Yes, most good ideas have precedents. I think the value of iPads and Dropbox can be assessed with qualitative and quantitative analysis in meaningful ways. With Prim, however, the subtle details belie a more problematic relationships with users and workers.
Back of the envelope calculations (sorta):
Let's say I have 4 loads of laundry per week--colors, whites, towels, sheets & blanket/comforter. A low-end top-loading washing machine and dryer cost $400 each, new. So, in 12 weeks Prim has cost me more than buying a washing machine already. Average national price from a quick search at the EPA puts water cost at $2/1000 gallons; power is about $0.10/kWh. The cost-per-load at home runs users about $0.76, or $160/yr.
Given that a washer and dryer might run me around $800 (excluding tax) for low-end options, we're looking at around 525 loads to recoup the machine cost, or 131 weeks of laundry (2.5 yrs). In those 131 weeks, we've recouped the machine expense and spent an additional $400 in laundry costs. So, we're $1200 invested into doing our own laundry at home.
Average pricing at laundromats indicate that doing 4 loads will cost me less than the price of an additional load with Prim, or about the price of that additional load when including gas to get to the laundromat if I'm driving myself (which adds maybe $1-2 per week). In those 131 weeks, we're out about $1,965 (using the Prim extra load cost as our expected laundromat cost for 4 loads per week).
Cost with Prim over those 131 weeks? $9,170. $7,970 more than doing laundry at home with a machine the user owns and can take anywhere that allows them their own machine. Or $7,205 more than relying on a laundromat if one doesn't have such a residence.
I can think of a lot of things a user can do with $7-8K that can have a qualitative impact on each user's life. That's no small chunk of change. As another commenter remarked, Prim is betting entirely on users spending (hopefully) disposable income in a way that is of dubious personal and social utility.
Outsourcing such mundane chores for the sake of profit exacts an unbalanced price--users are losing a significant amount of money for which they receive no quantifiable return, and those employed to do their chores are left with mundane work that (hopefully) provides a subsistent standard of living. It is the commodification of chores by questionable assignment of non-deterministic values for which users and workers alike are paying an unreasonably high price.
I'd be very interested in understanding the metrics by which 'great value to users' is assessed and determined by YC, as I recognize this is merely a cash assessment. Moreover, I'd be really interested in determinations of value that incorporate some notion of improving society and people's lives in a qualitative way that isn't solely reliant upon subjective measurements of convenience and relying on statements about how much productivity is lost when doing laundry--which is highly dependent upon a dubious and dismissible premise that laundry is done during typical productive/working hours.
Obviously, if users want to throw $7-8K away on having someone do their laundry for them, and someone stands up to take that money, they're going to do it. But assigning increased convenience by offloading a mundane chore onto another human, who is getting far less out of the deal, as 'great value to the user' feels very wrong.
Moreover, the business costs seem to far outweigh the revenue potential. Assuming that a Prim employee is making minimum wage, it will take about 4 users with 4 loads of laundry per week to pay his/her salary. Or, if it's users who only need a load per week, that's about 12 single-load pickups. I presume Prim covers vehicle/gas costs to make these pickups, or are Prim employees showing up to people's residences (and, gasp, possibly having a key!) with their own vehicles, thus forcing employees to shoulder the transportation costs? If, as a user, I was having Prim do my laundry, the revenue of my 4 loads per week for 2.5 years would only cover about 28 weeks of salary at minimum wage. To stick around for the 2.5 years I need them compared to doing it myself, the employee costs is going to be just shy of $40K, and that doesn't include all the other business expenses. Just to pay one employee, Prim needs about 540 users doing 4 loads per week for 2.5 years, and I'm pretty sure that person is going to be unable to make all the pickups, much less complete all that laundry. Are there really that many people out there who want to overpay a company to complete a chore they can do in their free, non-productive time, to make Prim a viable business?
Disclaimer1: I have laundry running in the background while I'm writing comments on HN.
Disclaimer2: I am idealistic.
Disclaimer3: You're smarter than I am, undoubtedly know all of this, and are privy to information I am not. Thanks if you read this far. :)