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This week we spoke to Jacob Wedderburn-Day, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Stasher, to gain insight into how he became an accomplished entrepreneur and how he is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic as a young travel tech company founder.
Stasher is a startup that helps travelers store their luggage securely with verified partner hotels and shops. Stasher’s services are available in more than 250 cities worldwide. Stasher saw success early on and offered a much-needed solution in the travel industry.
However, in light of recent global shutdowns, Stasher has had to adapt.
Recognizing business opportunities
Wedderburn-Day drew on personal experience when he identified the need for Stasher. He explained that inspiration first struck when he asked his friend Anthony Collias, who lived near London’s bustling Kings Cross Station, if he could leave luggage at his home.
That sparked a conversation. Wedderburn-Day and Collias both agreed that the lack of accessible storage areas for travelers in major cities is a problem.
“Luggage is a pain point when you travel – there’s no getting around that,” he explained. “A very familiar problem is when you check out and your flight is not until later, and you need somewhere to store your bags. That’s where Stasher comes in.”
As the co-founders of Stasher, Wedderburn-Day and Collias were recognized on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Europe List for 2020. It’s no wonder that Stasher is being recognized, especially among travel-hungry millennials.
“You can browse local businesses with extra space, book them for half the price of a typical station locker and store your bags there in the knowledge they are safe and insured,” said Wedderburn-Day.
Looking on the bright side
The path to founding Stasher wasn’t clear from the outset for Wedderburn-Day. He recalls a particularly critical moment in his journey being a day of rejection.
“When I was studying, although Ant and I loved talking about businesses, I followed the crowd and applied for some city jobs,” he recalled. “The only one I was actually interested in was McKinsey [& Company] mainly because they have such a good reputation.”
“I got to the final round and got rejected, and everybody said afterwards, ‘One day you’ll look back and realise it was for the best,’” he remembered. “Even at the time, I felt that was true, but it’s great to look back at all we’ve achieved and really be able to say ‘Wow, yeah, I would have missed out on all of this!’” Instead, Wedderburn-Day was able to forge a unique path.
That gratitude and optimism are also apparent in his pragmatic acceptance of the current shutdown, which is especially notable considering the disruption that the travel industry and, by extension, Stasher has recently faced. Wedderburn-Day’s positive outlook has helped him focus on the journey as much as the destination.
“Spending time with family has been great,” he said. “I’ve really missed spending time with friends in person, though we’ve made up for it with WhatsApp and Zoom. I feel grateful for the fact that I have enjoyed the journey up until now so much.”
“It’s tempting in the startup world to believe hard work is the only way, and you have to slave until you succeed. If that had been my life, I’d be gutted that it had all been ruined by this pandemic,” he said.
“But I can’t help but feel that so much about being an entrepreneur is enjoying the journey, and I’m grateful that I’ve enjoyed it as much as I have until now."
Responding to “The Great Pause”
Wedderburn-Day has focused on opportunities during this shutdown, especially when it comes to focus and introspection. “I’ve heard the pandemic described as “The Great Pause" and I love that expression,” he explained. “Because that’s what it feels like. The pace of life has had to slow right down.”
“This pandemic has made me reflect that one of the great joys of my job, up until now, has been the opportunity to solve problems and be creative on an almost daily basis,” he said.
One method of solving problems for Stasher in the face of an industry essentially on hold is developing a smart fiscal strategy. He has stripped costs to the bare essentials for his business.
Stasher fortunately has some cushion, having raised EU€2.25 million (US$2.55 million) in January of this year, which made for pretty perfect timing.
“We’ve cut costs and put most things on pause to preserve cash and runway,” he explained.
“Now we’re trying to be really strategic about what to spend money on and where to focus our efforts. We decided it was a good opportunity for us to invest in making our project really nice.”
Wedderburn-Day also now has the opportunity to channel his creativity into a new project, a podcast that he launched during this shutdown called, “The Morality of Everyday Things,” where he and Collias engage in relevant philosophical discussions.
We were excited to continue chatting with Wedderburn-Day to learn more about his life and the future of Stasher.
How many hours a week do you spend on work? What about family/hobbies?
40-50. I try to be proactive about making time for family and hobbies and avoid working late or on weekends for this reason! I love exercise, so [I] do something every day before I start work.
Stasher services are present in 250 cities worldwide. How did you effectively pitch Stasher to potential shop or hotel partners?
It’s been refined over the years! But in essence, the pitch is not so much a sale as an offer of partnership. Our incentives are well aligned. We make money when our hosts make money. We’re offering them a customer acquisition channel that they get paid for! Put like that, the only question is how much storage they can free up for it.
What do you believe is the biggest risk to your company?
This year, the big risk is just that travel demand stays low – and policy changes keep it that way. I have not yet travelled, but I’ve seen that airport security is necessarily much slower. Factors like that, that make it harder to travel, will dampen demand for our business – and that’s OK for now, because we put measures in place to stretch out our runway. But if it makes it very hard for us to run this profitably, then that will be a challenge. I don’t see there being any existential threats to Stasher, and the pandemic has shown me how possible it is to strip back costs to the bare essentials. But obviously, my goal as a founder is to grow Stasher to its fullest potential. The biggest risk for now is that it takes much more time to realise that.
What’s something, personal or professional, you’re currently working on achieving?
Personally, Ant (my co-founder) and I launched a podcast during lockdown called “The Morality of Everyday Things." We chat a lot about philosophy and the world’s problems and figured a podcast was a great format to capture this. It’s available on Spotify and all other platforms, and putting energy into creating, producing and sharing that has been a lot of fun.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer or (when I grew old enough to know what the word meant) an entrepreneur.
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