Startups Surviving Covid-19 #3: Jacob Wedderburn of Stasher
Stasher is a sharing economy solution for storage. They described themselves as the “Airbnb of Luggage.” They realised that people don’t want to drag their suitcases, backpacks or more around a city a few hours before departure. With their global network of hotels and stores with extra space, travellers can find affordable, convenient storage for their belongings. Secured with the same standards as a hotel check-in, Stasher partners with leading brands to provide storage worldwide.
As we all know, Covid-19 affected London’s startups in direct and indirect ways, and it has permanently changed the landscape for London’s technology businesses like the rest of the world. So we are interviewing key people of the startup ecosystem to ask them about their challenges and survival strategies in this hard time.
We hope that this interview series will be helpful and insightful for other startups in London out there. Because we believe that the most important thing is to learn from each other and be helpful to others, within this direction, you are welcomed to the third episode of our “How to Survive Covid-19 as a Startup?” interview series. You can reach all of them from our Covid-19 Interviews YouTube playlist. So let’s begin, fellas!
Watch the interview:
Work from home situation
Jacob Weddenburn is the CEO and Co-Founder of Stasher. We interviewed him and asked him questions. First of all, we ask him about his observations of how startups handle work from home situations.
He says that: “People are incredibly adaptable, and it’s quite impressive because, before this whole experience, we did have some fairly regular working from home setups going on. It generally tended to be for our product and development team that works from home more regularly. Generally, our team tends to prefer being in the office, where they can still interact with each other, and it’s all facilitated more by in-person conversations. Still, we were somewhat prepared for working from home.”
About the remote working culture
About the remote working culture and its effects, he says that: “I don’t think we’d ever imagined the scenario where the whole company goes work from home because, even in the early days of founding this, Anthony and I actually made a point of going somewhere else to work together. But, then, the company has been self-built on that kind of the basis of social interaction and being somewhere to work. So, that’s been interesting and challenging, but it’s been quite positive for the most part. What makes this whole experience unique is not just for us but for everyone is that the world is going through this. It’s something that everyone is going through together. The uncertainty around how long it will last and when it will end is probably the bigger challenge.
How Stasher is handling the Covid-19 situation?
There’s always a silver lining but it’s a pretty big cloud in this case. We’re just useful context – as a travel company what we do is, we have a network of shops and hotels around the world that provide luggage storage. Very much the use cases people go travelling they need somewhere to keep their belongings safe either before they check-in or after they check out. It’s a fair sort of typical problem that tourists of all levels experience. We’re going really well up until March. We were in a fantastic growth trajectory and triple 2018 in 2019 and continuing. Initially, that was a little bit painful. I was quite lucky in a couple of respects.
I had a sort of advance warning of this just from our investors and probably you’ve come across that letter from Sequoia Capital. They send an open letter to their founders saying this pandemic is the black swan of 2020 and it’s gonna be worse than people are saying. I did a podcast back in January. Someone asked me about Coronavirus and I said: “It doesn’t really affect us at the moment. It seems to be mostly concentrated in Asia.” It literally changes so rapidly. I listened back to that podcast and I thought at least in the podcast I said: “If this comes to Europe it will affect us.”
He is saying that: “In terms of our business that was a bit stressful, I’m in the habit of checking our dashboard every day but our dashboard now looks like this ER scan of a dying patient and it has finally set up tapered off and hit a zero with lockdowns in place and that’s a weird experience. Your whole mindset is around like users and growth and the whole paradigm of that has changed.”
How others are handling the Covid-19 situation?
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity..”
That’s one of the hardest things really is that in terms of lockdown as an experience Mr. Jacob rather than is the founder I’m quite an optimistic and a proactive person. I’m not too worried about being in quarantine because, I know that I’ll keep myself busy and fit like gym, running and cycling stuff. There are plenty of courses.
I think in some ways, it’s a rare opportunity because as a founder, you’re in this mindset that you’re in a really long time commitment with your business. I’ve never expected to have this sort of time and space where there isn’t so much day-to-day admin with the business. As a founder, you have a responsibility to lead during the crisis. It’s fun being a manager when things are going well. You just get to reward people, you get to celebrate lots of successes etc.
However, it’s a challenge to balance that, especially with all the uncertainty because, I think, this is outside of my control and we’ve been very clear with our team from the start. We had two priorities which are number one, we’ve got to preserve as much cash as possible because when we come out. The other side of this, we want as much of the remaining investment to be able to rebuild and regrow.
So, everyone needs to save everything. We’re only spending money on the essentials. The other principle is that we really want to preserve the team structure for as long as we possibly can. When this first round hit, our response was rather than sort of making any cuts we said let’s drop the whole team down to 80% time and I cut our salaries 50% as well. It means that we can keep everyone in their jobs until May and their employment is secured until that time and the company can save that money.
Effects on London startup ecosystem
Our founder Ozan Dağdeviren asks about how Covid-19 situation affected the London startup Ecosystem. Here is Jacob’s answer:
“It’s a bit hard to say in an overview sense because my perspective is coloured by the relationships that I have. I’ve been talking to those families that I’m friendly with and everyone’s going through the same thing. We’re all really confident that we will come back but we’re all trying to keep the business alive.
I’m very envious of the handful of companies that are really benefiting from this. Anything in online delivery, anything in communications such as Zoom. They are the heroes of this crisis. They’re really riding the wave. Fintech will generally be okay and I know London has a fantastic hub for fintech. So many great companies came out of the 2008 – 2009 crisis and there’s always opportunity again. The big challenge with this particular thing is, everyone feels like when the measures ease up, things will we don’t know how quickly but things will also return to a pre-crisis day. The only question is the timing and how long will it be.”
Jacob wrote his 20 predictions about what Covid-19 would change on his LinkedIn profile page. So, our last question to him was about this. He will summarise the most important ones, and if you want to read all twenty, you can go and check it out on his LinkedIn page or find it from here.
Universal basic income project
Reduction in wildlife poaching
3 Projections out of 20
I’ve always been quite a big fan of the universal basic income project. It’s gonna get a lot more attention now than it ever has before. In some respects, the policies that governments are conducting in the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, and probably in other places are almost an experiment in universal basic income. They’re not universal, but they’re certainly basic. They’re meeting some of the criteria, and it will give us a lot more data to see whether there’s merit in those policies.
Will the economy go cashless? I don’t know. I thought it was worth mentioning because I figured that, in the immediate term, there would be serious hygiene concerns around using cash. If that forces enough people who would otherwise be unbanked if it forces them into a situation where they actually require mobile banking, that might be the kind of tipping point that catalyzes the: “Okay, we don’t actually need cash anymore.” and there are obvious benefits to go cashless.
Another one that’s quite close to my heart and I hope comes true is reducing wildlife poaching. That was some news I saw really early on in the news unfolding around Coronavirus, which was that China had to really step up its fans on the trade of wild animals. I thought it was a bit of a shame that it went a little bit under the radar because obviously, at the time, the big news was how the pandemic was sweeping around Europe if that’s something that can last outlast the crisis, another hugely positive consequence for the World.
Lastly, startups have so much to offer the economy, especially post-crisis, because they can move so quickly and adapt. So I really hope many good ones can make it through, and a lot of new ones come out of this.
Thanks for your insights Jacob and thanks to you, our reader. Believe that everything is going to be okay soon. Stay safe, stay healthy!
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Each week, we will be visiting a new startup office to meet with their team & founders. Stay tuned!