Max Haydon & Jeffery Widjaja
Max Haydon and Jeffery Widjaja set up Storage Shepherd Ltd after noticing a problem with how students store their belongings when they go home from university. Max talks to BQ about how the business got started and why he has entered this year’s If We Can You Can competition.
What did you do before setting up your business?
I (Max) studied French and Spanish at Newcastle University. During my time there, I worked as an intern for Rise Up, which is the entrepreneurial development department of the University. It was there that my passion for entrepreneurship in the North East was realised. I also became an officer in the British Army Reserves during my time at university and I still do this alongside my business.
Jeffery was a student of Biomedical Sciences at Newcastle University but his interests have always been focused around entrepreneurship. He became a regular participant in Rise Up competitions and this is where we met.
What inspired you to set up your business?
I began working on the business after having a personal problem whilst at University. I realised that most first year students are in student halls and their tenancy agreement ends in June. This means that they have to take everything home for summer or put it in storage. It was then I realised that self-storage companies tend to charge a lot of money for something that is all around us (spare space). As I went into later years at University, I realised that the standard tenancy agreement for students is 12 months. This means that most students are paying rent but they have gone home for summer. I decided to rent my room out for storage to the first year students. They received more local and cheaper storage, whilst I was able to pay my rent. With the rise of the sharing economy, we thought this is an ideal time to digitalise self-storage and disrupt the industry by doing this on a large scale.
What makes this business different?
Apart from the fact that it is a novel concept, our USP lies in its simplicity. People are able to make money from any bit of space they may have in their house without having to have anyone in the house (unlike with Airbnb). We provide insurance for the storage as well as many other security features so both parties are protected.
What inspired you to enter the If We Can You Can Challenge?
The inspiration for us to enter was the reputation of the If We Can You Can Challenge. We are both passionate about the North East and we want to take part in everything that celebrates entrepreneurship in the region. We also love talking about our idea and we welcome any opportunity to pitch to a room full of people as our business always tends to spark interest in the room.
Where do you see your business in three years’ time?
We will be a genuine competitor for self-storage companies in the United Kingdom. We will keep our offices in Newcastle Upon Tyne but we will have expanded nationally. Our focus will now become alternative revenue streams such as selling packaging, transport or our own insurance. We will have built a well-trained team who are succeeding in creating a large amount of growth.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?
We recently won a competition set by Crowdfunder UK but I would say that the most rewarding aspect so far is certainly winning the Virgin Media VOOM competition in July. It was a great opportunity to pitch the business to a large crowd in Newcastle City Centre and we received £5,000, a lunch with Sir Richard Branson and plenty of media coverage as a result.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Whilst we have faced a huge amount of challenges, our biggest challenge was the web development. With very little technical knowledge in the team, we had to outsource the web development. The website is a lot more complex than we initially thought so the development took over a year and cost a lot of money. It began to feel as though we would never be able to finish the website, but it has finally been completed and we are now able to focus on User Experience to make the whole service better for our customers.
Who/what gave you support or advice?
We have received a huge amount of support from Entrepreneurial Spark powered by Natwest. Most accelerator programmes tended to brush over the idea. We were told that the idea was too novel. One piece of feedback actually said it was a lifestyle business which we found quite strange as other sharing economy platforms such as Airbnb, Uber and Kickstarter are certainly not lifestyle businesses. However, Entrepreneurial Spark welcomed the innovative approach and supported us with mentoring, office space and access to their networks. We have also received some great mentoring from Roy Sandbach OBE as well as many others.
What advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own business?
There is so much advice out there so I will be as brief as possible. Test every single assumption. I have seen people who have taken out large loans and built a business based on what they think customers want. This is completely the wrong approach to take as many of your assumptions will be wrong. Fortunately, we did not take a loan but we did originally start to build something based on our assumptions, and these turned out to be wrong. Test everything in its early stage before pumping money into it. If you build your product around your customer, then you are likely to build something very successful. Also, have fun with it. This is a time in your life when you can be creative and never forget the bigger picture. You are trying to build the perfect life, so make sure that you are creating the best work culture and building the best team possible.