Building Something Bigger Than You — And Letting It Grow
When I left my first job on Wall Street to move into the startup world, I knew very little. A lot of my time was spent in conversations with others, trying to learn. I got noticed for hustle, but picked up some great advice along the way. The most prescient advice was that a good manager’s job is to bring on better people, and get out of their way. I remember reading a story about Michael Bloomberg when he spoke to managers inside his organization. He always asked, “Who is your replacement.” In the world of building something bigger than you, these types of things come up often. During a fundraise, we had to schedule flights to the west coast for MakeSpace’s leadership, and we had to put company executives on separate flights…because hey, ya never know. With that much responsibility, we had to think bigger than ourselves.
MakeSpace has grown tremendously since it was a eureka moment born of post-Sandy storage navigation. We created the category and very few people initially believed in us — somewhat ironic since so many venture dollars have now poured into the space. Mark Suster and Upfront provided a jumping off point that led to building something great. Very early in the process, I identified an amazing co-founder and my eventual replacement — Rahul Gandhi. He also became and still is one of my best friends. Rahul was the third person to hear the idea behind my then girlfriend and Mark. He left the relative comfort of his VC job to face the challenges of running a lean startup while being a father to two young children. Rahul’s kids were born extremely premature, and they got their tenacity from their dad.
I’ll never forget when we leased our first MakeSpace vehicle. We sat in the parking lot of the dealership, having just signed personal guarantees for about $40,000 in car payments. I kind of had this “Oh sh*t just got real” moment, looked at Rahul, and said “Now what do we do if this doesn’t work?” Rahul said, “We have no choice but to make this work. I won’t let this fail.” I knew he was right and we drove off the lot. For 9 months, Rahul would drive the van himself and did about 200 of the first pickups. I’ll always be grateful to him for his strength and ability to pick me up when I was down and vice versa.
Since its early days (in unbranded green Uniqlo shirts, when we took cabs to do our first pickup because we couldn’t even hail Uber at the time), MakeSpace has grown. It has many people interested in seeing it succeed: tens of thousands of customers, incredibly supportive investors, and hundreds of employees. MakeSpace is bigger than me, and it’s time for me to step aside to let it get bigger. It still has some risks to take and important chapters ahead, and Rahul is the best person to help guide those decisions. I’ve worked closely with Rahul and the board to layout my vision for the future of our product, and the MakeSpace brand is by far and away the most recognizable in our category and it will remain that way for decades to come.
I’m very proud of the past 5 years as MakeSpace’s founder and CEO. I’ve learned a ton, mostly about people. Startups are families. My proudest moments, similar to a parent, were watching our employees grow. There are many stories, but some of the highlights include: employees that met at MakeSpace and remain couples today; a team member who started in the warehouse, decided to go back to school and now is on our finance team in HQ; and one of our leaders who not only helped craft important parental leave policies that are better than every startup at our stage, but is also expecting the birth of her child any day now! There were challenges too — just like families – unexpected events can really hurt. We lost one of our colleagues and it depressed morale more than you can imagine. It’s never something you can plan for, and it takes a lot to get through. Ladidi Garba will always have a special place in my heart.
While I am no longer going to be involved with the day-to-day at MakeSpace, I remain heavily invested in seeing the company succeed. My brother remains an advisor and part-time legal counsel, and I continue to be one of the largest shareholders in MakeSpace. I’ll do whatever I can to help. For now, I’m going to take a much overdue breather. I’ll spend some time traveling, focus on more of my angel investing and scout work, and look forward to networking with people who were in the same place I was nearly a decade ago.
I’m grateful to the tens of thousands of customers, hundreds of current and past employees, and dozens of family and friends that have believed in my vision.
MakeSpace was born out of a literal (non-figurative) disaster. As life unfolds, I never really know where the twists and turns take me.
The best thing to do is wait and see.