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Ask HN: Validate my storage company idea
9 points by tehwebguy on April 6, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 13 comments
1. Snap a photo of the stuff you want in storage

2. Van rolls up to your house and picks it up

3. Driver hands you a key / welcome package

Upfront fee would be based on volume, maybe pickup is free under a certain volume.

Still considering full or self service. Revenue would come from end users and partnerships with storage companies for customer contracts.

My guess is it'll be too expensive to deliver that service at a price point anyone will be comfortable with. What are the margins on storage locker businesses? There are a lot of them, and they seem like a business with very few competitive barriers except for real estate costs, so my (uneducated, untested) presumption is that the margins on those businesses are bad.

To that business, add truck rolls. Your costs just got drastically worse (and in unexpected ways: for instance, a business that requires people to operate motor vehicles is much more difficult to insure). How much higher can you jack the price to compensate for that?

Margins are ridiculously variable. I have an Internet buddy whose product is, basically, a $500 Excel spreadsheet which lets you model the effect of e.g. a particular site's mortgage. The main reason for the app is that often first-time business owners don't appreciate that ludicrously profitable storage businesses look exactly like money-losing storage businesses from the outside. (Similar to SaaS in a way.)

A well-run storage business is like a VPS or SaaS or pickle company: they make their money "on the cut." My father the real estate developer thinks of everything in terms of dollars per square foot, and routinely chuckles when passing ones in Chicago. "Manhattan rents for Chicago real estate. God bless them."

Patrick - what's the product your Internet buddy is selling?

I think there is a desire for a service in between PODS and white glove service but you may be right that it's not really doable at a price that fits that market

Well, let me confirm to you that the desire exists; I have a quarter of a basement full of stuff I want to park in a locker somewhere, but haven't found the time to pick a locker and then rent the truck I'll need to cart it off to there.

Prior to building this, talk to 10 storage company owners and confirm that they're both amenable to you signing up customers for them and that they will pay $400+ for that. You may find some who require a credit check, which they may or may not be happy about you doing, for example.

I guess my biggest question is how is this different from a company like PODS or the other ones that bring a storage unit to your home, or wherever, and once you fill it come back and take it to their warehouse for storage.

As someone who has moved across states several times, I can say that those types of moves are the biggest headaches for logistics personally. There is always a delay there either on receiving or sending side. On the self-storage market the biggest headaches I have personally experienced is that when I throw things in storage it tends to have absolutely no organization and I usually get a unit that just isn't big enough. What then happens is I cram so much stuff in, with no organization, that when I just happen to need something I end up spending a day pulling everything out to find it.

My dad ran a moving company for years while I was growing up and I do think there is room to move in this market I just don't know what area to target. Mark Cuban had a tweet recently about it: https://twitter.com/mcuban/status/425750659531411456

PODS & Pack-Rat are cool, and maybe they are the best someone could do in this space right now. Not sure if these are enough but here are the issues with those that I've been considering:

* Expensive ($60+ transport + fuel, $125+ /mo storage)

* Inconvenient for access (PODS requires 24 hr notice, the other needs 48)

* Inconvenient for apartments (require the box to be at the location for 24 hr)

Thanks for the comment, I'll keep thinking about this.

A hybrid system of sorts may work good, but would be capital intensive. Say a PODS like box is dropped off at your home or wherever. There could be two models of these PODS. One with a trailer hitch and the other without. The ones without would require scheduling a pickup and transport time. Either way there would be an option for storage where you could take the pod when you are done packing. The storage facilities would be spread out across the country. The storage facilities would be like existing storage facilities with 24hr secured access so you could get in/out anytime to access your pod. With your fee you would have access to move your pod from one location to another anytime you wanted.

For example, let's say I have a pod in Maryland, but am now moving to California. I could just go to the storage facility, hook up my pod to my trailer hitch, drive to California, and my monthly fee would give me access to any other location that had space.

I think what Mark is referring to in his tweet, and something my dad saw in his moving business, was people who just needed a couch or bed moved quickly or something taken to the dump for them. Pull up an Uber like interface on your phone and your request would go out to a variety of movers in your area who have time to earn a quick buck for hauling your stuff for you.

Just some ideas.

I and many of my classmates are in the process of graduating and moving from NY to SF. There's usually a decent relo budget (1-6k), but the problem is that it's a logistical nightmare.

The interstate moving industry is still in the dark ages. It could definitely use the kind of service overhaul that's making uber and tesla famous.

What I and my peers want:

Drop a pod at my house in NY. I put all my stuff in it, you pick it up quickly and get it to my new house in CA without breaking anything.

A sub-service of this could be the actual loading and unloading of contents. I'm intentionally moving as lightly as possible, but I have some female friends with heirloom furniture who are concerned about how the hell they're going to get a 400 lb oak dresser from the crate to their 3rd floor apartment.

Some data required throughout the process: How much will this cost? So far pods and the like won't let me get a quote online, which is absolutely unacceptable. I want to be able to get a custom cost estimate that's accurate to within $100. Flat rate by volume/weight * mile moved or whatever, just figure something out that lets me know the cost easily upfront.

How long will it take? What's the fastest you can do it? Can I give you more time for a lower rate, or pay for expedited shipping?

Dates - delivery, availability, everything - need to be insanely precise. Issues like landlord office hours mean these dropoffs need to be meticulously timed, and the stereotypical plumber hours where you'll show up randomly in an 8 hour range won't cut it here. I once gladly stomached a ticket for 88 in a 55 because it meant I could move into my new apartment on schedule.

So yeah. Storing stuff is easy. Moving stuff is hard. You don't need weird revenue streams like storage partnerships - the revenue comes from the fact that right now I could call probably 2 dozen people who would give you thousands of dollars for this. Be the uber of interstate moving.

In NYC there is a sort of similar startup: Makespace. You ask them for storage boxes and they bring those for free. You fill them and make an appointent to fetch them from your house. They then bring it to their storage facility. Fee per box. http://makespace.com/invite/4dA/

Wow, this is like the best case scenario of what I had in mind! Have you used it yet?

Yep. I saw them during a NY tech meetup event and liked the concept and happened to have stuff I needed storing. The site is great and service is great. I wanted to schedule a drop off for the boxes but they were booked that week. Problem was I was flying back to Europe that week and so really needed them to bring the boxes. They were very flexible and got someone to drop the boxes off before they made the usual rounds. Same for picking up the boxes a few days later. Definitely can recommend them!

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