He’s just 25 years old, but Anthony Collias – co-founder of Stasher – comes across as a founder with decades of experience. The Forbes 30 Under 30 entrepreneur is a voice of quiet calm amid 2020’s howling storm, and he refuses to be blown off course by Covid-19. Stick to your route, he argues, avoid dramatic reactions and resist the temptation to chase red herrings that could lead you onto the rocks.
“Pivot. Be agile. That’s the advice start-ups hear from so many quarters,” he says. “But any pivot must be weighed carefully against waiting it out. The latter may sound complacent, but if you’re an ice-cream maker, should you launch a remote-conferencing service just because you’ve been advised to pivot? Innovate, sure, but don’t change for the sake of it. It often makes more sense to take time, free of pressure from customers and other employees, to assess where you are and invest in the right areas, rather than pour all your attention into a pivot that you are likely to later abandon.”
Anthony’s business, Stasher, is a digital platform offering short-term storage solutions. If you need somewhere to stow your bags for a few hours in town, you can use Stasher to find a handy option. Anthony and Jacob Wedderburn-Day co-founded their app and website in 2015 after spotting a gap in the market. They’ve now raised £4.5m.
“We launched Stasher in 2015 after leaving university,” says Anthony. “I was living between Euston and King’s Cross, and my location meant we always had people asking whether they could leave stuff in our flat.”
The pair realised that – apart from a few traditional left-luggage areas at train stations – short-term storage options in towns and cities were few and far between. Demand was high; supply low. And what made this mismatch even more significant was the rise of AirB&B, which meant that a growing number of day-trippers and short-breakers were in the market for convenient places to leave their stuff.
Here was an opportunity, so the duo got creative.
“At first, we marketed my flat as a short-term bag store,” says Anthony. “We offered storage at half the price of train stations and set up online ad campaigns around search terms like ‘luggage storage Kings Cross’. It was an excellent way to validate our idea. We learned lots because we could interview all of our customers.”
However, their pilot scheme drove a train through their initial plan. They quickly realised that people would never turn their houses into storage facilities. Anthony explains: “Using my flat for storage became a nightmare. I was forever back and forth, letting people in, so signing up households to offer storage – our first strategy – was a non-starter.”
Back to the drawing board.
But they soon realised the answer was staring them in the face. Why not invite the shop opposite to stow bags in exchange for a passive income? They asked the question, and a simple partnership was forged, leading to a new strategy and impressive growth. Anthony and Jacob began signing up hotels and shops as storage partners at a rapid rate – these businesses were open anyway and keen for extra revenue and awareness. A win-win.
Unearthing a gem
So, why had nobody thought of this storage idea before? At first, Anthony and Jacob were bemused – after all, Stasher seems like a no-brainer – a classic digital ‘matchmaking’ business. But Anthony now thinks he knows why: “People with the money and opportunity to start businesses tend to stay in hotels and so don’t understand the problem,” he says. “They tend to think hotels keep everyone’s bags, so there’s no need for a service like ours. But actually, lots of people today either can’t afford to, or don’t want to, stay in central hotels. They either book a hotel further out of town or they stay in an AirB&B. Therefore, they need somewhere central to stow their stuff. Also, storage isn’t the most sexy industry!”
Anthony might have a point. The short-term storage market is, perhaps, not as alluring as some – but it is potentially large. And the demand is real – Stasher now offers storage space in 250 towns and cities – including in 200 Premier Inns. Pre-Covid-19, it was stowing thousands of bags a day.
Now, unsurprisingly, investors have caught on to the desirability of Stasher. He says: “Our business model attracts backers because it’s so asset-light. As with our inspiration, AirB&B, there’s minimal capital expenditure, apart from building the digital platform and paying a few staff. You can plough everything else into growth. It’s super-scalable, too. We can sign up anyone anywhere as long as they are willing to come onto our platform. That’s how we’ve gone from zero to 250 towns and cities in four and a half years.”
But when investors come a-looking, it pays to be selective. Indeed, Anthony has some sage advice for fellow entrepreneurs: “Pick your investors well,” he says. “You need people you get on with and trust on a human level. Good investors will understand that their return is tied up with your personal health and wellbeing. Bad ones are less concerned. My advice is to avoid investors who you drain you, no matter how much money they want to throw at you. Luckily, we’ve been fortunate.”
The co-founder also has a message for professional-services companies and other providers that work closely with entrepreneurs. “Now is the time to build goodwill,” he says. “If you offer concessions during this crisis, you’ll reap the rewards later. But if you stick to business as usual, you’re putting down a pretty negative reputational marker that won’t be forgotten.”
Anthony and Jacob – still in their mid-twenties – have built a business with enormous potential. There is much more to come given their age, ambition and ability to attract investment, and the pair don’t rule out diversifying. “We’re focused on building a profitable business,” says Anthony. “But who knows where this journey will take us. Look at the Amazon model. It went from selling books and stationery, to selling pretty much everything under the sun, to becoming the largest provider of cloud computing in the world and entering every market imaginable. If you’d spoken to Jeff Bezos 20 years ago, I’m sure constant innovation was on his mind, but I don’t think he would have foreseen exactly where his company would be today. That inspires us, and our thinking is that having a lean, profitable business is a brilliant base from which to innovate.”
The duo have an exciting road ahead, but for now, these youthful founders are calm and focused in the face of Covid, determined to stay on track and avoid ill-thought-out wanderings into thorny thickets. “We know that travel will be slow to pick up, as will rental. But they will come back. We’re not complacent, though, and we have some carefully planned ideas in the pipeline to attract new revenue. Will we back to normal in 12 months? Not quite. But in five years? We’ll be back on track.”
We’ll be watching Stasher’s progress with interest. Wild pivots are off the menu, of course, but focus, innovation, level-headedness and evolution are definitely on. Their balanced approach may well prove to be the best of all worlds.