In 2012, Sam Rosen felt aimless. The reformed CitiBanker's last startup was going nowhere fast, and he was shuffling his feet without a project. Then Hurricane Sandy hit.
"My then-girlfriend got her entire place destroyed in a flood," says Rosen. After sorting through what remained of her stuff, they had to pack up and move what her belongings into a storage facility in Hoboken, which turned out to be a logistical nightmare. Packing stuff in boxes was messy, and they couldn't find anything when they needed it later. That's where the idea for MakeSpace was born.
Rosen, who would go on to cofound the company in 2013 with Adam LeVasseur and Rahul Gandhi, describes MakeSpace as "Dropbox meets storage unit." That sort of Silicon Valley-speak might raise eyebrows on paper, but it's actually not far off. MakeSpace, which launched in beta last summer in New York, aims to take the headache and messy guesswork out of physically storing your extra stuff in a storage unit. It's like having an extra closet.
Today MakeSpace announced that it has raised $8 million in Series A funding, led by Upfront Ventures and with participation from Founders Fund and OATV, among others. It works like this: Once you sign up through the app or website, you request plastic bins ($25/month for 4 bins, with $6.25 for each additional bin), which are sent to your home. You pack your extra stuff up (oversized stuff like snowboards or furniture are extra), it's taken away by a MakeSpace truck and stored in a warehouse outside of the city, and you can request bins back whenever you want for $29. That's about the cost of a round-trip cab ride, says Rosen.
Users can also opt to have photos of each bin's contents taken, so that they can see what they actually stored online. "We create a digital catalog, which 99.99% of our customers opt in for, and we take an overhead photo of the boxes in a studio," Rosen says. "So if you're looking for a 'beige sweater,' you know which beige sweater you actually stored."
Like many a founder-slash-CEO, Rosen is a bundle of energy. He speaks fast, gesticulates big, and is constantly drawing parallels. When I met up with him in MakeSpace's office in Chinatown, he compared MakeSpace to everything from FreshDirect (without the food) to a "reverse Amazon" (and monoliths like Manhattan Mini Storage are, according to Rosen, akin to local bookstores).
But his itchy enthusiasm is at least partly what attracted the attention of some big-time investors, namely Mark Suster, General Partner of Upfront Ventures. "What I was trying to find is industries people hate," Suster tells me in a phone conversation. When Rosen hinted at the idea for MakeSpace over coffee in 2012, he was still "noodling" with the idea of cloud storage for physical stuff; Suster thought it was such a brilliant idea that—even without an actual business plan—he gave Rosen $100,000 to make MakeSpace happen, and brought him aboard as Upfront's first "entrepreneur in residence."
For now, MakeSpace is focused on disrupting what Rosen considers to be an archaic $24 billion storage industry in New York, but he eventually hopes to expand business along the eastern seaboard. "We have a real opportunity to disrupt the storage business," says Rosen, who tells me he couldn't be happier to have found a project he can throw himself into. "We want people to have that second or third closet that's accessible, and more importantly, we don't want them to forget about what's inside."
[Image: Flickr user The U.S. Army]