“Self-storage is very sexy contrary to popular belief,” said Chuck Gordon in response to the idea that self-storage isn’t the most appealing industry for a young entrepreneur to pursue. Chuck Gordon is co-founder and CEO of Sparefoot, the world’s largest online marketplace for self-storage. Gordon described Sparefoot as the ‘Hotels.com for storage’.
Chuck Gordon is from Washington, D.C., and attended UCLA. When he decided to study abroad in Singapore during his junior year, he needed a place to store his belongings. As one can imagine, Los Angeles isn’t the best place to find affordable storage. Instead of spending $1,000 on a storage space, Chuck put half of his stuff in his co-founder Mario’s attic in Bakersfield and the other half at his girlfriend’s place in San Diego. We all know the light bulb moment comes next; ‘there had to be a better way.’
Based on the idea of renting out your extra space to store other people’s stuff, Sparefoot was born. Launching the business in 2008 turned out to be perfect timing as people were searching for ways to make extra money as the economy took a tumble. News stations took the angle of riding out the recession by renting out your extra space and word quickly spread about the service. As the site gained popularity, small self-storage facilities started signing up on Sparefoot and listing their available units. Although their marketing was solely focused on being the replacement for self-storage, they couldn’t ignore the potential and seemingly high demand of self-storage facilities that were desperate for new tenants. After doing research on the consumer side of trying to find available storage and realizing a need existed there as well, the decision was made to focus on self-storage facilities instead of on renting out residential space.
Chuck Gordon started his career as an entrepreneur in another sexy type of business – ceramics. “In high school I had a ceramics business where I would make teapots, bowls, and more and sell at craft shows and online.” Chuck and Sparefoot are more than willing to make fun of themselves, which is demonstrated through their laid back personality, corporate culture and their videos, including this recently launched video about Sparefoot’s recruiting. It’s not the subject of the business that matters, but the approach.
Q: What has been the key to Sparefoot’s growth and success so far?
A: “We found a really good market and a really good opportunity, built an amazing team that has executed really well, and we’ve built a really strong culture that enables our team to execute well and also helps us recruit and retain awesome people”.
The strong culture that Gordon refers to is obvious through a glance at a job listing for an open position at Sparefoot. The perks section of the job description includes: full time chef serving free delicious lunches daily, stock options, a ridiculously cool work place, free downtown parking pass, unlimited beer, liquor and other beverages, more free snakes than you have ever seen before, sake bomb initiation for all new employees, shuffleboard, ping pong, pop-a-shot and foosball in the office, and no policy vacation policy (take the time you need as long as you do so responsibly). If one section of a job description would ever sell me on a job before the interview, this would be it.
To offer these amazing perks, a significant investment has to be made. I asked Chuck how the opportunity cost of spending extra on corporate culture and perks can be measured. He explained that you can’t measure a full-time chef with a ROI, but you have to do things like that to avoid being stagnant and boring. Spending on developing a culture and treating employees well has also paid dividends in retaining employees and unpredicted benefits like having employees interact with those from other departments of the company through their free lunches.
Whether self-storage is sexy or not, Sparefoot has done a solid job of making their company a very attractive place to work and a great story for young entrepreneurs to learn from. The opportunity was there for the taking and the founding team executed on it. Although a self-storage locker isn’t sexy, it looks like the future of Sparefoot is.
Find out more about Chuck Gordon and Sparefoot through the full audio interview and the highlights and quick-fire questions below.
- Best quote: “Self-storage is very sexy, contrary to popular belief”
- How Sparefoot made the pivot from concentrating on residential storage to commercial self-storage units.
- Insights on Sparefoot’s corporate culture and how their investments in their employees have paid off and will continue to pay dividends.
- Advice for young entrepreneurs: “Get out there and do it.” “Say, screw it, I’m going to do whatever it takes and I’m not taking no for an answer.”
Worst mistake as an entrepreneur? When you know there is a personnel problem, don’t wait, fix it right away.
If you couldn’t be an entrepreneur, where would you see yourself working? Real estate.
Favorite thing to do when you’re not working? Travel.
Favorite alcoholic drink? Extra dirty vodka martini.
Favorite musician? Three 6 Mafia
If you could recruit one entrepreneur to join your team at SpareFoot, who would it be and why? Elon Musk, seems to be the awesomest entrepreneur. He would be a huge asset to any team.