Austin-based startup SpareFoot.com is located in a fresh, modern, eco-friendly highrise office in downtown, and based on the name you might not know what they do. SpareFoot.com, is an online market place of self-serve storage units.
Co-founders of SpareFoot.com, Chuck Gordon and Mario Feghali are referred to collectively as "Chario" by company members. These dedicated entrepreneurs take Austin's mantra of "work hard, play hard" seriously. Chuck made it onto Forbes 30 under 30 list for 2012, and has fearlessly led SpareFoot from inception to $4.5 million in funding.
Chuck and Mario talked to us about SpareFoot and life in Austin.
How did you two meet?
Chuck: Freshman year at UCLA, we were assigned as suitemates. We’ve been together ever since. (Seriously, we live together.)
Mario: For SXSW week, we rented out our apartment on Airbnb before we realized we’d need a place to stay. We’re doing something we dubbed "Host Chario," where employees volunteer to host us at their respective homes one night each. Really looking forward to that.
Tell us about how SpareFoot came to be. It’s a unique idea. How did it get started?
Chuck: My junior year of college, 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.
Initially, I had the idea 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.
While in Singapore, I took 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 create 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 they had a need for new tenants, and with some reconfiguring, SpareFoot was born.
What were the initial reactions to SpareFoot?
Mario: Most people said it would never work. Some people said it was a good idea, but how were we going to make money? There were mostly negative responses...but that’s normal.
Mario, SpareFoot seems quite a diversion from psychobiology. How and why did you make this transition?
Mario: Well, I heard the siren song of storage calling my name and knew I had to find my way into the storage industry, one way or another. Actually, I was just interested in working on my own business and I believed in the idea.
Chuck, fine arts don’t seem to have much to do with SpareFoot. How and why did you make this transition?
Chuck: I was definitely always interested in making the transition. I had my own ceramics business in high school. I made different ceramics and sold them, but I really liked the business side of it.
How did your network grow? Did you find other businesses were excited to be a part of it or more resistant?
Chuck: It started because Mario and I called a number of storage facilities and convinced their owners to sign up. A few were excited, but most people were negative or tentative. Once we started generating new business for them, then they got excited.
Working as a startup in Austin has its advantages, including seed-stage mentoring company Capital Factory. How did you get involved with Capital Factory and what was it like working with them?
Chuck: We were applying to other incubator programs across the country when we heard about Capitol Factory. My former roommate’s older brother knew a guy from Capital Factory in Austin and he said, “You guys should really apply to this.” So we applied, we got accepted and we moved out here. From a personal network standpoint, it was plain perfect. What we wanted was access to people who could give us advice in certain situations. We were instantly connected to twenty entrepreneurs: whenever we had a question, we could ask. They were great during the actual Capitol Factory time two years ago, and they’ve been great since.
Did you find resistance among potential investors because your formal background is such a far cry from Sparefoot?
Mario: No, it wasn’t even discussed. If your background adds something to the equation, then they’ll take that into consideration. But if it’s irrelevant, they just evaluate your company and what you’ve built.
Why did you decide to hold a SXSW party? What do you expect the party to be like?
Chuck: We're throwing Spare Beats because SpareFoot specializes in awesome parties. What better time than SXSW Interactive to throw our biggest and best one yet? It's an opportunity to put our company on the map as a force in the tech startup world. The event has many marketing and recruiting benefits, and on the other hand we're getting to expose some amazing DJ talent.
Mario: The party is going to be insane. Great music, cool people, fun giveaways, food and drinks. Like Studio 54.
What are you looking forward to most at SXSW 2012?
Chuck: Besides Spare Beats, the entire Interactive aspect. It’s such a unique, cool way to network and meet other tech people. Silicon Valley comes to Austin.
Mario: The conditions of SX lead to great ideas.
What does the future hold for you and SpareFoot?
Mario: We’re going to continue to grow and serve the industry. Our ultimate goal is to generate more business for our clients while making self-storage as efficient as possible for consumers.
Chuck: Taking over the world.