Entrepreneur Nic Marchesi left his dream job as a TV news cameraman to set up a mobile washing and shower service for the homeless. Three and a half years later, the twenty-something runs a fleet of mobile washing trucks enlisting the help of over 2000 volunteers. Orange Sky now turns over some $5million, is set up in over 170 locations around Australia and is helping 1000s of homeless people regain their dignity.
Marchesi tells Kochie’s Business Builders he never expected to be in this position. “I didn’t start Orange Sky to be CEO or CFO. I started it to help people and my job is to continue to inspire people and help volunteers connect,” he says.
In a world where many companies pay lip service to ‘social justice’ and ‘business with purpose’ Marchesi is the real deal. The 2016 Young Australian of the Year has built his business around altruism. And whilst Orange Sky Laundry has garnered some criticism from experts in the homeless sector as being ‘ineffective’. Marchesi explains he never planned to solve the issue of homelessness. He simply wanted to provide a much-needed service and to help people connect with each other.
“We (Marchesi and co-founder Lucas Patchett) just came up with this crazy idea of putting a washing machine in the back of a van. We got two washers and two dryers and named it ‘Sudsy’. The first hurdle was getting the van and getting the machines to work,” explains Marchesi of his ambitious plan.
The next step saw the duo up stumps and head up the coast to a major laundromat company to pitch their idea. Initially met with resistance, the pair refused to take no for an answer, and finally returned home with a van kitted out and ready for action. Their final hurdle was convincing someone to let them wash their clothes.
Enter Jordan, a homeless man the pair had met in a park, who coincidentally had done the same engineering degree as Lucas, less than a decade earlier.
“He put his washing in the machine and it worked and what we stumbled on that day was nothing to do with washing clothes and everything to do with having a chat,” Marchesi recalls.
From then on, the boys took to the streets and parks and railway underpasses each weekend and overnight to offer their services to the homeless community.
“We saw we were really onto something and that this was something that was going to help people,” Marchesi explains.
The pair recently launched their 35th van into operation in Busby in Sydney’s West. Marchesi still marvels at the rapidity with which the not-for-profit has grown.
“I think we just thought let’s just give it a crack. We got this van. We put washing machines in it, started driving around. We didn’t think we would operate around Australia. But we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, a lot about community and a lot about the challenges facing the homeless.”
As for Orange Sky’s long-term goal, Marchesi says it’s ‘all about connecting people”.
He suggests the true benefit of Orange Sky is not in the laundering of clothes but in the relationships and connections that take place while clients are waiting for their washing to finish. It’s this human element that excites Marchesi most of all.
“How do we measure someone not being lonely anymore?” he asks. “How do we put a figure on that? And what does connection mean to us?”
For Marchesi it’s these human bonds that are the true success of Orange Sky and he continues to search for further ways to help the homeless connect. The latest Orange Sky venture is Orange Sky Digital, a hatchback equipped with a big screen TV, internet access and a slew of chairs.
“A washing machine, a shower and Orange Sky Digital won’t put a roof over someone’s head. But that’s not our core mission. Our mission is to positively connect people.”