Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Interview with Chuck Gordon, Sparefoot
It's that time of year again: it's just about summer, students are out of school, people are on the move, and apparently, the self storage business is launching into its busiest time of the year. Austin-based startup Sparefoot (www.sparefoot.com) is at the center of that activity, so we thought we'd talk with CEO Chuck Gordon about the company and what it's up to.
First, for those who haven't heard about Sparefoot, tell us what you do?
Chuck Gordon: Sparefoot is the world's largest marketplace for self storage. Just like you can book hotel rooms on Hotels.com, you can book storage on Sparefoot. We let consumers compare prices, read reviews, see pictures, and do all of the things you're used to doing for hotels for storage space, including reserving a unit online. Basically, we're a comparison shopping site for storage.
What's the story behind Sparefoot?
Chuck Gordon: The original idea was actually quite different from what we do now. I saw a student at UCLA, and was originally from Washington, D.C. I was studying abroad in Singapore, and it storage in West LA was going to cost close to a thousand dollars when I was gone. My dad said that he was not willing to pay a thousand dollars for me to store my stuff, which was worth a hundred dollars. So, I ended up putting half of my stuff in Mario, my co-founder's garage in Bakersfield, and the other half in my girlfriend's attic in La Jolla. The original idea was to allow people to rent out their extra space for storage, much like an Airbnb for storage. That was the original idea, which we launched when I got back from Singapore.
At the end of 2008, the world was falling apart, and we were able to pitch to various press outlets about riding out the recession by renting out your unused space. We got on televisoin, in San Francisco, and in Los Angeles, and what ended up happening is all of these mom and pop storage operators saw us on television. They started up signing up for the site, which we were very surprised about, even though the site was not designed for them, and they'd sign up anyway. We determined that it was clear there were a lot of these storage companies who had demand for new tenants, and did research on the consumer side of self storage, and found that even though we'd been shopping for hotels and airplane tickets on comparison shopping sites for over ten years, you couldn't do that for storage. We figured out, hey, maybe comparison shopping for storage is the real opportunity here, and then we applied to Capital Factory in Austin, starting with that original idea, and figured out that the real opportunity was in comparisons for traditional self storage units. We came to the Capital Factory and made the switch when we got in.
Is that how you ended up in Austin?
Chuck Gordon: Yes, that is. It's been awesome. I had only been here once before I moved here, and as soon as we got here and set up shop, it was pretty evident we wanted to stay. The environment is great, the food is amazing, and it's much less expensive than California.
How is the business going now?
Chuck Gordon: Over the last couple of years, we've now signed up more than 6,000 storage facilities to advertise with us. On the consumer site, we run Sparefoot.com, Selfstorage.com, Selfstoragedeals.com, Selfstoragefinders.com, and more than 40 other websites. We also just signed a deal with Penske last week which is pretty huge. Penske is cross marketing us to their customers. We're chugging online and growing.
How did you connect with Penske?
Chuck Gordon: We've been working business development for awhile, trying to prove that we could help customers make their do it yourself moving experience even better. It just kind of made sense.
It's interesting to learn you have a number of domains--what's the domain strategy for your company?
Chuck Gordon: We have either acquired, or partnered with any storage related website out there, basically. We've definitely had success with our partner network.
It seems like storage is a seasonal business, how do you handle the ebb and flow in business?
Chuck Gordon: Summer is definitely really busy, an dour volume really increases. It doubled started in January. From our core team perspective, it actually doesn't really matter that much. It does, however, affect the call center, where you obviously have to have deep capacity. It's a bit of a challenge to staff up for summer, but it's not an uncommon thing to have to figure out.
What's biggest lesson you've learned in this whole startup process?
Chuck Gordon: I've learned that the most important part of your company is your team. The more awesome the people, the happier and the better the company will be.
Finally, what's the next big thing for you?
Chuck Gordon: As you probably saw with our deal with Penske, it was just Crazy Tuesday, the biggest day ever for us. We're now expecting to grow in a big way over the summer, and are focused on taking full advantage of the 2012 moving season and putting as many people into storage as we can.