What do you do when you’ve got the qualifications and are ready to enter the world of formal employment? Do you take a job and settle down for the long haul? Or do you use that job to gain valuable experience before looking for a gap in the market and starting your own company? Rob Rebholz of SpaceWays chose the second option, seeing a gap in the self storage field and coming up with a plan to fill it. We spoke to him to find out more about his new venture.

 

Firstly, your concept looks very interesting, particularly for London where space is highly demanded, but short in available resources. So can you tell us a bit more about what SpaceWays does and offers?

Sure. We are an on demand storage company. So people go to our website www.spaceways.co.uk and tell us how many boxes they need as well as what oversized items they want to store. We then deliver the boxes to their doorstep free of charge, they pack them along with any oversized items, and we collect – again, free of charge. The client pays a monthly storage fee and whenever they want their things back they simply go online and let us know what they want returned and within 24 hours they receive their items back to their doorstep.

And how long have you been running the business for?

Almost a year – we launched SpaceWays in London in July 2014. A real startup!

And how did you discover this solution, in other words how did the idea come about and what makes you so passionate about it?

My two co-founders and I had been talking about opportunities, markets and business models for over a year, looked at plenty of markets and had been excited about a number of them. We realised though that the self storage market, as big as it is, is very old fashioned. We have all lived in big cities and had to deal with self storage, which we found super annoying, so the idea of coming in with a tech driven service really got us excited. There is quite an opportunity to leverage technology to make this market a lot more appealing to more people. We save a lot of money on real estate costs by having more remote efficient warehouse facilities. We can then reinvest that money into a better pick-up and delivery service.

spaceways website

So essentially the service is about logistics and moving the actual boxes around rather than just a central storage facility? 

There are different elements. I think one significant aspect is the logistics of moving big items around and storing them in a warehouse. The other aspect is warehouse management, the handling of the items and having everything returned within a short time frame. But it’s also about the technology behind all of that and how to provide your customers with the best service through the platform that you are building. 

So what is your personal background? Did you work for a storage or logistics company before and you saw this hole that can be filled?

I initially started my career as a management consultant. Two colleagues and I left the consulting firm after a couple of years to start our first company, which was a web only kids’ fashion brand. Very different! We sold that company and by that time I started talking to my two current co-founders, who I’ve known for a long time, and we got very excited about the SpaceWays business model. It’s a huge market and growing a lot, and the existing players are not really driven to change how the market works. They have facilities all over town and don’t see the need for a pick-up and delivery service.

Just driving around London I see a lot of advertising for Yellow Storage – would this be one of your main competitors?

That’s one of the big companies – there are quite a few really big international conglomerates. To some extent they are direct competition as they offer a similar service, but we are also disrupting their market and building our own market. There are people who would never consider self storage but who are now using SpaceWays because we store even only a few boxes or suitcases at a time. We also offer short term storage – people who go abroad to travel can now store their personal items with us and rent out their flats while they’re away. We love talking to our customers to find out what their needs are.

So you are able to provide a solution that can company with other tech companies?

Yes, and that is the interesting thing. Our customers are tech savvy. Our service somewhat is a luxury and people who use SpaceWays are often people who use other tech services, too.

Rob Rebholz Spaceways

Tell us a bit more about your personal background. Were there any entrepreneurs in your family who inspired you?

My dad is an entrepreneur. He used to run a company which he started with a friend of his. I saw what he did and I liked what I saw. After school I went into consulting which was more traditional, however it was a learning process on how to manage a company, manage problems and find solutions. After three years I realised it was the right time to leave and do something on my own rather than being stuck in a corporate environment.

You mentioned that you had two co-founders. What is there background? Any interesting stories about how you met?

My co-founders are David Fuchs and Martin Twellmeyer. We met about ten years ago at university and we’ve been close friends ever since. David started out in investment banking, then moved on to a big eCommerce company in Mexico. Martin also started out in consulting, then went into private equity.

Each of us brings different skills sets, which is fantastic for the company. We even live together at the moment! We want to work on SpaceWays 24/7, and when you’re building a new business especially in the first year being able to reach and see each other day and night is a big advantage.

Can you summarise what you see as your unique selling point?

There are various ways in which we are different. We try to be a lot more convenient than the companies who are already out there. Self storage isn’t, because you need to physically go there, which means you need a car. We try to be as affordable and flexible as possible. At SpaceWays, you can store one box for one month, if that’s what you need. You don’t need to rent an entire room or unit. When people come to us with special requests we always try to cater for those.

Tell us about any challenges or difficulties you have come up against in the year that you have been running?

There were lots of areas where we made mistakes. What was challenging was how quickly we grew – from one market to five cities and time zones really fast: London, Chicago, Paris, Toronto and Sydney. 

Interesting that there are none in Germany where you are from?

Germans are more reluctant to store their items away from home in a self storage facility, plus the need for space is not as big of an issue. Berlin for example is very affordable in terms of rent.

So do you have a metric to measure demand for a particular city?

Yes. We look at the cost of living, the scales, the size of the city, the current self storage set up, etc. If there are no facilities there may be a reason why people don’t want to store their things. 

Our goal was always to be the best we can be in each market so you always have to juggle the needs of going to another city while making sure that each existing market still gets our full attention. We have been able to build a big central team in Berlin which is supporting our local markets. We have 35 people in Berlin now and 5 in London.

In a startup, things can change quickly. So it’s really about experimenting, trying new things, but at the same time building an organisation that works. In our case you can’t ever mess up: You need to make sure that people’s very personal belongings are safe as you can’t just replace them when you lose them. This is a challenge and we didn’t always take the right steps but we are working on the perfect process. So far nothing has gotten lost and we’re working hard to keep it that way! Overall, being very efficient and coordinating everything – there was lots to learn!

spaceways team2

At some point, we had to step back, put our vision on paper and communicate this to the entire team and discuss it with them. This really gave us a boost and we should have done this earlier. You do need to take a step back occasionally!  It was intense growing into five markets because every country is different. You can use best practice throughout, but customer acquisition and partnerships are very different wherever you go.

And in terms of profitability are you going in the direction that you hoped?

London was our first and is our key market, and we decided to go to other markets when we felt we were on track in terms of growth and understood how to set up amazing operations. We are on the path of becoming better every day at what we do and growing in all areas. It’s fantastic to see the great demand for our service!

What are your goals and visions for the next few years? Do you have a vision statement?

Our vision is to be the company that people trust with their items. We want to be the company that provides the best customer service in this industry and the most flexible in terms of service offering. The idea is to be the go-to solution for self storage. Our vision is to establish our service in such a way that everybody in a big city will use it at some time.  

Last question – what would be the one bit of advice to a start up or founder of a new business?

Have a clear vision of where you want to go but take feedback very seriously and try to get as much of it as possible. You have to know what you want to build, but every day you need to ask yourself if you are doing the right thing, whether it makes sense and whether it is what your customers want. And always adjust accordingly. 

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