Categorized | Shoestring Startup

SpareFoot: Leading a $22B Industry Into the 21st Century

SpareFoot: Leading a $22B Industry Into the 21st CenturyName of your company and URL?

SpareFoot, http://sparefoot.com

Date started?

Fall 2008

What is your product or service?

SpareFoot is the world’s largest search engine for consumers to find, compare and reserve self-storage units online. We also offer a suite of web marketing tools to help storage facility operators effectively reach modern customers. These include our advertising network listings, a local search solution and a complete website builder.

SpareFoot: Leading a $22B Industry Into the 21st Century

Chuck and Mario

Why did you start your company?

I’m from Washington, DC, but I went to college in California at UCLA. My junior year, I wanted to study abroad in Singapore, but I had to find a place to store my crap. In West LA, storing a couch and boxes would cost over 1,000 bucks. My dad nixed that idea, so I stored half my stuff at my friend Mario’s and half at my girlfriend’s house.

My initial idea was of a person-to-person site where people store items for others, a way for homeowners to make extra cash. Before I left for Singapore, I had this idea but didn’t really know what to do next.

When I arrived in Singapore, I enrolled in a new venture creation class, which was all about raising venture capital for your start-up. Two classes in, I thought, “This is awesome; this is what I want to do.” I learned how to write a business plan, and Mario and I convinced our parents, grandparents, and friends to give money to the cause. Actually, we got a substantial amount for just an idea: $80,000 that summer.

After I came back from Singapore, in the fall of 2008, Mario and I hired a web developer and began the initial site. At the time, the [economic] world was ending. With the angle of people riding out the recession, we got press coverage by just reaching out. We said, “Ride out the recession by making money with your unused space,” and the storage companies saw us on television.

We realized that storage operators have a need for new tenants. If you Google self-storage, you’ll get 8 or 9 mom and pops without pricing, you have to call each of them, and it would take you hours to write them down and compare them.

SpareFoot: Leading a $22B Industry Into the 21st CenturyHow was it financed?

In March 2009, the next step was to find a support network and apply to incubator programs. We applied to three: we got rejected twice, and we got the third one (Capital Factory). We moved out to Austin where so many experienced entrepreneurs work. Whenever we had a question about anything, we could get a quick recommendation. It was exactly what we needed.

Date officially launched?

October-December 2008

What free online or offline tools do you use?

Google Analytics, Google Keyword tool, PITA (our internal reporting platform), Scrum dev project management, Dropbox, WordPress, Google News Alerts, Mantis Bug Tracker

Do you use Social Media tools like Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn or ?

Website

Facebook

Twitter

LinkedIn

G+

YouTube – Do you have a YouTube video URL that you can share with us, and allow us to publish with your story (Actual video our readers should watch within the story, looks something like)

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

35

What almost killed your business in the start?

We had the old version of the site, and knew we were going to redesign it. Before we launched it, we called the top hundred storage operators, saying, “Hey, are you interested?” Cold-calling when most people were like, “We’ll see.” Those were the hardest sales times. We signed up a couple, launched the site, and then we got a deal with apartments.com. We got it and we could offer it, and the site starting picking up.

It was all dependent on signing people up. If we couldn’t get our first big partnership…every little deal we did was crucially important. If we weren’t closing the deals, we wouldn’t have survived.

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

Cold-calling, sales. You’re getting constantly rejected, you have to really suck it up and power through it. We were calling people we didn’t know asking them to buy something that didn’t exist yet. In college, people would ask what we were doing and write us off as crazy.

What type of marketing or advertising do you do?

SpareFoot handles our own marketing and advertising in-house with a small, dedicated team. We do pay-per-click advertising and experiment with a few other paid online channels. Another department handles SEO, working to drive organic search traffic to SpareFoot and our partner websites. Email marketing, social media, PR and editorial efforts (two blogs) are also managed in-house.

What would make your business more “Successful”?

Success for SpareFoot means that we are there whenever someone needs storage. We want to be present and show them our inventory. Also, we want to sign up as many companies as we can, and be integral in helping them grow their business.

Would you want to be acquired by a bigger company, run it yourself or sell in a couple of years?

We’re focused on building this business to be as big and as profitable as it can be.

- As told by Chuck Gordon, CEO, SpareFoot

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