MyStorage founder Aric Austin and co-founder and CMO Stephanie Stadler are not your most common Saigon lifestyle entrepreneurs. As many Vietnamese businesses are launching into more trendy industries such as technology or food and beverage, co-founders Aric and Stephanie are starting in an unlikely industry. They are focused on a problem that most space-hungry Saigonese face: storage. While storage and decluttering are common solutions you find in the world’s megacities, with trendsetters such as cleaning expert Marie Kondo and storage businesses such as MakeSpace raising over $100 million USD in venture capital funding, secure consumer-facing storage is only now popping up in Vietnam. MyStorage is one of those pioneers.
With ever increasing housing costs and a growing taste for spending on material goods, Aric and Stephanie quickly discovered a need for secure storage solutions. We headed over to their newly opened District Two secure warehouse to learn more about the opportunities they see in Saigon in the storage business and how they hope to solve space-related problems that urban consumers face in space-constrained Saigon.
What is MyStorage’s mission?
It is MyStorage’s mission to offer a convenient, secure and affordable storage solution to people living in Vietnam’s growing mega cities in order to give them more space in their life for the things they enjoy.
What are some signs that you’ve seen or experienced that make your team believe that secured storage is becoming a needed solution here in Vietnam?
The company was started based on observation and own personal need. When I moved from Germany to Vietnam, I couldn’t find a professional storage solution in Saigon for my belongings. By doing some research and asking around, the opportunity to start a business like this presented itself. There are mini storage companies everywhere in the US, Europe, and Australia. Asia is catching up on this trend at this very moment. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok all offer exactly this type of service now.
There is a strong correlation between a country’s GDP and its urbanization rate, leading to increasing demands for storage. And we’re seeing this trend unfold now in Saigon.
What problems can MyStorage solve in Vietnam?
In the storage industry there is something known as the ‘4 Ds of Self Storage’: Death, Divorce, Dislocation, and Downsizing. These are life events that occur in all countries, including Vietnam. Some specific examples where MyStorage can offer solutions:
More people move to urban areas, such as Saigon or Hanoi. This development means that living space will become smaller. In a one or two bedroom apartment there is hardly enough space for anything beyond what is required on a day to day basis. This could include items such as seasonal decorations, luggage, and sports equipment. MyStorage offers these customers the possibility to securely store valuable belongings while enjoying their homes for themselves instead of using it as storage space.
· Many apartments in Vietnam are furnished. However, not everyone has the same taste, and today it is very difficult to find a reliable and easy solution to store items such as a table or bed frame during a rental period in order to replace it with something that fits your own taste.
· MyStorage offers a simple solution by coming to the apartment, picking up the unwanted item and storing it.
· Travelers often want to store larger baggage items or suitcases while touring the country and MyStorage easily solves this problem. Expats who move to the city with furniture, but first want to explore the districts before deciding on an apartment, can make use of MyStorage’s flexibility in terms of storage duration.
Walk us through the MyStorage process.
Customers can book via email, telephone or directly on our website mystorage.vn. Customers define the space size they need and when the items should be picked up. If requested, MyStorage delivers complimentary storage boxes to the customers before the pickup date so that the customer can safely and conveniently organize items. On the scheduled date, MyStorage picks up the items and brings them to our clean, secure and air-conditioned storage facility. Once the customer wants the items back (all or parts), MyStorage delivers them back.
What have been some of your most surprising storage requests?
We get interesting requests such as storing tons of soap blocks or bags of rice, but generally speaking most of our customers want to store furniture and large personal belongings. We’ve had families traveling and requesting storage support on the same morning of their flight out of Vietnam. We’ve had requests come in at midnight for a pick up the next morning at 8 a.m.
Who do you hope to be your typical MyStorage customer?
It was important to us from the beginning to build a company targeting Vietnamese customers. We believe in the growth of the country and that the modern, digital, urban Vietnamese will develop a need for storage as their peers in New York or Berlin have done. Therefore we hired a strong Vietnamese team to make sure all touchpoints are available in Vietnamese and English.
As an example, our dream typical customer would be a Vietnamese family living in an apartment complex in the city center. As with many growing families, they may have kids’ furniture and clothing from their first baby which they want to store with us, until a second baby joins the family.
What key proof of concept milestones do you hope to develop before building out the business further?
It’s all about growing and building a track record. The cost of opening and operating the space were reasonable enough for us to prove the concept. Right now, we’re pricing things very competitively as if we had a massive warehouse somewhere else in order to gauge the real demand for our storage services. Once we get to a certain occupancy level, we will be expanding significantly to meet the demand, and all indicators are already pointing in that direction for early 2020.
On the technology side, we’re looking ahead at how we can add more customer friendly features to the user experience. We’re particularly excited about a ‘virtual storage room’ concept, which will allow users to see all their items in storage in an app and have individual items returned or stored at the push of a button.
What motivates you to start this new venture? What notable challenges have you faced, especially as a foreigner?
When you start a company in general there are multiple challenges you face as a founder, from securing funding to assembling a team to creating the company mission. In an emerging market, these challenges apply, but apart from these there are further dimensions to consider.
Local laws and regulations need to be analyzed carefully as they might be different from where we are from. There is a fierce competition on the local talent market, especially for an unknown startup, and social startup networks are not as developed or accessible.
Building up a company in a foreign country is never easy. Luckily we were able to put together a strong team and find great partners who helped us face different hurdles. We believe in the idea, the local need and the strong growth of Vietnam. It keeps us motivated to deliver a better service every day.