If you Can’t Make Time, MakeSpace

Posted on Sep 26, 2013 | 41 comments


If you Can’t Make Time, MakeSpace.

A few months ago I wrote about an entrepreneur, Sam Rosen, whom we brought on as an EIR at Upfront Ventures.

I would have liked to have been even more Upfront with you back then about our intentions with Sam but out of respect to him we held back on our broader thesis until now.

Today we announced our launch.

Here’s the deal.

I met up with Sam in NYC last year to talk about “what he was up to.” He was already a line to me, not a dot. He was on the list of people whom I tracked.

But.

His ideas to date hadn’t totally resonated and of course ideas matter, too.

So I was doing my job. I was in NYC and I lined up my usual 20 meetings on my trip. Sam was always on that list for a coffee.

On my meeting he told me about the impact Hurricane Sandy had had on him and his loved ones.

His message was that he realized he needed to move his girlfriend’s stuff into a storage facility due to apartment flooding.

I felt bad. I enquired what he was going to do.

Now remember that Sam is an entrepreneur. In stead of saying, “Poor me. Life sucks. I lost big time from this hurricane.”

What he said to me was …

“Mark. We are staring at losing everything. So I had clarity. I needed solutions. And every storage facility in town is a black box. I’ll move our stuff into a storage facility because I have no choice. But it ought to be better.”

“I have no other choice.”

“It ought to be better.”

My ears percolated.

Could it be better? Could YOU make it better?

He had ideas.

He told me that he imagined a world in which he didn’t have to drive to a remote location outside of NY to bring his stuff to.

He thought he’d want to get some of his stuff back once the post trauma of the storage had passed.

He wanted an Uber experience. But with storage.

I was ecstatic. It resonated.

Why?

When I was in college (UCSD, go Tritons!) I used storage. It was in San Diego and I had  space in my apartment but I had a lot of extra stuff that was easier stored in a facility. I had to drive 30 minutes southeast of La Jolla to find a unit and what a pain it was. I went back 2-3 times to retrieve stuff. Each time was a trip. Having the time back would have been a huge benefit to me. Worth the small fee to ship my requested items to me.

After school I joined Accenture and traveled the world on projects and storage became even more important.

But after several years on the road I had no fucking clue what was in my storage facility any more.

If you have storage, neither do you.

So what if physical storage was like DropBox?

That was our thought. Inventory your items with photos, store it in physical storage, demand back items when you wanted them and only what you wanted.

Brilliant.

My mom had called me one year before. She couldn’t find her passport. She tore the house upside down. Did she have it? Had she lost it? Or was it in that fracking storage facility off of the 52 freeway?

She drove out and looked for it. What a hassle. Turns out it wasn’t even at the storage facility.

Shouldn’t all your storage be inventoried with photos in 2013? Shouldn’t you be able to scroll through your storage facility online?

Shouldn’t the show “storage wars” be irrelevant? Ok. I’ll admit it. I’ve watched it a couple of times ;-)

That was the coffee meeting Sam and I had in New York. It was a love fest.

Within a few weeks he was an EIR in our offices in LA working on the idea.

They built the software. They researched storage solutions and logistics.

They recruited a brilliant team. One VC firm who decided to invest – High Peaks – liked the deal so much that one of their team members, Rahul Gandhi left to join MakeSpace!

I told them “keep your head down, mouth shut and build great stuff. We’ll announce it when we believe we’ve built a V1 that is valuable and tested.”

Then competitors started to launch. They felt the stress. The first one out even won a major tech conference award.

My advice?

Of course there is competition! Of course a show gave them an award! It’s a fucking brilliant idea! If no one competes THEN you should be worried.

So we stayed heads down until now.

We felt we had already built enough and learned enough to have advantages.

If you’ve ever driven to your storage facility. If you’ve ever wondered what is in your storage facility. If you’ve ever traveled to a storage facility to retrieve stuff. If you have aging parents who have a facility.

If you’re human.

Then you get this problem.

If you can’t make time, MakeSpace. At least in NYC, for now.

I can’t conceal my enthusiasm. I am certain big solutions will be built in this space. I think Sam and team have a good shot at winning.

Now you know.

  • http://birch.co/ Mark Birch

    Always liked that nugget “If no one competes THEN you should be worried.”

  • http://www.mywifipassword.com/ Parham Beheshti

    Great Post, Great Idea!!!
    Love it when the idea addresses an every day challenge with solid business model instead of few buzz words glued together sugar coated with future advertising model!
    How much more supply of advertising space can we handle?

  • Ayush Neupane

    One thought: In the age where collaborative consumption (and its culture) is on the rise, is this business going after a shrinking pie?

  • http://www.pickie.com/ Sonia Nagar

    What a smart idea.

    This could save NYC marriages! As a newlywed one of the biggest arguments I’ve had to date with my husband was around wanting to get rid of college stuff he’s been lugging around for a decade. We’re both too busy (and don’t have a car) so putting things into storage was too much hassle. As a result, I silently fumed every time I looked at the boxes “hiding” behind our couch in our 700sq ft apt… (3 years later I’ve managed to get rid of them, one box at a time… but it’s been a painful process).

    I love that Sam was a “line”. Great proof of the importance of building relationships as an entrepreneur.

  • cs-sy

    No — because they can easily evolve to have items that are communally owned, just like dropbox lets you share folders. There’s a problem with simultaneous access, but that’s what locking mechanisms are for!

  • http://www.samianrosen.com/ Samuel Ian Rosen

    Exactly! If anything we *enable* the sharing economy and it’s one of the reasons why Collaborative Fund (TaskRabbit, SkillShare) joined our round.

    One of the biggest hurdles with Collaborative Consumption is that it’s really a pain to share items logistically — friction from moving things back and forth between people. So you only see it with the most expensive items (like homes (Airbnb) or cars (GetAround)) But if items are in MakeSpace (aka a physical goods library), then MakeSpace can easily share a “folder” (bin…whatever) and empower the collaborative consumption culture because we’ve removed one of the friction points (a person) in the equation.

  • Ayush Neupane

    With the sharing economy angle through cataloging, that is brilliant!

  • willaaye

    Awesome post Mark and REALLY great advice regarding competition.

    I recently wrote about why more startups need to embrace competition instead of shying away from it: http://willweinraub.com/post/53269730823/stop-saying-you-have-no-competition-it-sounds

  • http://arnoldwaldstein.com/ awaldstein

    Space is urban areas is currency to some degree.

    The problem is very real.

    Need to look at the pricing as I thought I saw $29 for a few bins with delivery charge from NJ.

    How this maps to something like Manhattan Mini Storage is the kicker. 29 locations in Manhattan. One of my units is 8 depth x 4 width x 4.5 height is $122 month.

    The idea is a big one. The devil is definitely in the details.

  • http://www.samianrosen.com/ Samuel Ian Rosen

    Thank you Sonia! And if those boxes start to pile up, email me at sam@makespace.com and we’ll take great care of you.

  • http://stevecheney.com/ steve cheney

    Terrific post and story, Sam and Rahul are winners….

  • http://www.twitter.com/rohamg Roham

    Great post! I’m a boxbee customer here in SF and pretty happy with it, though I still strongly prefer donating or throwing something away vs storing it.

    In terms of business model, i see some challenges to the Boxbee/MakeSpace approach; the difference in enthusiasm between the early adopters vs the conservatives seems like it will be starker than most internet businesses given the psychological weight of giving your treasured possessions to a stranger to store somewhere unknown to you. even i had to wrestle with it for a bit.

    it gets worse when you provide more services: the thought of someone I dont know rifling through my stuff to take pictures, itemize, find and return things to me is simply not the same as Gmail indexing my email. The human element adds a huge privacy/security speed bump. i’m certainly not ok with it.

    unfortunately the usual go-to beach-heads of early adopters (universities) seem saturated with old storage co’s providing door-to-door service. Unless MakeSpace competes on price, the next logical step seems to be aiming at professionals. But increasingly the next generation of professionals are shunning material possessions in favor of experiences; storing things off-site seems counterproductive. That leaves families, who are adoption laggards.

    it’s a solid idea and a service that certainly *will* exist in the long-term, but they will need patient investors who can last through any unexpected delays in adoption given the structural challenges that may be encountered. It’s great they have UpFront on board!

  • http://hoodasaurabh.blogspot.com/ Saurabh Hooda

    Wow, what a solution to very common problem. Sharing (or donating or selling) things will now just be a (makespace) click away. People will use it in ways that -initially at the start of service – we can’t even imagine. All the best. Way to go!!

  • Hugo Campos

    Ideas are good yet worthless without proper execution to bring them from imagineland to reality.

    Thanks for the post Mark, you are always a good read :-)

    http://www.paulgraham.com/ideas.html

  • kermit64113

    Great idea. Can they also bring a “blue” or “red” box for Goodwill and Salvation Army items respectively? (Jim Patterson in Dallas)

  • William Pietri

    Very interesting, Mark!

    I was one of the mentors at the Lean Startup Machine in January 2012 when Boxbee got its start. The founder was scratching his head over a question something like, “what if there were a cloud for your stuff?” (Given your mention of Dropbox, it sounds like you’re thinking along similar lines.)

    I had just moved into a smaller space, so when I got what he was talking about, I prodded him into becoming his first customer. He did it in proper Lean Startup style, manually doing a quick concierge version of the product to force real-world learning.

    My congrats to MakeSpace; I’m glad to see there’s competition in the market. And I’ll be especially glad when a few more join. Two competitors tend to mirror one another, but a half-dozen means we’ll see much more innovation. And this is a space with a lot of potential.

  • http://www.alearningaday.com Rohan

    I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you guys this.. but cool idea!

  • Denny Britz

    Hm, I can’t identify with the problem, but that’s probably because I try to avoid owning “stuff” and keep my life as simple as possible. But the sharing economy angle is interesting indeed. If you can let me borrow stuff from other people for a few days and have speedy delivery this becomes a lot more than a storage service.

  • http://www.venturestab.com/ Jerome Gentolia

    Brilliant idea! Having an inventory and having someone do the inventory for you is equally brilliant. It is also really a pain to store and arrange things in a storage. It’s like playing a Tetris game for the first time trying to jam all your stuff in, making sure that you use space efficiently so you can fit everything. This alone takes sooo much labor and time.

    Yes, it definitely solved a very big pain!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    yup

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    for sure

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes. Think of MakeSpace as the place wives ship their husband’s old possessions ;-)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yup. They’ve been working hard on pricing. Still, Uber’s large business was initially built on high quality, not lowest price

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    for now we have customers take their own pictures. in the future we may provide this service upon request.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    thanks.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    thanks. agree. execution and details are everything

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    hey, jim. actually, that was a large part of our original discussion. not v1 but will likely exist.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    yes. i’m sure the competition will only make us all stronger.

  • http://arnoldwaldstein.com/ awaldstein

    I like the idea. Like the image of Dropbox in the real world.

    I’m the perfect test case and know that the stuff in storage is not just pics but its a lamp, a high school year book, ski stuff.Weird sizes and shapes.

    The biggest issue is not price, not even convenience but the grab bag, weird mixture of stuff that we do store.

    I wish them (and you) the best with this and will be watching.

    My email is arnold@waldstein.com so glad to be pitched as they get focused on customer acquisition.

  • http://daniellang.net/ Daniel Lang

    There’s an LA based company “clutter.io” which does exactly the same thing.

  • http://influads.com/ damiansen

    I like how @msuster:disqus seems to consistently “cuddle”;) for a while with entrepreneurs that he invests in. You can call it “connect the dots” but cuddling is a way cooler way of putting it :).

    I wonder how long is that in average and what is the min cuddling time that Mark took before investing in someone?

  • nateberkopec

    Interesting, but see above: ideas are nothing, execution is everything. And Sam is a smart dude.

  • http://www.bluecoastrecords.com/ Cookie Marenco

    Congrats on the launch! “Dropbox for the Real World” — great phrase.

  • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

    I love that idea…like really really love that idea. I’m a minimalist…and anything we can do to make it easier for people to get rid of stuff is a good thing.

  • Abs Ghosh

    Great idea. Hope MakeSpace makes it to London soon!

  • http://www.startupsandiego.co/ Eric Otterson

    Nice..but..uhm…shouldn’t we be throwing or giving the stuff away? You know the rule:”If you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it!”
    I know, some of it is just….tooo(sob)… hard (tear)…to let go….
    One giveaway solution, an early stage company, is DonorNation http://bit.ly/1bMMl7a
    - Sign up, sell, proceeds go to charity, you get write-off and three people are happy (you, charity, and buyer.)

    They are early, and there are likely others….

    Just trying to unchain you from your ‘baggage’ (wink).
    My problem is that I am in love with he boxes…I keep buying them at HomeDepot and storing more crap.
    I do love the idea of ringing up MakeSpace to deliver my holiday decorations and lights ‘JIT’!

  • Roger Jackson

    Conceptually a great idea, but so was home delivery of pet food — something that’s also a pain in the ass, requires driving to pickup stuff that’s relatively big & heavy — and look what happened to Pets.com. I see a couple of fundamental problems with the MakeSpace model. 1. I think most people rent storage for their “big stuff” (stereo, bikes, furniture, etc.) and then they “add” the smaller stuff. But it’s the smaller stuff that the MakeSpace model caters to with these rather small bins. Granted they’ll also pick up big stuff, but doubtless for a significant premium since bulky items like bikes are so much harder to store/retrieve with Amazon-type warehouse robots. 2. The delivery charge of $29 is steep — a lot more than the typical r/t cost of gas to go browse your storage place on a Saturday morning.

  • http://www.startupsandiego.co/ Eric Otterson

    Roger – think of this small stuff that is only used once or twice a year but takes up space: Haloween decorations, any holiday decoration for that matter, hiking gear, scuba gear (naww, you should sell that!), family heirlooms that you don’t want to use, but want to pass on….there’s some ‘small stuff ‘ in there….
    But, there is still the problem with gear – big stuff, as you mention, and the “out of sight, out of mind” issue… I WANT my gear in the garage to make me feel guilty and go out and use it!

  • Albert R

    I was considering using a similar service (http://www.storageo.com/) when moving recently. Just a brilliant idea. Best of luck to the team!

  • Dev

    This one (Mkespace) is a perfect example of funding going to a great team with a terrible business idea.

    It does not take much research/thinking to see that in its current iteration Makespace, as a business, is a complete dud (Essentially, their service useless outside of few really dense cities, and in those few cities there are many better, cheaper established services already available like TheBoxButler.com, etc.).

    I am just surprised that Mark and others did not comment on it– this investment is certainly looks like investment based solely on the strength of team and not on the product/business idea, which as it stand won’t result in any ROI on the $1.3M plunked…

    Dev

  • Alex Bertha

    Sam – this is really great thinking. Exploring how consumers think about their “small stuff” as it relates to storage, donation, sharing (collaborative economy), selling (ebay) is where this gets really interesting. Obviously down the road…but easy to see where this could quickly become as much a commerce platform as it is a storage service.