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Start Your Business Success Stories

How a French Entrepreneur's California Dreaming Led to a Conquest of the West Coast

How a French Entrepreneur's California Dreaming Led to a Conquest of the West Coast Credit: Washos

Being an entrepreneur is a mindset. We see a problem or an industry that is lagging and we feel a need to better it. We think: Why are we still doing it this way? How could we do this better? Smarter?

This led me to create Washos.

The idea was sparked on a weekend drive down the PCH during a routine visit to Los Angeles. As we drove, I noticed the plethora of car clubs out for drives, vintage cars on display and customized motorcycles cruising by. I was struck by the intensity of southern California's car culture. A lightbulb went off and suddenly it struck me – these cars and motorcycles on the road may create a lot of traffic, but they also create an opportunity.

I've always been an entrepreneur. I founded three companies in France and sold the last one to a large online media group before coming to the U.S.

Moving was a dream for me. While I love France, shortly after my son was born, it became even more apparent that Paris was no longer the right environment for our family. At the time, Paris' startup scene was lackluster, and entrepreneurial opportunities were few. The city had become too crowded, too expensive, too stressful and too small for the life we were looking for. We dreamt of a more relaxed cultural shift and sunny skies. 

It would be two more years before I made the leap with my wife and newborn son. Over those years, my partner Benjamin Guez and I got to work on researching and planning this new venture. We started researching the market and found that there are over 17 million registered cars on the road in both Los Angeles and Orange County. We knew LA was the obvious choice for Washos, but also for a new life with my wife and newborn son.

In November of 2014, we made the leap. We were drawn to LA's car culture, its thriving tech scene and the fact that it is a conglomerate of a hundred different cities made up of diverse cultures and lifestyles. We knew we made the right choice. Knowing where to start your business is a key aspect in ensuring the success of your venture.

Convenience is number one for most people, especially millennials and city dwellers who put a high premium on their time. No one wants to spend their weekend waiting in the car wash line. That's where we come in.

After the first six months, we struggled to find a balance between growth and quality. We had positioned our business model to fit with others in the gig economy and were therefore dealing with unreliable technicians. We couldn't scale at the pace we needed to sustain. We knew the only way to remain competitive was to ensure quality of service and customer satisfaction above all. That's when we started to train our own people and sparked the idea behind Washos Academies.

We began investing in our workforce and negotiated deals with major suppliers and providers to lower the cost of equipment so the technicians could own their own tools and earn income right away. This helped us build a strong, reliable network of detailers, offer superior quality and dependability to our customers, and scale at a quicker pace.

We've spent two years experimenting and perfecting our model in LA and Orange County. Now that we have become a leader in the space and have been able to scale appropriately, we are ready to expand to other cities. Our initial focus is on other California cities such as San Diego and San Francisco. From there we plan to enter other large U.S. cities. The expansion will rely on a very specific playbook – an expansion into cities that share similar characteristics such as urban density, car culture, populations of over a million and upper-middle class neighborhoods.

Additionally, we have a few new features planned to roll out in the app to provide more convenience, comfort and options to our clients. We envision Washos as becoming a concierge service for the aesthetics of your car – including services such as window tinting, windshield repair and scratch and dent removal. All aspects of our world are moving into an on-demand space. It's time the auto-detailing sector catches up.

Building Washos in LA has been a whirlwind journey. We're incredibly proud to be based in southern California and so pleased with the reception of our community. In the last quarter, we have doubled our user base and continue to see steady double-digit growth at 25 percent month over month.

I'd like to leave other immigrants embarking on their own entrepreneurial journey with one piece of advice: Focus on, and embrace, the cultural gap.

At first, the cultural differences can be overwhelming and frustrating; but it's important to try to understand and adjust to these variations. Speech, messaging, even correspondence and email protocols can conflict with the norms of where you are from; but to grow your business and succeed, you must embrace and adapt to them.

About the author: Bertrand Patriarca is the co-founder and CEO of Washos, Inc., a Los Angeles-based eco-friendly, on-demand auto detailing app.

Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.