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New ways for Aussie start-ups to thrive in the shareconomy: Ex DealsDirect CEO talks Spacer

Dubbed the ‘AirBnB of storage’ by its co-founder and CEO, Michael Rosenbaum, Spacer has experienced considerable growth, despite being a relative newcomer to the sharing economy. According to Michael, formerly the CEO of DealsDirect, Spacer is an opportunity for resource-poor start-ups to reduce their operating costs, freeing up capital for business growth.    

Co-founded by Michael and former private equity professional Roland Tam, Spacer is an online peer-to-peer marketplace for storage, connecting people in possession of excess space (AKA ‘hosts’) with those requring more (aka ‘renters’). Available online and as an app, the platform launched in 2015, after Michael and Roland closed a Series A funding round, having received of $1 million from angel and private investors.

The main advatage for hosts is the ability to monotise idle and underutilised space – think garages, driveways, attics, yards and bedrooms. By renting out a garage, for example, a host can earn up to $4,200 per year after subtracting the 15% Spacer Commission. According to Michael, the Spacer team ‘earn their keep’ by facilitating the transaction, vetting users, providing insurance and delivering a high level of customer support.

“I’m passionate about start-ups and the sharing economy”    

 The company’s growth strategy for 2016 has included an increased focus on promoting the platform to – and recruiting members from – the business community. While those with spare office and warehouse space stand to earn considerably more than a typical host, Michael told Dynamic Business that Spacer isn’t just a money maker for businesses, it’s also a money saver – particularly for resource-poor start-ups and small businesses.

“Business owners who need space can save up to 50% by using Spacer compared to using commercial premises, and they’re not tied into long contracts,” Michael said. “As their businesses scale, owners have the flexibility to move into a new space or expand into an existing space with ease.”

“Spacer is just one player in the burgeoning sharing economy that’s benefitting small businesses with limited resources. Fantastic talent can now be hired on an ‘as needs’ basis through marketplaces such as Freelancer, Expert360 and AirTasker. Meanwhile, start-ups have access to a great range of co-working spaces rather than committing to long-term leases, providing flexibility as they grow their venture.”

“I am passionate about the sharing economy and start-ups in general. I sit on the boards of Car Next Door, a high-growth P2P car sharing scale-up, and FitMyCar, another high-growth scale-up that manufacturers auto accessories and ships globally to the end user. Just recently, I invested in the newly-launched FoodByUs, which is enabling talented home cooks to launch a business in their own community without some of the usual start-up risks.”

“Partnering is core to our DNA, we believe in synergy”  

Initially available in Sydney and Melbourne, Spacer has – within it’s first year of operation – transformed into a nation-wide service. According to Michael, the start-up has enjoyed a 35% MoM growth and now boasts 1,500 active listings, more than 5,000 members, and 25,000 site visits per month.

With a foothold in Australia’s $754 million self-storage market, Michael and Roland have now set their sights on the Asian market, estimated  to be worth $4 billion. Michael said the recently-announced partnership with Costockage, Europe’s leading peer-to-peer storage marketplace, will assist both parties with their plans for international expansion.

“Costockage are the leaders in our space globally, and we’re delighted to have them as our strategic partners,” Michael said.

“By drawing on each other’s market knowledge, resources and experience, we’re in a strong position to fast-track entry into new markets, beginning with Asia in Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo. Partnering is core to our DNA, and we believe in the philosophy that 1 + 1 = 3. We continue to partner with other businesses as we grow Spacer to fulfil our vision of being The #1 Marketplace for Space.”

“It’s a forever game and it’s learning by doing”

Prior to founding Spacer, Michael had a long and fruitful career in the local ecommerce industry, extending back to the mid-90s.

“I was one of the early web developers,” he said. “I was self-taught, being a uni drop-out. Rather than learning from text books, as students did, I preferred to learning by doing and to from mentors and advisors.

“I went on to co-found Auctionbrokers with Paul Greenberg in 2000. It was essentially the first commercial seller on eBay Australia, launching in tandem with the platform. Paul and I grew Auctionbrokers into the largest seller on the eBay platform in Australia over four years, and the business became a top 10 seller worldwide.

“During that period, we realised ecommerce was changing – online shoppers were looking for a fixed-price, fast delivery option. While eBay was incredibly strong in the auction format, it had not yet harnessed the power of fixed price. Seeking to take advantage of the changing landscape, Paul and I launched DealsDirect, which evolved out of Auctionbroker. It was one of Australia’s 1st online department stores and, over the next decade, Paul and I grew it into a $100m company.

“We had a terrific journey with DealsDirect, and I was very fortunate to work alongside some incredibly talented people. After exiting DealsDirect post-listing on the ASX and subsequent sale to GraysOnline in 2014, I met Roland, my eventual business partner, and spent time in Silicon Valley exploring opportunities for my next venture, which wound up being Spacer.

“We’ve faced all the typical challenges of launching and building a start-up, from gaining initial traction, to building awareness in the market, to educating the market to a concept that is fairly new, and of course developing our technology – the model and MVP took about six months to develop. It’s a forever game and it’s learning by doing! We’re constantly honing our offer and the user experience every day. Spacer is a first mover in the online Self Storage market, and we’re laser focused on delivering the best user experience in terms of proximity, price and convenience.”

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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