Rahul Gandhi: “There is a light at the end of the tunnel”

We have to acknowledge that the world as we knew it before the pandemic won’t be the same once the country begins to reopen and we try to gain some semblance of normalcy back. With this, it’s hard not to fall into the trap that what we’re experiencing now will never change and we’ll be […]

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We have to acknowledge that the world as we knew it before the pandemic won’t be the same once the country begins to reopen and we try to gain some semblance of normalcy back. With this, it’s hard not to fall into the trap that what we’re experiencing now will never change and we’ll be stuck here forever, but history has proven otherwise. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul is the co-founder, and the CEO at MakeSpace, a full-service storage company based in New York that is revolutionizing the 38 billion dollar storage industry. Rahul co-founded MakeSpace in 2013 along with his two co-founders based on their various experiences with self-storage during Hurricane Sandy. They designed MakeSpace to transform the antiquated storage industry, combining innovative technology with a customer-first approach to service.

Prior to starting MakeSpace, Rahul was a Principal at 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.

Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

My father immigrated from India in the 1970s, leaving behind a successful career managing hotels to open restaurants in New York City. I learned a great deal about entrepreneurship from him. To me, he was a visionary. I started working with my father in his restaurants when I was 10, and learned really valuable lessons about prioritizing customer experience and how important it is to personalize interactions so they can become customers for life.

I worked on Wall Street and AOL early in my career, and went to business school to activate my true passion for entrepreneurship. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit, which became my first experience with self-storage. It was then that I realized how complex and labor intensive the whole process is and out of this experience, I teamed up with similar visionaries, and MakeSpace was born. MakeSpace is storage without the struggle. We’re bringing innovation to the notoriously antiquated $38B storage industry, using technology and personalized operations to completely reinvent the idea of self-storage.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

One book that I’d recommend during this time is The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success by William Thorndike. I read this book a few years ago and recently came back to it because there are so many valuable lessons in it for our current environment. The book follows a group of eight CEOs, who didn’t have prototypical CEO traits or characteristics, but who outperformed over long periods. It provides excellent lessons on how to think about growth and a proven blueprint for success, especially now that both investors and entrepreneurs are more focused on profitability over growing revenue at all costs.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective, can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. We have to acknowledge that the world as we knew it before the pandemic won’t be the same once the country begins to reopen and we try to gain some semblance of normalcy back. With this, it’s hard not to fall into the trap that what we’re experiencing now will never change and we’ll be stuck here forever, but history has proven otherwise. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. An example of this is the Spanish Flu in 1918. The situation was very similar with far less advancements in technology and healthcare and yet, the country survived and life continued.
  2. Times of uncertainty lead to opportunity. As the world changes, we will see visionaries come up with new technologies and advancements that will change the world. In 2009, during the last economic downturn, we saw the emergence of companies like Uber and Airbnb that were born out of financial hardships. I look forward to seeing what new companies and innovations will shake up the way we live our daily lives and interact with the world around us.
  3. There will be an increased focus on innovations to save the environment. For decades, our society has been talking about climate change and the impact we have had on the environment. We’ve seen the impact that us staying home during this time has had on cities across the globe. There have been initial statistics around emissions dropping, and I think this could incite the change that is necessary to make this event a watershed moment for saving the planet.
  4. The experiences we have had with stay at home orders and social distancing will force better work life balance behaviors and better relationships with family and friends. I have spent this time working at home with my elderly mother and my children. During this time, we talk a great deal more than we were able to due to life’s demands, we play a great deal of games, and we share many laughs together. We have not been able to experience moments like this for a prolonged period of time, and I want to take these memories with me as a reminder to spend meaningful, uninterrupted time with the people I care about after this is over.
  5. Our experience today will likely lead to education reform. This could make it cheaper and more accessible for people who might not have had access to education prior to the pandemic. Thanks to the proliferation of Zoom, our children are receiving schooling from the comfort of their homes. I believe this will lead to an increase in online programs that will prevail after the pandemic, delivering the ability to offer education to everyone, no matter their background. Additionally, universities teaching remotely for the foreseeable future may lead to new remote-only programs that will allow college students to learn through any circumstances. They won’t need to go to campus to get a quality education if the location or cost to do so is an issue for them.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I suffer from anxiety issues, so I can relate to this question. Here are the steps I suggest following to support those around us who are feeling anxious.

(1) Try to understand the root of the anxiety by asking meaningful questions and listening. Listening happens to be one of the most tremendous tools in helping someone with anxiety.

(2) Drive focus towards things that can be controlled. Then, talk through outcomes. For example, if the person you’re with is anxious about never going outside again, then go on a walk with him/her. If someone is afraid of losing a job, talk through the various outcomes and show that most scenarios are not doomsday outcomes.

(3) Do small things to show that you are thinking about the person and that everything will be okay in the end. This can be as simple as sending a text message or phone call to check in, because despite being physically distant during these times, it’s important to maintain social contact from time to time.

(4) Encourage them to speak to a therapist. Sometimes people around us may not feel comfortable talking about things with their friends or family, and having a therapist to talk through these feelings with is a great resource. It doesn’t have to be events like this that everyone is facing together to lead to it. For example, I saw a therapist for years when I went through a divorce, and I know first-hand how beneficial that resource was to my mental well-being when I was experiencing hardship.

(5) Go beyond text and encourage a video call so you can see the person face to face. I feed off the energy of others so if I see a lot of positivity from a comforting face via video, it helps with my own anxiety.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

Focus on things that give you joy and pick up hobbies to directly address your mind. Hobbies that have helped me include working out, playing video games, meditating, and reading. I also collect things and create stories around them, which is a light and creative way to get your mind working. Lastly, I suggest playing with new technology and trying to figure out how to work these gadgets you might not have previously used.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant 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 start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

There are so many issues that I would want to tackle like access to healthcare, healthy eating, childcare, and more. Right now, we’re facing historic levels of unemployment, and that coupled with schools being shut down is creating a struggle for many who are working full time, or are looking for work, and have also turned into teachers homeschooling their kids. I deeply understand the struggle as a single parent with twin daughters who are both being homeschooled at the same time due to the pandemic. With this in mind, I would love to create a community effort to help parents manage homeschooling and childcare during this difficult time.

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