Rob Rebholz Co-Founder of SpaceWays
Epic Marketing Strategies & Customer Development 101 With Rob Rebholz of Spaceways
A very long time ago before I even considered starting a business, I once read that the self storage industry was a brilliant business model, and a booming industry.
Little did I know 4-5 years later I would be speaking to a disrupter of this industry.
Enter Rob Rebholz, Co-founder of Spaceways whom are currently turning the self storage industry on it’s head at a rapid pace, with the kind of growth that most startups would dream of.
- The story behind spaceways, how the idea was conceieved
- Marketing 101 and the power it can bring to your business if you done properly
- Customer Development, and how to find out what your customers truly want
- His experiences being backed by Rocket Internet
- Top web apps and tools that they are using to help manage a rapidly growing business and team
Full Transcript of the Podcast with Rob Rebholz
Nathan: Hey guys, welcome to the “Foundr Podcast.” Hope you’re all having a fantastic evening, or day, or morning, or night, or whatever you’re doing, thank you for sharing your earbuds with me. It’s an absolute pleasure. I’m really excited about today’s guest, this is a really interesting one. It’s with a founder called Rob Rebholz, and he is the founder of a company called SpaceWays and they are disrupting the storage industry, the self-storage industry. And it’s a very, very powerful model they have where it allows you… They’ve introduced technology with self-storage where it’s all on demand, all on request. And you can go online and you can get someone to come, pick up your stuff, and then you can get it delivered to you, and these guys are rapidly growing. And they’re founded out of Germany, and they’re backed by a company called Rocket Internet.
So, yeah, these guys are killing it. They’ve only been around for over a year or under, so it’s really interesting to hear how well they’re doing, how they’ve acquired customers early on. And Rob shares with me some brilliant marketing tactics, like he loves his marketing. And, yeah, this is a really, really fun interview. I got a lot of gold from Rob. He was really fun to talk to so I think I’m gonna…I think you’re really going to love this one. A ton of good marketing stuff. If you’re looking for good marketing tactics, strategies, tips, tricks,this is a great one. So let’s jump in to this show but before I do, I just wanted to let you know what’s happening in my world if it’s of interest. Just booked some flights to the States, which is pretty exciting. I think I may be doing a meet-up or something. It may be in NY or LA. So yeah, if you guys are…if this is of interest to you, please shoot me an email, [email protected], I would love to hear from you.
I’d love to meet some of you guys, you know. I try and meet and connect with as many members of our community as I can. So, yeah, things are going well. As mentioned, we’re doing this Instagram course. We’ve got some really, really big features coming, really interesting episodes. I just wish I could release them all right now but I just can’t, I have to drip feed them out, and I have to keep you guys entertained and interested, I can’t just get them all out there, I wish I could. But, stay tuned for many more awesome episodes to come. Business is going well, and I’m just having a whole ton of fun. So, I wish you all a fantastic day, evening, night, morning, wherever you are in the world. Now let’s jump into the show.
So, Rob, can you just tell me how you got your job?
Rob: My current job at SpaceWays?
Rob: I wouldn’t call it a job, I would say how I…kind of, how we came up with this opportunity and ended up launching SpaceWays. But what basically I…me and two of my friends from university, we’d been thinking about business ideas and launching a company for quite some time, and then, you know, at some point in time we were all, kind of, free to do something new. I had just sold my previous company and the two other guys, you know, had decided to quit their jobs, so we looked at business models, opportunities and fell in love with this idea, and decided to launch SpaceWays.
Nathan: I see. And can you tell us a little bit about Spaceways and how the idea came about?
Rob: Yeah. So, SpaceWays is an on-demand storage service, which means that people go to a website, they tell us how many boxes they need to store whatever items they don’t have room for, we deliver those boxes to their doorstep, free of charge, they pack the boxes, they collect any oversized items that they wanna store, we pick everything up, again, free of charge, people then pay a monthly storage fee. And whenever they want their stuff back, they just go online, let us know and we return their items within 24 hours. And people use us for all kinds of reasons. Well, there is people who are moving, there is people who are, you know, who are going abroad, renting out their apartments, or, you know, people using us for seasonal storage. So lots of use cases.
And we realized that this is an awesome business model when we looked at different markets and realized that the self-storage market is incredibly big, it’s still growing, it hasn’t changed, it hasn’t been disrupted in decades. Right? Self-storage is still done the way it’s been done 20 years ago, and so we just felt like there was a huge opportunity in that space, not only in the current markets, but also in terms of providing a new kind of service to people who would never have considered self-storage. And I would say that that’s one of our key marketing challenges, kind of, building a market.
Nathan: Yeah. Look I… When I first heard about you, I was very, very impressed with the idea. And, you know, I don’t know where I heard this, years and years ago before I even started my first business, you know, maybe “Forbes” or “Entrepreneur” recommended one of the top five business models or franchises to buy into was a self-storage business.
Rob: Yeah, it is an awesome business. I mean, if you look at the established players there, they have incredible gross margins and, you know, they are growing year on year but they’re not doing much to, kind of, improve their service offerings so it just makes sense, right?
Nathan: I see. So, when did you start this company?
Rob: We had started SpaceWays a bit more than a year ago. And yeah, it’s been quite a journey. We initially saw our headquarter, let’s say our overhead functions because we don’t see ourselves as a German company but our overhead functions are in Berlin. We then initially launched London, expanded to Paris, Chicago, Toronto, and now finally Sydney.
Nathan: I see. And I’m curious, like how much traction? Are you able to share with us? Fast forward, we touched on, you know, you started the company a year ago, it was quite young, can we fast forward to now where you guys are at? Like you’re obviously growing quite rapidly and expanding. Can you tell us just where you’re at now?
Rob: Yeah. So, London was our test market, it just made a lot of sense, right, because it’s close to Berlin. A lot of, you know, very high density, extremely high rents, etc. So London was our test market and we felt confident that we could, kind of, replicate the success around the world so we’ve started adding cities. And yeah, it’s been great. People really liked the business model and what we’re doing and that’s why we ended up in Sydney.
Nathan: I see. And how many…are you able to say how many customers, traction around…any numbers?
Rob: So we don’t share financials but, again, the reason why we’re expanding so fast is because it’s working. Right?
Nathan: Yeah. Okay. And I understand you guys you’ve received funding from Rocket?
Nathan: How did that come about? And can you tell us a little bit, for our listeners, about Rocket Internet.
Rob: So, Rocket Internet is a big European incubator and, you know, when the three of us decided to launch a company, we had various ideas, we talked to lots of people, you know, lots of investors, business angels, incubators and we were just…we really liked Rockets because they had the… They’re very driven, they’re extremely, you know, extremely experienced in building great companies and scaling them. So, yeah, we decided to build this company with Rocket.
Nathan: So you did an incubator with them?
Nathan: I see. So this incubator would have been a year ago?
Rob: Yeah, I mean, so we initially started out in the Rocket offices. You know, basically the three of us and a couple of Rocket guys that supported us and then, you know, step by step we became more independent, built our own team, moved out after around three months. And Rocket kept, you know, funding what we were doing because, I guess, they, kind of, they like the traction that we had.
Nathan: I think it’s a brilliant idea, it’s so smart and…
Rob: Thank you.
Nathan: I’m curious. Are there are any other players in this space, right now, doing what you guys are doing with disrupting this industry?
Rob: There is companies…there is companies like us around the world. So we’re definitely not the only ones. Basically in every major city there’s a company, kind of, trying something like that. The business model has first been tried in Chicago actually seven years ago, the guys who actually, you know, tried to build a company in the on-demand storage space, it didn’t succeed back then, but I think the time is right. I think people are a lot more…have become a lot more tech savvy and I think the opportunities to now really make this work and that’s what we’re seeing, right? We’re seeing that this works and this makes a lot of sense right now.
Nathan: Yeah, okay, I see. And, you know, how did you identify, when you’re in that incubator and you and your other two co-founders, how did you guys identify that this is a space you want to play in? Did you come to the incubator with the idea in mind that you were going to create SpaceWays, or did you…you just?
Rob: So when we decided to join Rocket, and we already had a couple of ideas, but then we sat down with Rocket and spent around two months actually, looking at other markets as well as business models that we thought were interesting, and ended up with this one, just because we just got really excited by this opportunity.
Nathan: Yes, I see. And I’m curious, you say that you sold your last company. What made you wanna do an incubator? Because generally incubators are for first time entrepreneurs, you know, first…early stage, you know. I’m curious around that.
Rob: You know, with my first company we… I really had…there is lots of challenges. Right? You’re always, one example, one challenge that you’re always facing is that you’re constantly fundraising. You initially bootstrap the business and then you’re getting, looking for angel financing, then you’re looking for VC financing, you’re always fundraising and it takes a lot of your time. With Rocket, we didn’t have that problem. You have a strong supporter that funds you as long as you show traction and, kind of, the whole topic of fundraising is a kind of, off the table. And you have access to amazing people, great resources which I thought was a great opportunity, and it’s proven to be very helpful in building this company. So I would say it depends, right? There are certain incubators and accelerators that are for first time entrepreneurs, and there is others where you can…that you can benefit from even if you are a bit more seasoned.
Nathan: I see. And can you tell us, because I know you handle all of the marketing and PR, like how are you driving traffic to the site? How are you getting buzz around SpaceWays? How are you growing it? Can you give us some really good tactics that are working for you guys now that others, listening to this, might be able to learn and apply to their business?
Rob: I can… I should probably start talking about all of the mistakes we’ve made.
Nathan: Okay, let’s start with the mistakes.
Rob: Plenty of those obviously. So, you know, we started out and we thought about targeting in a more traditional sense where, you know, we define target groups. The thing about, you know, in our case was students, as with young professionals, young families, etc. And you, kind of, create profiles for those people and you think about how to target them. That’s what we did, and then we realized that the people that end up using our service are not necessarily people who followed a certain demographic segment, but it’s rather people that go through life events. So it’s people who are moving, people who are, you know, starting relationships, people who are…sorry, who are moving in with their boyfriend or girlfriend and don’t wanna get rid of all of their stuff, it’s people breaking up, it’s people who like using it for seasonal storage. It’s rather the use cases that we have to target and that has changed our mindset, kind of, that realization and now we’re actually…you know, we’re not thinking about traditional customer groups, but we’re thinking about use cases, how to target people who would need us when they go through certain life events.
Nathan: I see. And how do you find those people right now?
Rob: It’s a mix of activities. I think there’s always going to be mass marketing channels where you just try to build the brand and it’s, kind of, spread the word through everything, you know, from online marketing, you know, banner advertising, to flyering. But, then, I think the big opportunity is actually being very targeted in the activities. So if you go on Facebook, you can target certain life events, right? So if somebody is, you know, changed their relationship status or has just moved and, kind of, indicated that on Facebook, you can target those people and tell them, “Hey, there’s…there’s an awesome service out there that might be beneficial.” If you’re talking about offline activities, and offline is quite an interesting channel for us because there is not that much search traffic for the stuff that we’re doing, you’ve got to think about partnerships. And I think that’s the big learning for us and that would be my recommendation to any, you know, entrepreneur, kind of, launching a company, think about who is already targeting the people that you want to use your service. So, in our case, that would, for instance, be real estate agents because the idea was people who are moving, and then you got to figure out how to incentivize those guys to promote your service.
Nathan: I see. So you’ve had some big…it sounds like you have big wins with partnerships with real estate companies.
Nathan: I see. And how did you guys come to that conclusion around that you were targeting, you know, coming out with a custom avatar or a certain kind of person as opposed to the events? How did you guys work that out?
Rob: I think you just have to be extremely data driven. Right? You’ve got to… At least that’s what we’re doing, you have to constantly, kind of, look at your customers and the people who are using the service and you’ve got to figure out how they found out about you, who they are, and whether there is, kind of, there is opportunity to get more people like that. You know, I think you always have to be talking to your customers to figure out, kind of, you know, what excites them about your service, and very often you realize that people are using you for reasons that you would have never expected. My favorite example is this girl or this guy who called us in London, you know, he asked us, you know, why we had delivered boxes to his doorstep. It turns out he’d broken up with his girlfriend, or his girlfriend had broken up with him and she had ordered boxes for him to move out. He ended up using us. But, you know, those are the use cases that you wouldn’t expect, right? You wouldn’t…you would never expect that people breaking up would be using your service, but if that’s the case, great, kind of, take it from there.
Nathan: And how exactly are you facilitating this customer feedback? Do you have it on automation? Like let’s say somebody purchases your service, do they get an order responder email that comes through? Like how are you facilitating that, out of curiosity?
Rob: So I think it’s always…it has to be a combination of automation, having like certain systems in place that, kind of, track customer satisfaction and that ensure that you…that you provide amazing service and that if anything goes wrong, you figure it out early on. But, at the same time, I think there’s nothing more valuable than picking up the phone and calling a few customers. I still get on the phone from time to time and call a couple of our customers just to figure out why they like us, what they wanna change about our service, etc., because those are the people that, you know, those are the people that paid money to use your service, and I think you’re gonna do everything you can to, kind of, make sure you turn those into ambassadors and find more like them.
Nathan: Yeah, this is really great and we’re getting quite technical. I’m curious, what exactly… Are there any specific must questions that you ask them when you speak to them on the phone?
Rob: I think the first question you have to ask is, you know, “How did you find out about us?” Because ultimately you wanna figure out which of your marketing channels are working, and then you kind of take it from there. You ask them, you know, why they…what they are using your for, which is very interesting very often because, again, people might use us for entirely different reasons than you would have expected. Then you just try to talk to them and figure out what they would improve, what they like about your service, etc.
Nathan: Okay, look, this is great, this is really useful stuff. Let’s switch gears and talk about, you know, your journey as an entrepreneur. Can you tell us a little bit about your first business? What number of business is this for you? How long have you been an entrepreneur?
Rob: Yeah, so in a former life, I was a management consultant.
Nathan: I see, yes.
Rob: So I took a pretty risk-averse path. And, you know, I always wanted to launch a company and then, you know, after a couple of years in management consulting, I just felt like the time was right. You know, two of my colleagues and me, we just had this idea for a company and, you know, we just decided to quit our jobs and launch this company and it’s been great. I didn’t regret that decision because it’s, you know, I think there’s a lot to being an entrepreneur, it’s a lot more challenging than any role in the corporate world just because it can be very extremely stressful. You know, I think it’s very rare that you just come up with an idea and you launch a company and then everything, you know, goes smoothly. I think you have to…you know, there’s very painful phases that you go through and it’s part of the journey and that’s what’s exciting at the same time.
Nathan: So, when was your… When did you launch your first company? And can you tell us a little bit about that, and how it was sold, and how that came about?
Rob: Yeah. So my first company was a web-only brand for kids fashion, so we were cutting out the middlemen. And, you know, as kids grow very, very quickly, we had this add on service where people could send back outgrown clothing and get a discount on their next purchase. And yeah, we… So we built that company and ultimately sold it to a bigger player that, you know, is integrating it into their portfolio.
Nathan: And when did you start that company, and how long did you work on that?
Rob: So, we started that company in 2011, and worked on it for the last three years.
Nathan: I see. And then you sold it and then moved, now you started SpaceWays?
Rob: Exactly, exactly.
Nathan: And before that you were a management consultant?
Nathan: And, you know, you talk about the journey of an entrepreneur, it’s very challenging. Can you tell us about some of the sacrifices you’ve had to make to get where you are today?
Rob: Sleep. I wouldn’t necessarily call it sacrifices. I mean, obviously, you’re not making as many as you would be making if you’re a, you know, a consultant or something like that. But I think, you know, nobody should go into entrepreneurship to get rich, I think you get into that field because you wanna, kind of, build something and that have an impact or…you know, I wouldn’t say that’s, kind of, sacrifice, making less money because that’s not what it’s about. Yeah, it’s stressful. We probably work a lot more than any other job. You work weekends, you work nights, just to see your baby. You, kind of, you wanna be successful, you want to figure out how to make things work so, you know, that’s definitely one of the other sacrifices that once again I wouldn’t consider a sacrifice, it’s just like it’s part of what you do as an entrepreneur. Never knowing, kind of, where you will be in three months or, you know, what’s gonna happen in three months, that’s obviously another challenge.
Nathan: Can you tell us about your size of your team and how you’re handling this rapid growth? Because I know it’s a quality problem to have but it can be hard.
Rob: Yeah, you know what, I think that’s a great question. So our team has grown to 40 people around the world, and we still take hiring extremely seriously. I think the team is the most important, the most important element to a successful company and what… You know, being in all those countries, we still try to ensure that we hire people who have, you know, who have entrepreneurial mindsets, who are driven, who are diverse but at the same time, get along with each other. And we try to maintain a culture of collaboration and support. I think that that’s extremely important because we don’t want, you know, the people running the countries be competing against each other. We are actually super happy that the people who are in our countries or managing the countries, the cities are actually, they check very regularly, they exchange ideas, they just push each other to, you know, to, kind of, be the best they can and in each city and that’s…I think that’s helped us a lot. And that’s the reason why we’ve been able to expand to all those cities because there’s lots of knowledge transfer and support. I think if there was, you know, an air or culture where you’re, kind of, competing against each other, that wouldn’t be possible.
Nathan: Yeah, I see. And you talk about teams and you think it’s one of the most critical things to building a successful company. You know, how do you structure teams? What do you look for when you’re hiring? You said you take that very seriously.
Rob: So, I mean, we have not hired a single person that we didn’t feel that they were 100% perfect for that job. You know, if you need somebody for a certain role and you don’t find that person for a month, two months, I think you shouldn’t, you know, go for somebody that you feel isn’t the person who is gonna do a great job in that role. You should spend another one month, two months, to find that person. And if that requires you to do 100 interviews, you’ve got to do 100 interviews. And I think, at the same time, when you interview people, it shouldn’t just be you but it should also be, you know, the people who are gonna work with them. Right? So we always have our staff to interviews as well to make sure that we hire the right people. I think that’s, kind of, the approach that you should be taking.
Nathan: And do you guys like to hire on skill or character?
Rob: I think it’s a combination, but I would say character is more important. I think what I’ve seen especially in startups is that if you go with 20 people who have like 10 years of experience, that isn’t always helpful because those are the guys who know how things have been done for the last 10 years, as opposed to being the ones who wanna figure out new ways to be successful and, you know, think outside the box.
Nathan: I see. Look, we have to work towards wrapping up. So I have a few questions around, you know, your learnings, if there’s anything you wish you knew now that…
Rob: Plenty of stuff.
Nathan: Please share away.
Rob: We probably don’t have enough time.
Nathan: All right, let’s go for top three then. Top three.
Rob: Top three. First thing is, and we’ve mentioned this, figuring out how to target, how to do targeting. And it is not always about going for, you know, demographics. Second thing is, you know, having a vision very early on. So, we, you know, we always, kind of, knew where we wanted to go, but I think it took us a bit too long to, you know, put our vision on paper and think about what it means to, kind of, strive to achieve that vision and communicate that to the team to, kind of, align everybody, so that’s the second thing. Third thing is…topic is I would say is the importance of being data driven in everything that you do. So I’m not saying we weren’t data driven when we launched this company, but we’ve become a lot more data driven over the last year. I mean, we check everything, we check… Like when we don’t do firing, we check the performance of, you know, locations, certain creatives, etc., and that has helped us immensely. So I would say being data driven at everything you do. I would say those are the three, the top three. I can probably think of another like 10 or 20, but let’s do that another time.
Nathan: Oh, good. No, those are some great ones. When you talk about data and tracking and testing, are there any notable web apps, or SaaS, or tools, that that you guys would recommend?
Rob: I would say you start out with, you know, the spreadsheets.
Rob: Yeah, you kind of, think about the relevant KPIs that you wanna track or that you should be tracking and then you create the spreadsheet. I’m not sure whether it makes sense as, you know, an early stage entrepreneur to use sophisticated tools. Obviously, you know, step by step you, kind of, you start using tools for tracking, let’s say, customer inquiries, etc., etc. But, initially, everything is pretty much spreadsheet based.
Nathan: And out of curiosity, what are some powerful tools that you guys are using right now to help with the growth of your business?
Rob: Asana is amazing. It’s this amazing portal management tool, and we go crazy on Asana. I mean, we’ve taken it as far as having created our own best practice guide for Asana. That’s how important Asana is for us just because it’s an amazing tool if you use it right. I think if you ensure that everybody understands how it works and people use it in a consistent way, it’s a big lifesaver especially if you’ve got teams across the world and you need to coordinate them and you wanna ensure that people don’t get, you know, like, 200 e-mails a day and then lose track of the things that they have to do, priorities, etc.
Nathan: That’s actually…that’s a really good one that I must ask you. You know, you’re managing a global team, you’re running a lot of your, obviously, all of your tasks through Asana. You know, what are some good best practices? Like just a couple of good tips for managing that team on Asana.
Rob: The first thing is, kind of, creating a proper structure. The first, creating a structure that’s consistent, right? You don’t want the team in Chicago be using one kind of structure and then the team in Sydney are coming up with an entirely different structure because that just creates confusion. So you want consistency in terms of the structure of the project you’re setting up, then you wanna ensure that everybody obviously uses it excellently to track certain tasks in a systematic manner, all right? You don’t want one person putting in all kinds of details in the Asana task and the next person just having, you know, kind of, too high level bullet points. You just have to ensure that whoever is…looking at certain tasks and looking at certain projects, gets what’s going on and isn’t confused. And you’ve got to constantly remind people to use Asana. So people just have so much stuff going on where everybody is overloaded, you just gotta make sure that everybody understands the importance of a tool like that, and uses it.
Nathan: And when we talk about tools, you know, what are some tools you use as an entrepreneur to help scale you up? Are there are any cool tools you use that you live by, on your phone, or any apps, web apps, anything?
Rob: I’m on Quora all the time.
Nathan: Quora. You like Quora?
Rob: I love it. I think that’s the best source of knowledge there is on the web next to your podcast, of course.
Nathan: Thank you.
Rob: Well, I think it’s, you know, you obviously, you know, try to…you, kind of, you read, you know, TechCrunch, etc., etc., but if you want, you know, insights and you want to drive people to certain topics, and hear from the experts, and, kind of, go a step beyond the usual stuff that’s written in articles that have been published, I would say Quora is an amazing source of knowledge. And I just love it. Like whenever I have spare time, I open Quora on my mobile and, kind of, read the articles.
Nathan: That’s a great one, that’s a great one. Okay, well, look, we have to work towards wrapping up, Rob. This is been a fantastic interviewe. I’ve had a lot of fun speaking with you, and we’ve covered lot of ground and we’ve got some really good stuff that people can take away. So, was there any things that you’d like to touch off with or finish off with? Any questions that you wanted me to ask you that I haven’t asked you? Any final words?
Rob: I think that’s one big question that you haven’t asked, and that’s where can people use our service?
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, please. Plug away, plug away.
Rob: spaceways.com.au. By the way, that’s another learning, right? In everything we’re doing, we’re always trying…we’re always selling, right? When we printed business cards, we didn’t just print regular business cards, but we printed codes on the back because I thought we can use them to, you know, to our service. I think in whatever you’re doing, I always think about how to find customers.
Nathan: Look, we have a global audience, so if there’s people that aren’t in Australia, the best place to find, just .com?
Rob: Yes, there is the .com, I would say just Google SpaceWays and then the city that you’re in, and you’re gonna find the relevant page. And yeah, feel free to check it out.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, thank you so much for taking time to speak with me, Rob. This has been a pleasure.
Rob: Thanks so much.