Trust, Money & Divorce
Welcome to the very first episode of The Chirp! We know you have been anxiously awaiting the launch of this podcast from the moment we dropped our surprise trailer. Well, the time has finally come to bring The Chirp to the airwaves, and man do we have a wild story to share with you today. So, buckle up, get your listening ears ready, and dive into a Story 1: Don't Get Married In Your 20s.
This Episode In A Nutshell
Marriage is a delicate dance to get right. Two people come together to mix their finances, ambitions, and dreams together in hopes of making something magical. However, not all relationships have a fairy tale ending. Listen as we talk with CEO of washbnb, Daniel Cruz about his struggles with juggling his marriage, divorce, money, his career, and aspirations in life.
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Audio Transcript of Story 1: Don't Get Married In Your 20s
Hello and welcome to The Chirp. Cameron Laird is my name and I can't tell you how delighted I am to be hosting our very first episode. This is a podcast months in the making and now we finally get to release it to the masses.
So what are we all about? Earlier this year I sat down with Brian & Tilly, co-founders of Pigeon, which is a platform that allows friends and family to lend each other money in a structured, regulated way without any awkwardness or trouble involved.
Around the time of Pigeon’s inception and when Brian & Tilly were doing their market research, they heard countless stories of loans between friends and families and how it affected their relationships. Some were good, some were bad, some were downright terrible, but there was one commonality between them all: it is never easy to be involved in a loan with someone you are close with.
So we decided to create a space for people to share these stories, to listen in or watch (depending how you’re consuming this content), relate to these stories and to realize that, instead of shying away from these awkward tales, let's put them out in the open, diffuse the tension and learn from each other.
So if you have an uncomfortable story about a loan with a friend, a bad financial situation with a family member, or maybe even a positive lending story that actually worked out, we’d love to hear it! Drop me an email and let me know.
For our first episode I’ve been lucky to chat to a very talented entrepreneur named Daniel Cruz. Daniel is the co-founder of washbnb, a service for Airbnb hosts and hotels to get their linen collected, washed and returned, alleviating the huge workload that is laundry cleaning.
Daniel and his colleagues are hard at work in Atlanta, where they’ve recently joined the Techstars Global Network, but he was kind enough to take the time to chat to me about his genius ideas, his growing business and how he has had his own relationships affected by loans as well.
This was a great conversation with a great man who has done nothing short of kick-starting this podcast, and I very much hope you all enjoy this chat too. Let’s dive in!
Daniel, thank you so much for agreeing to chat with me today. When I heard you were coming on, I did so much research and one thing that I didn't know before was the amazing story of washbnb. I have come to know it quite well, but I'd love you to tell it to our listeners if you would mind.
Yeah, definitely! So washbnb is the brainchild or the result of my experience as an Airbnb host. I moved from Milwaukee to San Francisco in 2016 and took a job in Mexico. I was traveling a ton and so I was able to get my own place on Airbnb, just as sort of an experiment. I invested in a really cool neighborhood in Milwaukee and it turned out to go kind of gangbusters! So after about six months doing that, I added three more units and realized that I might be onto something here! However, I was instantly sort of overwhelmed with laundry. Imagine washing, drying, and folding everything in your house! All the bedsheets, linens, bath towels, and cleaning rags. You have to do that three or four times per week, multiply that by three or four properties, you quickly realize that laundry is this unsustainable full-time job. What I really wanted was a side hustle so I could build a business, do different things and expand my Airbnb property business. But what I got was a laundry job, and it took me about three years to realize that there's nobody sort of willing to take this problem on. And so washbnb was born from that!
What we do is we try to give Airbnb hosts and small hotels the experience of a big hotel. A big hotel has this massive laundry room. They have all these linens, they take them to the rooms, they replace everything and then they take the dirties back at the end of the day. It's like a magic bottomless closet, so that's what washbnb is! A bottomless linen closet for Airbnb hosts. We own the best linens you can buy, the same thing that you would get at the Ritz Carlton, and then we allow Airbnb hosts to rent them from us on a continuous basis. We got started about a year and a half ago right before the pandemic and now we're in the last month of TechStars right now in Atlanta.
I watched your presentation on ‘business pivots’ for the Indiana SBDC. Great talk, great presentation and I would implore everyone listening to check it out. It was really an inspiring talk from you. What's on the horizon for washbnb?
Yeah, great question. And thanks for checking that out. I almost forgot I did that! We did a bunch of fun appearances around that time. When the pandemic got started, we had just invested all of our money as well as quitting our jobs. And so we jumped into this business that we thought was going to be like gangbusters, like wildfire! But what happened was the week we started it, the pandemic sort of shut everything down, and they looked like everything was going to zero. And instead of sitting around crying over spilled milk, we start putting our heads together,
We said to ourselves, “We have no jobs, we have lots of time. We've got a little bit of money that we put in the business. Is there something else we can do with our time?” We realized people were really struggling with laundry, especially senior people. All the laundromats were basically closed, and this left people without this service in a time where hygiene and everything is important.
Standardization is important without the ability to get their clothes clean. So we quickly pivoted and said, “Hey, we've got cars, we've got these bags that we were going to use for our service. Let's Just open up a laundry bag service and provide it for free to people that are really struggling in the pandemic, especially seniors and lower-income people that don't have access to laundry, to begin with!” It was a great story and it really brought us together and showed us how to pivot. It showed us how to put our heads together. I think we went from that idea and concept to website functioning, taking orders within four days.
So there was a good experience for us, The New York Times picked up the story, and then that actually catapulted us back into the discussion because there are some hotels opening in Milwaukee at that time. And they came to us and said, Hey, I know you're targeting Airbnb hosts, but we read about your story we love it, is there any way you can do a small hotel, we said sure. And that sort of kicked us back into the washbnb thing. And so now we're very much on that. We want to keep pursuing washbnb as a scalable business, we want to change the conversation around sustainability, around quality, around what you expect when you check into an Airbnb, and what you actually receive. And at the same time helping our hosts and customers optimize for what they're best at, which would be providing hospitality, providing a repeatable, excellent stay.
And so we want to enable them to do that. In order for us to do that, we've got to have some combination of investments, some combination of team building and culture that supports that really like hospitality-driven mindset. And so that's why we decided to join TechStars! It combines investment with mentorship in the sort of startup mentality that we need to gain a little bit of. We have to buy a ton of sheets for building last-mile logistics. And so preparing ourselves for either additional investment, which we do so crowdfunding, which is how we met the Pigeon team. So the combination of crowdfunding and institutional investors and our own capital all making a go together, we want to get into as many markets as possible in the next five years.
When you left your day job, COVID put the biggest spanner of all time in the works. What did you do with that time? What kind of resources did you turn to? I know you said you had a bit of money saved, but describe your journey back to where you are now, at TechStars, being excited about the future, what was it like for the first little while?
Man, it was pretty terrifying! I was staring at zero in the face. I mean, I had spent 35 plus years building a career, moving all over the place, trying to like figure out where I belonged in the world. And had done a really good job, since I moved to Milwaukee, at combining Airbnb as a semi-passive stream of income. I was finding really good bartending jobs for the big sports teams in the area and networking my way through there, doing a little consulting in that space as well from my background in the alcohol beverage industry. Also I was working at GE Healthcare also at the time, and I recently decided to quit GE Healthcare thinking, “I've got these great airbnbs and I've got this great bartending income”. And so I'm like, “Alright, I'm going to quit this really good paying job at GE Healthcare and strategy so I can start washbnb.”
And within days, all of that disappeared. I've got all these expenses that I was planning on being able to pay for and now it looks like it's all gone. And who knows if that is gonna last forever.
The scariest thing that stood out to me was the fact that you had numerous properties there with no one to look after them financially. To have to have to worry about all these properties sends shivers down my spine!
Yeah, you captured that feeling. I think I had $60,000 to $80,000 in bookings just evaporate within a month. We were supposed to have the biggest summer ever in Milwaukee. And it all just went up in smoke instantly. I was frantically searching for ideas for opportunities for resources. And were those were going to come from, I wasn't quite sure. I think everybody was playing the same guessing game at the same time. And because everybody was doing the same time, you couldn't get ahold of anybody. If you called the bank, you were on hold for six days!
It has been the worst period in customer service history! So, we like to hear stories about how our relationships have been affected through money and through lending as well. Obviously, we've touched on how things were quite difficult during the pandemic, but do you have any kind of stories, washbnb related or no, where you have had relationships affected by lending or money in general?
Yeah, definitely. Not too much in the washbnb realm. And I think a big part of that is I taught myself through this one experience that I will share. If you are going to take money for your business as an investment, there should be some very clear structure around it. I knew washbnb was not at that stage especially going through the pandemic. Nobody I know that's really close to me, in my immediate family, has the sort of money to say, “here's a few $1,000! if you lose it, no big deal”. So with washbnb, I was trying to keep things separate. And I think that did create a little bit of tension between some of our co-founders about where the money would come from or how frequently or soon we would get paid. But I think we're able to manage those expectations quite well as this is a really uncertain time. We put our money in this thing, let's figure it out.
How long was the grace period before you actually started to see some returns?
About 18 months. We just got our first paycheck on September 15. And today's the 21st.
Congratulations. It's a good week!
Thank you. First-ever paycheck working for myself in terms of working for a company that I create.
So tell me that story that you were going to discuss.
So I went through a divorce after moving to Milwaukee, and the house was part of it. And it was something that needed to happen for a while. And it wasn't this bad, terrible thing, but financially, it was definitely a challenge. I was going through a period where I left my career field. And in 2014, I wanted to take some time off. I did some consulting and freelancing. But really, I was burned out. And I didn't really know that at the time. I wasn't performing super well on freelance jobs that I was taking, because I was distracted by just being burned out and not wanting to do a lot of work, and traveling and learning and do a whole bunch of other things.
And so going through that divorce process through there were things to separate and divide. And my ex had always made a lot more money than me. And she came from sort of a wealthier family. And so there was this natural tension that hey, here's this guy that doesn't really want to work and doesn't make a lot of money. It drove our decision to move to Milwaukee, and let me find the time to figure out what I'm going to do with my next couple of steps, career-wise.
That created just a ton of tension. And so finally we decided that, hey, let's separate things out. And we tried to do that in a pretty amicable way. And eventually, some agreements fell apart. And then it just becomes this crazy thing. I don't have a lot of liquid cash, it's tied up in divorce proceedings, I need to buy the house from her. And I need to figure out like where that money can come from, you know, from a bank loan from the lender of the house that because we did a land contract for the house. So there are all these documents, there are divorce proceedings, there's a land contract for a house, there's my parents who are willing to help me get through this transition, so I refinance the house.
So there's just this massive issue ($30,000 - $40,000) between my ex and I in relation to the house and if I wasn't able to secure that, I probably would have been forced to sell the house and, just by the nature of how everything worked out, I wasn't able to get a bank loan instantly. The timelines weren't working out so I needed to get money at one point. I needed to basically reassure her that I was going to get this money to her in a timely fashion.
So that's one loan that she's basically giving to me that I need to get the money to satisfy that loan, but I needed to create a new loan for that and then I need to go to a bank and get a new loan to like satisfy that. So there's like three layers here and only one has an official process right and that's getting a loan from a bank.
So when it comes to divorce proceedings, had you any idea of the the scenarios that would happen if you were to get divorced? Have you any kind of experience through other people that you knew about what would happen in terms of houses and money and things like that, or was this all just an onslaught of legal hell for you?
Somewhere in the middle, I think. I always took enough business law classes when I was going through school so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Me being the type of person I am, I just dove in headfirst and really focused on learning as much as I could.
I did end up having to hire a lawyer because things got to the point where it was not going to be sustainable without hiring a lawyer and I couldn't keep up fast enough or really understand what files to form. I wasn't a complete rookie but there's definitely a ton going on really quickly.
Do you wish that there was more educational material on this stuff out there?
Yeah, educational material would be helpful. Sometimes it's not that the material is not out there, it's just so disorganized and so spread out. You get the same thing when you're trying to research something online right now, you get just like an overwhelming number of responses, you don't know which ones are legitimate. You just get so much like sponsor delivered content, and you can just find the same exact article written in with conflicting opinions. So it's almost like you get that decision fatigue of what's right, where do I go for the right information?
What advice would you give your younger self? The marriage is an interesting story because it's not something that you anticipate to go awry and, in terms of the outcome, it's not something that you can in any way prepare for. But is there any advice that you would give to your younger self on how you could have handled things differently? Or maybe prepared a little bit better?
I mean, aside from not getting married in your 20s…?
Yeah, absolutely. We’ll take all answers!
I like to have this conversation. I'll be 39 in a few days and a lot of my friends are still just turning 30 or are around that age. And so there's just so much learning that happens from your mid-20s to your mid-30s. I like to all say, in your 20s, you're just kind of like learning that there is a game and you're learning the rules of those games. In your 30s, you're learning that you're playing the game and you're playing it relatively well, right? You understand the rules and you're getting better at it. And in your 40s what I hope to say is that you just get to dominate the game because you've got all the rules. You got enough experience playing in it ready to, to zoom ahead. Yeah, so I think that is part of it. There's just no skipping the experience.
I met somebody who's 26 the other day but It feels like she's 35, because he's just so like advanced so there are ways to skip ahead. But it's really about intentionality. I think most of these people that are really figuring it out have some sort of mindfulness practice or mindset, whether that be like yoga or meditation or just they're naturally good at internalizing, taking problems to other people, and learning from it quickly.
Looking back on things, there still isn't a whole ton that I would have changed because I view them as such great learning experiences. That marriage and that relationship taught me what types of relationships are going to be healthy for me and which types of relationships to potentially try to avoid. I thought I wanted something from my life for a long long time and then I sort of hadn't realized I was actually just chasing a false dream. It doesn't really connect to who I am as a person so and I don't know any way to like go do that without the experience. I don't view any of those as failures like it's a failed marriage but it was a huge launching off point for my life and it enabled me to do so many different things in my life that now bring me so much more fulfillment on a day to day basis.
Also, one last thing about all those transactions that happened in the past the thing that really was missing was trust and some sort of system that made that that trust concrete, so when you're going through a divorce and when you don't have a job to repay a loan from and you're dealing with family members, it's so hard to put that trust behind somebody, especially somebody that you're divorcing. I think trust is such a hard thing to replicate. I know that's one of the things that Pigeon solves for so I’m really excited for Brian and you guys and the whole team and what they're building. I think it's such a needed thing to help us, making communities smaller and increasing trust between people. Allowing them to facilitate transactions is such a huge huge mission.
Lending should be a part of what we do it's. It's an integral part of communities and has always been long, before money was ever invented as a sort of currency of trade. And so I'm all for exchanging of goods and services if you got something that's idle. There's a great way to either monetize it or to just increase your relationship with somebody because you're allowing them to use it. So I think that those are all just you know, great things that we should all continue to practice and doing. Be more intentional about. I talked about that a few times. Doing things with intentionality. You could just walk around with the blindfold over your head and get through life if you want. Or you can examine it examine the relationships you have with other people, take take ownership. I think that's those are all like really great things.
I appreciate you sharing the story and telling me about the story that's affected your life: one that you don't regret but, obviously, has affected you and made you a whole lot better as a human being
Before we wrap it up, I'd love for you to share your details so if people are listening to this and they want to get in touch with you, or learn more about washbnb, where can they find you?
So some really interesting things you can do to contact us right now is all of our socials are washbnb that's like Airbnb with a wash instead of air. Just the letters ‘bnb’. You can invest in washbnb, so you can check out our crowdfunding campaign. We're listed on Wefunder. You can just Google ‘Wefunder washbnb’ or it's https://washbnb.com.
You can email me Daniel@washbnb.com and then any of my socials as well feel free to reach out to me my messages are open. I'm slow to respond to everything, but I usually do get a response out at some point.
Fantastic. Daniel, it was an absolute pleasure talking to you and thank you so much for joining me today on The Chirp!
Can't wait to hear it. Thanks, Cameron!
So, there you go. I had so many take-aways from that conversation. Firstly I appreciated Daniel telling me about his ex-wife and how it ended in a very taxing way, financially. Not only was it a drawn-out process of 3 years, he had to jump through hoops sourcing loans to keep himself afloat. And, while he said that his marriage had ended amicably, their relationship had dissolved into a financial chore.
I also admired his resilience and teaching himself some contract law. But, despite his learnings, Daniel did have to get a lawyer. As he said, the information is out there, but not as accessible or easy-to-understand as it should be. I think people less informed would benefit from a knowledge base to access information should they be in the same situation. Food for thought.
Also, kudos to Daniel powering through the lockdown and keeping washbnb afloat. Planning on having a huge financially successful Summer in Milwaukee only to have COVID 19 come and destroy everything just sounded plain scary. I can't help but feel that his past struggles toughened him up to endure these set-backs.
And finally, Daniel’s words on “trust” resonated with me a lot. Loans fall flat on their face because of an absence of Trust. Banks don’t operate on trust when giving out loans, they operate on your credit score. Having a system in place to back-up that trust and ensure it’s never betrayed is a powerful thing. Something we at Pigeon work hard at to solve.
Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the first episode is over already! Thank you all for joining. Be sure to follow Pigeon on Social Media, Be sure to follow us whichever platform you are listening on. Be sure to visit the Pigeon Youtube Channel and subscribe to us there. Leave comments, reviews and email me with any stories you have. We want to grow and we can’t do it without our listeners and our watchers. We’ll be back in two weeks with another episode of the Chirp, so don’t miss it and we’ll see you then.