Given the economic climate in recent times, plenty of us are trying to do more with less. Particularly in cramped homes and offices, being able to clear space for new purposes has become a valuable asset but hiring out an entire storage container for a few heirlooms isn’t necessarily the most cost-effective approach. Fortunately, serial entrepreneur Brett Akker has hit on a solution: providing scaleable storage options for consumers and businesses alike with his new start-up Lovespace.
It was soon after selling his first enterprise, the carsharing service Streetcar, to industry giant Zipcar in 2010 that Akker decided to go back down the start-up route. “Probably too soon,” he jokes. The seed for Lovespace was first sown while he still was working for Zipcar, and before long he left to focus on the idea full-time. “They were actually really supportive,” says Akker. “I think they realised that once you’ve got the start-up bug it’s hard to let it go.”
Lovespace happened to come out of a chance discussion between Akker and Carl August Ameln, one of the original angels in Streetcar. “Brett said to Carl: ‘I enjoyed doing Streetcar; where can we do that again?’” relays Steve Folwell, managing director of Lovespace. Both Ameln and his partners Lasse Hoydal and Arnaud Ripert had extensive backgrounds in self-storage across Europe and Scandinavia. “They thought the concept of convenience, flexibility and value would work very well in storage,” he adds.
The basic idea behind Lovespace is to allow a flexible approach to storing items, allowing consumers to scale up their storage needs as required, rather than buying a huge amount of space of which they will use a fraction. “You can store one box, suitcase or bike rather than having to pay a small fortune to take a small store cupboard in one of the traditional provider’s locations,” says Folwell. “You’re only paying for the absolute space that you need.”
One might notice this focus on flexibility has a faint echo of Akker’s first start-up and this is certainly no coincidence. “The original conversation was, basically, about bringing Streetcar into another industry,” he explains. “What Streetcar did for car rental is what Lovespace does for traditional self-storage.”
With the sharing economy gaining increasing traction, it’s hardly surprising that savvy start-ups are catering to consumers looking to be more economical with their assets. “People’s views have changed dramatically in the last few years: what they used to maybe consider a necessity would now be considered a luxury,” Akker explains. Consumers might once have considered keeping a car that was only driven once a week in their drive but services like Streetcar arrived at the right time to provide them better value for money. “It’s the same with Lovespace – people are looking for that more granular option.”
Spotting a gap in the market is, of course, one thing but the first major hurdle for many an enterprise is securing the seed capital. Fortunately, Lovespace wasn’t lacking in backers willing to put their money where their mouth is. Not only did Akker and Ameln themselves stump up the readies, but Smedvig Capital – a former investor in Streetcar – was more than happy to follow suit.
Given that Lovespace involves physical storage, a collection and delivery infrastructure and a tech platform, it would be fair to assume that scaling things up would come with a few logistical headaches. But scaleability has been built in from the start, with everything from the digital platform to a partnership with courier company City Link for areas with lower delivery density allowing the business to grow organically.
However, that’s not to say that Lovespace can just take its scaleability as read either. Recently, the enterprise had to make 1,000 collections in a single day, more than all of their collections in April combined. Keeping up with the enterprise’s rapid growth means its team needs to be able to scale alongside everything else. “Everything from a digital and logistical perspective scaled beautifully,” Folwell says. “But building a team quickly enough to keep up: that’s the challenge.”
Fortunately, the enterprise doesn’t seem to be struggling to draw in talent. “We’ve done a good job somehow of recruiting a fantastic team here,” says Akker. “It’s really exciting.” From Akker and Folwell themselves to their dream team of storage experts, Ameln, Hoydal and Ripert, every member of Lovespace adds significantly to the enterprise’s credibility. “Our storage experience on the board of directors is very strong,” he adds.
This has inevitably helped them in securing some of their key strategic partners. “Early on, we struck up two terrific partnerships – they’re very trusted brands that don’t partner with just anyone,” says Folwell. The first is with Oxfam – for every three boxes a customer stores with Lovespace, the enterprise will deliver a box of unwanted possessions to the charity. The second allows expectant mothers to purchase all they need for their coming baby in a Mothercare store and Lovespace will store and deliver the goods for when they’re actually needed. “I’m not sure that would have been easy to do without the credentials that we have collectively round the table,” Folwell comments.
These partnerships, in turn, have added a very palpable impact on the enterprise’s ability to build trust with its consumers. “From day one, partnerships have been crucial,” explains Akker. “In terms of the people we’re looking to target, doing that through trusted third parties is far easier.” And slowly but surely this has had a pronounced effect on Lovespace’s profile, meaning that the enterprise has been attracting its fair share of champions and advocates.
Which is why, when Lovespace began to look for its next cash injunction, there was only one natural choice. “We decided to do it through crowdfunding because we’d had a lot of interest from partners, customers, angels at different levels who just thought it was a brilliant idea,” says Folwell.
Launching its round on Crowdcube, Lovespace could scarcely have anticipated the response it would receive. “We obviously went in looking for £600,000; we felt that would get us through to the end of the year and the peak student storage season over the summer,” says Akker. However, the start-up became a little part of crowdfunding history, when it smashed its original target and raised an additional £1m of capital, pulling in funds from consumers, angels such as Humphrey Cobbold, the former CEO of Wiggle, and even the VC backing of DN Capital. “That gives us very good runway for the coming months and years.”
This isn’t the only recognition of the strength of its concept that Lovespace has received. It has also appeared in Real Business’s Everline Future 50 and received a Startups100 award. “It’s nice to get those accolades; they’re nice little staging points along the way and I don’t want to underplay them,” says Folwell. However, he feels that the most important thing is providing customers with a service that helps and benefits them. “It’s the end goal: it’s the customer on the doorstep, when they get their stuff back, being absolutely delighted that you helped them,” he explains. “That’s what matters to us.”
But what’s next for Lovespace? Not only is the enterprise looking to grow aggressively and engage more deeply with its customer segments in Blighty, but with the help of Ameln, Hoydal and Ripert international expansion seems to be firmly within Lovespace’s sights. Akker concludes: “There’s an awful lot still to achieve, there’s an awful lot of growth still to be had but it’s definitely a very exciting time.”