Rahul Gandhi of MakeSpace: ” It is a must-read for anyone who wants to take on the stress of starting a business, or quite honestly if you seek to live a more fulfilling life”

Unlike traditional self-storage, Makespace picks up your stuff at your home or business, handles all the heavy lifting and transport, and then delivers items back as needed. Customers get a photo inventory and app-driven experience, and our plans flex to suit your storage needs. We’re finally bringing the level of convenience and technology that consumers […]

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Unlike traditional self-storage, Makespace picks up your stuff at your home or business, handles all the heavy lifting and transport, and then delivers items back as needed. Customers get a photo inventory and app-driven experience, and our plans flex to suit your storage needs. We’re finally bringing the level of convenience and technology that consumers expect, to an industry that has resisted change for decades.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi is a co-founder and the CEO at MakeSpace, a full-service storage company that is revolutionizing the 38 billion dollar storage industry. Rahul co-founded MakeSpace in 2013 in New York City, after a difficult storage experience during Hurricane Sandy. They designed MakeSpace to take the struggle out of self-storage using innovative technology and a customer-first approach to service.

Prior to starting MakeSpace, Rahul was a venture capitalist at Primary Venture Partners (formerly known as High Peaks Venture Partners) and a Senior Manager on AOL’s Corporate Development team. He also worked in investment banking for Bank of America Securities, and in venture capital for both Genacast Ventures and Comcast Interactive Capital. Rahul received a BBA from The George Washington University School of Business, an MS from the University of Virginia and an MBA from Columbia Business School.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up in an immigrant family, and my dad was an entrepreneur and restaurant, franchise owner. I had my first job working at his Arby’s filling drinks and helping out. It was a crash course in customer service, and where I developed my passion for recognizing trends and building relationships.

The restaurant industry is challenging, and my dad made a lot of mistakes along the way. I experienced a lot of stressful moments where we would go from success to being on the cusp of losing everything to bankruptcy.

When I graduated from college, I craved stability and had an opportunity to start a career on Wall Street. At the time I was excited to learn about deals but eventually found an opportunity to get involved with technology when I joined AOL in 2004. It was magic for me as I started to see the power of software. Eventually, I saw how technology could impact the customer experience, which led me to pursue a career in venture capital, where I found myself working with entrepreneurs again.

The business itch came back for me, and I eventually teamed up with two inspirational co-founders to bring our experience in technology to re-think the consumer experience in self-storage, and how the whole business works.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Traditional self-storage is designed as a real-estate business, not a customer business. Even though they do offer a consumer service, their strength and expertise is in real-estate. At MakeSpace, we focus on the experience — a consumer technology-enabled business that is supported by warehouses and real estate.

This distinction is key because we are focused on developing a relationship with our customers in a way that the incumbent service providers can’t, and this allows us to continuously introduce features that are designed to make the experience better for the customer. Traditional self-storage puts most of the work on the customer, and we try to make it as hassle-free as possible.

We also understand the power of using the software that we develop (i.e, logistics systems, warehouse management systems, etc), to continuously improve our service.

Unlike traditional self-storage, Makespace picks up your stuff at your home or business, handles all the heavy lifting and transport, and then delivers items back as needed. Customers get a photo inventory and app-driven experience, and our plans flex to suit your storage needs. We’re finally bringing the level of convenience and technology that consumers expect, to an industry that has resisted change for decades.

We’re also solving a major need for cities. We store items outside of high-density areas, which both saves money while freeing up valuable real-estate in growing cities. Traditional self-storage does not create a lot of jobs, and it takes up a lot of space. A service like ours can allow cities to use those spaces for community spaces, housing, and businesses, as we create job opportunities for drivers, warehouse staff, and technology and customer support experts.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As co-founders starting MakeSpace, we truly had to fake it until we made it. Startups are never glamorous at the start, and at MakeSpace I started out driving our first truck. I worked 15-hour shifts, 5 days per week. It was quite a change from working as a venture capitalist, but one of the most rewarding experiences in my career. I learned so much about the daily challenges of transportation workers in NYC. Simple tasks that we take for granted, such as going to the bathroom, become significant challenges. I also underestimated the stress of driving and having to navigate the insane traffic hurdles that exist in the city. I made so many mistakes it was comical, but one that I’ll never forget is getting pulled over on the FDR in NYC, because I was using a commercial vehicle. For months, I had no idea that commercial vehicles weren’t allowed on major roads like that in the city, and I got some real chuckles in the courtroom when I explained my mistake to the judge. That said, the experience allowed me to recruit, teach, and most importantly, relate to the daily struggles that our drivers faced in providing our service to customers.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I learned so much from my dad. While we had our struggles, he taught me a great deal about work ethic. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he also gave me another important gift: he removed my fear of losing everything, which gave me the confidence to lead this business through many major milestones. I’ve had a lot of other inspirational people help me along the way. I’m blessed to work with a supportive Board, who knows how to challenge me in the right ways. I have also found deep inspiration from other entrepreneurs like Danny Meyer, the restaurateur, who courageously shared his story for entrepreneurs like me to read, and I hope to meet him someday. Until then, I am grateful to have been mentored by and learned from so many great people over the years, which have ultimately helped me to lead MakeSpace to where it is today.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

To me disruption is more about the national evolution of adapting services to customer preferences by using better technology and services. Everything should evolve over time, and lasting generational businesses understand this concept quite well.

Honestly, it’s rare to find one singular product or service that looks the same as it did when it was first introduced. While we are commonly described as a disruptor, I believe we’re simply offering customers what they want, which is a more convenient storage solution. I think the industry will eventually react to this change, which will be good for consumers and society as it will provide better service and jobs.

Take Amazon for example; they disrupted how we access books, but evolved over time by listening to the customer and adapting to what they want. Initially, it began with only books.and gradually they expanded into other services. Today, Amazon offers nearly anything you can think of, which is a result of listening to customers as they have continued to ask for more.

On the other hand, disruption can also be negative. Ridesharing is a classic example of this. As many companies feel pressured to increase the pace of disruption it has ultimately forced many companies to cut corners. This happened with Uber and Lyft as they both leveraged the concept of 1099 workers so they could move fast, and save on costs for healthcare, etc. While it could be argued that they created many jobs, the focus has shifted to how workers are treated unfairly as 1099s.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

There are a few pieces of advice that I like to come back to. They keep me grounded as a leader and serve as important reminders on a day-to-day basis. The first would be “don’t fear failure.” Ironically, seeing the downside of running a business through my dad made me afraid to fail, but it has taken multiple events or rejections in my life (divorce, failures at school to my career, etc.) to realize these are important learning opportunities. Without these failures, I would not have been able to deal with many of the challenges I’ve experienced in building MakeSpace.

Also, when starting a business I’ve always been reminded to build relationships and foster them. As an entrepreneur, you’re wired to focus exclusively on building your business at the expense of everything else (family, friends, etc). While building a business takes incredible sacrifice, much of your success will depend on the support of your family, friends, and mentors. You shouldn’t take this for granted and ensure you foster those relationships, if not more, than the business ones you have.

Lastly, remember to ask for help. One of my biggest struggles. We all have egos, and it stems from not wanting to fail or fear of looking weak if you need help. In many instances, your success (and that of your team and organization) will depend on your ability to know when to ask or seek help. This is a core value in our business.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Increasing our brand awareness and building relationships with our customers is incredibly important to us. In order to do this, we partner with other companies, who we think overlap with our key customer demographics (i.e., insurance companies, apartment buildings, etc). We also use many paid channels to get our message out there such as Google, social, TV, radio and direct mail. In addition to this, we focus heavily on our brand through public relations and partnering with key influencers and celebrities. We’re trying to build a brand that stands out and is true to our culture, while being the voice that customers need to hear. Storage can be stressful, but we have a solution that works better.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Our competitive advantage at MakeSpace is that we have multiple ways to interact and listen to our customers, which has allowed us to develop a much deeper relationship with them. Also as a result, we can listen to what our customers want and adapt our service for instances like the one we have now with the pandemic. During this time we have added curbside pickup, PPE equipment for staff, and completely new protocols.

We have also added new features and services, such as junking for furniture or computer equipment, and donation pickups. Over time we will continue to expand on our product offerings, and we also have a few major partnerships we’re preparing to announce over the next few months, which we’re excited to announce.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

The book, “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” has been a favorite of mine and is a must-read for anyone who wants to take on the stress of starting a business, or quite honestly if you seek to live a more fulfilling life. Honestly, before it I never valued sleep. I’m a night owl by design, so I’d stay up late at night and wake up early. Who has time for sleep? This was recommended to me by one of my best friends, who really opened my eyes to the value of sleep and the positive effects it can have on your productivity, career, and happiness. The book is a powerful testament to how nature designed us and the dramatic negative impact that not focusing on healthy sleep habits can have on a person and society. I strongly believe that it is a must-read for anyone who wants to take on the stress of starting a business, or quite honestly if you seek to live a more fulfilling life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” — Walt Disney

I dreamed of starting my own business when I worked with my father at his restaurants, but I ran away from that lifestyle early in my career because I was scared of instability and failure that could come with it. Because my family went through multiple bankruptcies when I was growing up, I was nervous to try my hand and face the same luck.

Eventually, I realized that I was destined to go down this path and this quote from Walt Disney resonated with me. It takes incredible courage to walk into great uncertainty like what we’re experiencing today (whether it’s by our choice or not), but optimism and conviction can go a very long way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m going to mention “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” again here! It had a big impact on how I viewed a healthy lifestyle. It’s the reason I believe sleep habits are critical to an entrepreneur’s success. For companies, the productivity gains and the health benefits for employees are powerful reasons to create incentives to focus on proper sleep habits. It’s counterintuitive at a startup, but can pay major dividends over the long-term. More importantly, I think it’s vital that the world realizes the necessity of sleep especially for our younger generations, and what a critical role it has in proper development. There needs to be more programs to educate people and children about proper sleep habits. We teach nutrition, fitness, sex education at schools, but nowhere do we discuss how to promote healthy sleep habits. For example, lack of sleep leads to critical illnesses (diabetes, cancer, dementia, etc) and developmental delays in children, which carries a massive impact on healthcare costs for all major countries around the world. There is a real opportunity to have an impact in promoting this message, and whether as a leader of a company or a parent, I think it is essential that we talk about this more and practice it in our lives.

How can our readers follow you online?


Instagram: Rgandhi

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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