Chuck Gordon Interview, CEO of SpareFoot Shares His Start-Up Experience
Chuck Gordon Interview
Today I have an interview with a remarkable Young Entrepreneur – Chuck Gordon, the CEO of SpareFoot – a venture-funded company that he started during his senior year at UCLA about one year ago. Chuck is just 22.
SpareFoot.com is like an Expedia for self storage. With more than 100,000 listings nationwide, SpareFoot has the largest inventory of storage options on the Web, making it a destination for consumers who don’t want to visit web site after web site or make a bunch of phone calls to find the best deal near them.
There is lots of great Takeaways here from Chuck — just one that I liked is:
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to fail quickly. If you think you know what’s going to work in any aspect of your startup, you are wrong
And another great quote that Chuck reminded us of is a quote from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, (about starting a company) who said:
Entrepreneurship is throwing yourself off a cliff, and building a plane on the way down
Thank you Chuck — very best wishes from everyone here at RetireAt21.com for the future success of SpareFoot.com
Enjoy the interview — and as always I look forward to your comments
Chuck Gordon Interview
First off – can we have a little background information on you – Where you live? How old you are? What motivates you? What inspires you?
I currently live in Austin, TX and I am 22 years old. I graduated from UCLA in March, packed my bags and moved to Texas when a great opportunity for SpareFoot presented itself. I’m motivated by many things, some of which include creating an awesome product that saves people time and money, building a company where everyone is excited to go into work everyday and of course, generating great returns for my team, my investors and myself.
1) You are founder of sparefoot.com – tell us how the company formed, you mentioned you were in college at the time? What made you go into this niche?
People often wonder how I got into the self storage industry, assuming that I must have been grandfathered-in. But, the original idea for SpareFoot was very different than it is today.
When we started back in 2008, SpareFoot was strictly a person to person marketplace for storage. People who had extra space in their garage, bedroom or backyard could rent it out to others who wanted to save money on storage. I came up with the idea when I was getting ready to study abroad in Singapore during my junior year at UCLA. I needed to find a place to keep all of my furniture for the entire year, and traditional self storage was going to cost thousands of dollars.
Needless to say, this was beyond my budget. I needed an alternative, so I distributed my stuff to a friend’s attic in Bakersfield, an apartment in Los Angeles and a garage in San Diego. In the process, I realized people could make and save money by doing just this. I teamed up with fellow UCLA students, Mario Feghali and Anna Andersen, as well as Anna’s older brother, Thor Andersen, to create a website facilitating person to person storage.
After launching in late 2008, we got some great traction, but we realized there was an even bigger opportunity in the storage industry itself. We expanded the marketplace and now offer traditional self storage units in addition to extra space in people’s homes.
2) Sparefoot.com has been described as Expedia for self storage. Could you elaborate on this?
Much like Expedia, SpareFoot gives consumers a true comparison shopping experience. SpareFoot is the only place you can book a self storage unit the same way you book an airplane ticket or hotel room on Expedia. Instead of visiting web site after web site and making phone call after phone call to compare and find the best deal on storage, SpareFoot offers customers an easy way to find the space they need from a single website in less than 5 minutes.
3) Can you share some of the biggest lessons you have learned personally and as a business as sparefoot.com has grown? If you were to start again, what might you do differently?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to fail quickly. If you think you know what’s going to work in any aspect of your startup, you are wrong. You have to try everything, iterate quickly and eventually you will figure out something that actually makes your company some money. We are still doing this everyday at SpareFoot.
4) What’s next for sparefoot.com? Where do you see the business in say 5 years time?
We are in the process of tripling our tech team so that we can execute even faster. In 5 years, SpareFoot will be the go-to destination for booking self storage units, saving millions of customers thousands of dollars and helping storage facilities fill their vacant units. We’ll probably be doing a few other things by then, but you will have to keep checking on us to find out.
5) Do you have any recommended strategies for getting customers who buy once to come back and use your service again – other than of course good service?
Getting return customers is a major challenge for SpareFoot because most people lease a self storage unit only once or twice in their lifetime. However, after making that buying decision, people stay in their storage unit for 13 months on average. We’ve even heard of cases where people rent for 30 years! Our challenge is to stay in front of the customer for the duration of their storage experience rather than getting them to book storage units multiple times.
That being said, I do believe breeding return customers requires a few critical elements. You need a great customer experience from start to finish. If you want your customers to come back, they need to like you. Deliver real value, prove that you care about your customer’s needs and treat them like real people rather than data points on a revenue graph.
6) Does social networking play any roll in your business? If so what?
Social networks and personal connections have far more influence on consumers than your marketing messages ever will – unless your business knows how to harness them,” co-author of Trust Agents Chris Brogan said. We use Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis and drive a fair amount of traffic to our site. Although these people don’t always convert to storage customers, it’s great for building awareness, keeping our friends and fans updated and even getting press. Our social media presence also gives people the sense that we are real people rather than a faceless company. We have developed good relationships with storage operators through Twitter, some of whom actually signed up after finding us there.
7) Do you have any suggestions for coping with set-backs, negative experiences?
My favorite quote about starting a company is from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, who said, “Entrepreneurship is throwing yourself off a cliff, and building a plane on the way down.” This is SO true. You have to roll with the punches, and expect to get punched. SpareFoot has definitely been a roller coaster ride, and it will continue to be that way until the day we get acquired (and probably after).
8: How do you keep your business focus – Do you have any suggestions for entrepreneurs who are experiencing challenging times?
Often times it’s hard to keep focused, but you have to prioritize the business above all else if you want it to work. Nothing about starting a business is easy, but you have to accept that and do what needs to be done.
9) Is there anyone that you look up to and model yourself on? (You can name more than one person)
We had the opportunity to participate in the Capital Factory startup incubator/accelerator program this summer, which gave us the opportunity to work one-on-one with 20 successful entrepreneurs (they’ve all started and sold at least one company). It’s pretty hard to name specific people that I look up to from this group, but you can find most of my role models on the Capital Factory mentor list.
10) Do you have any favourite business related or web design related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?
I just started reading The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Gary Blank, and so far it is fantastic. I would also recommend You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar by David Sandler and How Would You Move Mount Fuji? by William Poundstone.
11) What is the best advice you have ever been given?
12) As someone who has achieved success so young, what advice would you give to a Young Entrepreneur starting their first business today?
We’ve been successful in making it this far and raising Series A funding from Silverton Partners and Maples Investments, but in the end, it’s not true success until you exit. That being said, you need to surround yourself with brilliant people to move in the direction of success. This has been the case with the SpareFoot team from day one; you know you’ve done something right when everyone else at the conference table is smarter than you.
I also believe that big egos can hurt entrepreneurs. Yes, confidence is important, but understanding that you are young and don’t always have the right answer is equally as important. Surround yourself with people who’ve done it before and let them help you make decisions.