Interview with Chuck Gordon (SpareFoot)
SpareFoot is an online marketplace for self-storage based in Austin, TX.
I interviewed Chuck Gordon, SpareFoot founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and third in a series of DW startup interiews. Big thank you to Chuck!
How would you describe SpareFoot in under 50 words?
SpareFoot makes booking a self storage unit as easy as booking a hotel room. We have the largest inventory of storage units in the U.S., with a network of more than 6,500 facilities.
How did you meet co-founder Mario Feghali? How has your relationship benefited the success of SpareFoot?
Mario and I were assigned freshman year roommates at UCLA. The fact that we’ve lived in the same apartment since then has definitely helped SpareFoot because we get to talk about work 24/7, not just in the office.
Moving to Singapore was an influence to starting up a self-storage company, what experience did you gain in Singapore that helped you create SpareFoot?
I took two entrepreneurship classes when I was in Singapore where I learned about the startup world, VC funding, etc. I had the idea for SpareFoot before I went to Singapore, and in Singapore I learned some of the first steps of how to turn that idea into reality.
What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch SpareFoot in August 2008?
Storage was really expensive in west LA at the time and I needed a cheaper way to store my belongings while studying abroad in Singapore. This led me to the original idea for SpareFoot which was really more of an Airbnb for storage. Eventually we switched over to what we are today, but back in the day we were a person to person marketplace where you could rent space on someone’s personal property for storage instead of a storage facility.
How long did it take to put together the initial version of SpareFoot?
From the first time we raised money from our family and friends to the launch of our first site, it took us about 5 months.
Quoting yourself here, you have previously said, “Fail fast, fail quickly, you have to understand that not everyting is gonna work therefore you need to keep trying stuff to see what works best.” What failures or problems have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Well the most notable failure was our original person to person business model. We launched the site, got some traction, but ultimately realized that if we wanted this to be a big business we were going to need to throw out our current business model and start over. That sounds like a decision that would be hard to make, but you have to quickly identify what’s working and what’s not so you can adapt to the market as fast as possible.
After we shifted to the hotels.com for storage model, everything has been up and to the right.
You have a network of more than 6,500 facilities; how important are your networks towards the success of SpareFoot?
SpareFoot is nothing without our storage facilities. Since we’re a marketplace, the inventory is just as important as consumers.
How has exclusive partnerships with the likes of SelfStorage.com, Apartments.com and Penske Truck Rental helped and benefited SpareFoot?
These partnerships have been really great for both our storage facilities and our consumers. For facilities, we open the door to potential new renters that would have never found that facility without SpareFoot and our partnerships. For consumers, we help provide storage where they need it – whether that’s when they are booking a truck or renting an apartment.
Who do you see as your primary target audience? What methods do you use to reach out to them?
1 in every 10 households in the US rents a storage unit so our target market is very broad. Our strategy is to be wherever that person who needs storage is – buying a house, renting an apartment, searching on google, renting a truck, etc. Wherever they are, we want to be there.
With employing over 70 people, have you had any difficulties in finding talented developers and managers?
Hiring great people is always hard, but it’s also really critical to our success. We’ve built a really awesome place to work which definitely helps with recruiting. Just last week we were awarded the #1 Best Place to Work in Central Texas by the Austin Business Journal.
You’ve received over $4M in venture capital, how long did it take to secure the funding?
Well we’ve raised money on several occasions over the years, and each instance took a different amount of time. But the process has never taken more than a few months. I believe that is somewhat unusual though, it can take much longer.
Has SpareFoot got the feedback and growth you expected since launching in August 2008?
We are definitely achieving our dreams of building SpareFoot into a huge successful company.
With SpareFoot based in Austin and operating all around the US, is working and appealing worldwide a future idea and opportunity?
Potentially. Storage is a very American thing. There are 52,000 self storage facilities in the US and 10,000 in the entire rest of the world. So our opportunity at home is really the biggest.
Where do you see SpareFoot in 5 years time?
Hard question, but our ultimate mission is to make booking storage just as easy as booking a hotel room and we’re really just at the tip of the iceberg right now. There’s still a lot of innovating we need to do to get there.
What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?
Work hard play hard, fail quickly and strap in for the roller coaster ride you are about to get on!
Can you convince the reader to start using SpareFoot in under 50 words?
Next time you need a storage unit, visit SpareFoot to easily comparison shop, find the best deal and book online instead of calling 10 different storage facilities to get the same information.
Finished reading? Check out SpareFoot!