Wash.io and Pavlovs.dog

The power of instrumental conditioning and why Wash.io should move away from it.

For those of you who don’t live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC or Chicago, Wash.io is on-demand laundry service. The app allows customers to select a pickup and drop off time from 6am to midnight.Runners, who they call “ninjas”, bring reusable bags during the selected half hour window and return 24 hours later with clothes washed and folded or dry cleaned.

To strengthen the deal, Wash.io ninjas will arrive with a fresh cookie in hand with every pickup. How sweet you say. But there is something much more subtle in action. You sneaky app…

Why do I use Wash.io?

Wash.io vs Dry cleaners

Convenience. Wash.io is extremely convenient when it comes to saving me time: Drop off and pick up processes are friction-free, organized and well-communicated via texts/emails. The same process at a Dry cleaners requires time, effort and turn around times can vary, some taking up to several days.Wash.io takes this one.

Wash.io 1 — 0 Dry Cleaners

Price. Wash.io has a weight minimum of 15 lbs at $1.6 each, so you’re going to pay at least $24. Coupled with the fact that orders below $35 are charged $4 for delivery, you can easily expect at least $27. Dry cleaners, on the other hand, (based on personal experience) are cheaper on average in San Francisco. Dry cleaners take this one.

Wash.io 1 — 1 Dry Cleaners

Quality. This one is personal. I’ve only had a great experience with the returned garments from Wash.io. According to Yelp, this is not the same for all users. Overall, it tends to be very subjective and not standard. Similar experience for Dry Cleaners, none are the same. No one gets a point.

Wash.io 1 — 1 Dry Cleaners

Extra perks. Dry Cleaners have none, it’s a very transactional business. Wash.io does. They give you a cookie whenever you order! Wash.io takes this one.

Wash.io 2 — 1 Dry Cleaners

Wash.io wins me over thanks to the power of instrumental conditioning!


What is instrumental conditioning?

Instrumental conditioning is another term for operant conditioning, a learning process first described by Jerzy Konorski. In instrumental conditioning, reinforcements are used to either increase or decrease the probability that a behavior will occur again in the future.

There are two types of reinforcements. Positive and negative.

Examples positive reinforcements:

1. You exceed this month’s sales quota so your boss gives you a bonus.

2. Friends laughing at a joke you made, which will increase the likelihood of you using that joke again.

3. You use Wash.io so the ninja gives you a cookie.


Short term win — Long term problem

The main problem with instrumental conditioning is the potential satiation. Satiation happens when the reinforcement loses effectiveness. When satiation begins, the rate at which the desired behavior is displayed tapers off until it stops. Edible reinforcements are extremely prone to satiations. Too many cookies = Satiation (plus more miles on the treadmill ☺).

Thanks to instrumental conditioning my association of the Wash.io brand is now dual: great convenience & “free” cookie! When the latter wears off, I will become more price sensitive and Wash.io will become less appealing to me.

Finally in designing a positive reinforcement plan to jump start buzz and community, it is very important to move from less natural reinforcements (cookies) to more natural reinforcements (social proof).

The number of startups in the “Uber for X” space is increasing by the minute, competitive advantage will be based on price/quality/convenience. Certainly not the users’ sweet tooth.


In the end, this is another clear example that without an amazing product you will not be able to win over customer’s hearts. No matter the amount of sugar.


Thanks to @Jenntheginger88 (aka swipe), @Raymond_Gobberg, and@tylerkiwi (aka Messiah) who helped edit and refine this piece. Currently, I am doing Growth @tradecraft in San Francisco, stop by and say hi!

Let’s chat about cookies @NicoUngari!