One of those jobs was as a doorman where he opened and held doors and hauled packages for Wall Street’s elite. It was there that he observed opulence and wealth firsthand, but says that “it didn’t feel obtainable.”
After switching jobs and moving to a high rise in Brooklyn, Henry came in contact with millionaires from various backgrounds. There was a dating coach, a professional rock climber, musicians and writers, but the most fascinating of them all was an ex-con who’d served 18 years in prison and created a multi-million dollar laundry service empire upon his release.
That ex-con, eventually became Henry’s closest confidant.
“He was sentenced at 19 years old; out at 37. By the time I met him at 44, he was already a self-made millionaire because he understood the value of time,” Henry said.
The ex-con noticed the friendly doorman’s knack for remembering names and anticipating needs and struck a deal with him: if Henry brought clothes to his laundry plant, he would charge him less to have them cleaned, thus ensuring he made a handsome profit.
To build his clientele list Henry reached out to his fellow doormen.
“I started going around here in Harlem for no other reason than it just resonated with me. I went to all the doormen in my cheap suit, with my cheap briefcase and my cheap business cards and I was like, ‘Hey, my name is John Henry. I’m a doorman too, and I understand that you’re the key to the building.’,” Henry recalls.
From his own experience he knew that residents complained about everything to doormen and so Henry made it a point to come around every day and buy them coffee,hoping to build relationships. It worked, and he soon had a growing list of clients as the doormen started recommending him.
Another resident in his building suggested that Henry cater to his dry cleaning needs. The client was working in New York’s television and film industry. Soon, he had all the dirty laundry he could handle which was a good thing because he would lose his job as a doorman.
By that time his account included the wardrobe for Law and Order, Orange is the New Black, White Collar, Spider Man II and even Broadway’s Mamma Mia – he was well on his way to the top.
Henry opened a store, got his MBA and started making even more money. But the best was yet to come in the form of a new employee.
“My last big move was bringing in a CTO, chief technology officer. He built some software because I saw things were headed in the tech direction. Then we became an on-demand laundry startup,” Henry says.
At the two-year mark, a private company made an offer to purchase his company and Henry accepted. Although he won’t say how much he was paid, he does admit it was enough to buy a house for his parents, provide for their retirement and even have some money left over for his next venture.