Chuck Gordon is Founder and CEO of self-storage finder SpareFoot. He holds a fine arts degree from UCLA, where he specialized in ceramic sculpture. Making and selling serving dishes ignited his interest in entrepreneurship.
SpareFoot originated as Chuck's cheap alternative to traditional storage while he studied abroad in Singapore during his junior year at UCLA. The stuff he stored at Co-Founder Mario’s house and girlfriend Anna’s house in 2008 is, of course, still sitting right where he left it.
[Photo by René Lego Photography]
TELL THE STORY OF SPAREFOOT
I'm originally from Washington, DC, went to school at UCLA, was going to study abroad in Singapore for my junior year and I had all this junk I needed to store and West LA storage is extremely expensive and my dad told me "I'm not paying a grand top store your junk that's worth a hundred bucks."
So, I said, OK, I guess that's fair, that makes sense. So I ended up storing half of it in my co-founder Mario's attic in Bakersfield, the other half in my girlfriend's garage in San Diego, and had the idea that people could rent out the extra space in the personal property as storage instead of a storage facility kind of like an Airbnb for storage.
I went to Singapore, I took some entrepreneurship classes, I learned about the whole startup world and a couple classes in, kinda said this is definitely what I want to do. So, came back home, wrote up a business plan with Mario, raised some money from our family and friends, launched the site at the end of the summer of '08, beginning of our fall year, our senior year, 2009.
And we launched it and of course as you probably remember, that was as all the financial markets were tanking and the recession was hitting hard and just the whole world was falling apart, it seemed like? Great time to start a business, so...
The news stations actually really like the angle of ride out the recession by renting out your unused space. So we got on TV in LA, San Francisco, got syndicated and what ended up happening was a lot of mom-and-pop storage companies saw us on TV and started signing up on the site -- even though the site was specifically not for
I mean, all the marketing copy was "We are the replacement for self storage" right? And they were still signing up, so we said, OK, why are they doing that? And we called them up, talk to them and realized they were just desperate for new tenants and they were going so far out of their way to get new business. And so we said, OK, that that's pretty interesting, there's clearly a strong demand there.
Did a little search a searching around on Google and realized if you Google "self storage Los Angeles" back then, you get Public Storage at the top, who did have prices, and then nine mom-and-pops with a phone number. So effectively, it was the exact same thing as the yellow pages.
So Mario and I are sitting around thinking, OK, well, we've been booking hotels online for ten years. You seriously can't do this with storage? And that's kind of when we realized, OK, maybe that's the real opportunity and that's how we ended up getting into the storage industry kind of accidentally.
And we applied to Capital Factory with the pitch of hey, this is how we started, this is what we want to switch it to. We want to come to Capital Factory to do that. And that's what we did.
So SpareFoot is the the world's largest marketplace for self storage. So if you need a self storage unit, you go to SpareFoot, comparison shop, find the best deal, book it online. And if you're a storage facility, you list your vacant units with us, and we'll help connect you to customers who need to rent a storage unit.
TALK ABOUT THE ROLE OF CAPITAL FACTORY IN YOUR STARTUP.
Capital Factory has been instrumental to SpareFoot for sure. When we came to Austin, it was essentially Mario and I and we didn't really know anyone or know anyone who had started tech company before or have any experience ourselves so being able to be instantly plugged into a network of twenty entrepreneurs who've started their own companies, sold them, built teams, know sales, know marketing, know all this stuff that we had no idea about and being able to get them to tackle our problems with us and help us move forward was amazing, absolutely amazing. So it actually materially helped us move our business forward.
But additionally, they all have amazing networks, types of people that they were able to introduce us to, also invaluable.
I think there's a lot of different kind of companies that would benefit from Capital Factory, but one kind in particular, which we definitely fit the bill of, is first-time entrepreneurs who are getting out there, they know they want to get their company off the ground they have a really big vision of how to -- of what they want it to be and they want it to be huge and successful, but they don't have the network, they don't have the experience, and they don't know the right people who can help them, kind of connect the dots.
That's what Capitol Factory provides, for sure. When we came, here we learned how to do sales, how to do SEO, how to do other kinds of marketing, all these things that we really didn't know anything about. Instantly introduced to people who knew all about them, had been doing it for years, and of course their network as well, of all the people they know, all the investors they know, it really helps you go from being just someone who has a, has a dream to being someone who has the tools now that equip you to go make that dream happen.
ANY ADVICE FOR UNDERGRADUATE ENTREPRENEURS?
It doesn't matter if you're in school, you can still start your company. Mario and I started SpareFoot during our senior year at UCLA. We still went to class, we still managed to get good grades. There's no reason you can't do both at the same time and frankly showing that you can do both at the same time? Makes your company and your story more appealing to those who you're trying to get to help you in the future.
The best advice I have for up-and-coming tech entrepreneurs is something that was ingrained very early on in Capitol Factory: fail fast, fail quickly. You have to understand that everything you try is not gonna work. And you need to just keep trying stuff until you find what does. We changed around what we were doing all the time at the beginning -- we still do all the time.
That's super important, and kind of what separates, I think, good entrepreneurs from ones who never make it is the fact that they can adapt, and change on a dime and do whatever it takes to make it happen.
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