From student to business owner

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Image: Patrick Hansen
Image: Patrick Hansen
Image: Patrick Hansen

The Saint recently met up with the founder of Storcade.com, Patrick Hansen, a former MLitt in Philosophy at St Andrews, for a discussion about his start-up and what he has learned from being an entrepreneur. Storcade is like a Skyscanner for the self-storage industry. Providers of self-storage are disparate and, with no way to compare them, it often requires much time and effort to find the service most suitable to your needs. This is the pain point that Storcade.com was built to address. Users enter the location where they want to search for storage and the amenities they require and the website returns results sorted by price. Ultimately Storcade.com aims to “mak[e] self-storage search easy,” said Mr Hansen, much like Skyscanner has done for airfare.

The development of Storcade really kicked off last March when Mr Hansen entered the Idea Explosion 2015 competition, which provides St Andrews students the opportunity to turn a great idea into a successful venture. His idea for Storcade was only at the business plan stage when he entered, but his project obviously impressed. Along with his partner Chris Schott, an MLitt in International Business, he won a £150 prize along with up to £1,300 in business funding. The latter allowed him to develop a prototype.

Now, armed with this prototype and some adjustments to his original plan, Mr Hansen is currently seeking Series A funding. A Series A round typically denotes a company’s first significant attempt to attract venture capital financing. However he advised caution to others thinking of doing the same. “Not all start-ups can and should seek venture funding,” he warned. “Only a small minority succeed and that is largely based on which option has the least risk and the most guaranteed profitability. If you do not have your ducks in a row, seeking this kind of funding may only create more hurdles for you with little payoff, leaving your application in a kind of cyclical filing bin.”

Despite seeking funding himself, Mr Hansen is a big believer in bootstrapping, and he strongly encourages any ambitious or entrepreneurial students to follow this route. He believes that university is one of the best times to start a business, especially at St Andrews. He said: “As a student you get a lot of mileage by simply calling people or walking up to them in the street and saying, ‘my name is ________ and I am a student at St Andrews. I’m trying to start a business. Do you have a few minutes to talk?’ As students, we only have a limited period of time to make the most of this name recognition.”

Patrick himself learned the value of such persistence while working as a sales representative at IBM, where calling and talking again and again with the same people often led to results – and payment. In fact, one of Mr Hansen’s tips for ambitious students interested in entrepreneurship is embodied by one of his heroes, Walt Disney. Disney declared bankruptcy seven times before he made his millions. Mr Hansen notes that if you look at the great innovators of the past, they are the people who were the most persistent, who did not give up when the odds were against them.

Thanks to his persistence, Mr Hansen now has a busy schedule in front of him. The Series A round is expected to run until December with a launch party planned for January. The burgeoning company is ambitious, with a projected expansion into Europe within two to three years and anticipated global distribution in as few as five. Patrick has also been busy building his team. He recently welcomed one of the creators of the website cofounders.com, who was previously a website engineer for O2. Cofounders.com does what its name suggests, connecting entrepreneurs who need a teammate with different skills than their own in order to realise an idea. Much like a matchmaking service, the site uses individual profiles to connect compatible partners. It is serendipitous that Mr Hansen’s own partner happened to be one of the company’s co-founders.

However, it has not always been smooth sailing in the run-up to Storcade’s success. Looking back, Mr Hansen recognises that the most critical mistake he made was not doing enough research. For anyone considering pursuing an idea for a product or service, he recommends that one can never do too much research. He was originally of the opinion that companies would simply sign up to Storcade.com and that there was little needed in the way of sales staff. However, following advice, he has altered both his marketing and sales strategy to attract customers and promote the company.

Lucky for him, it is easier than ever to create a business team, with online services available for marketing, design and connectivity. You can even commission someone to create an app. Admittedly, all of these tasks require money and talent, but sites such as Fiverr are a great resource for those looking for cost-effective support.

Despite the challenges, Mr Hansen was not put off his mission to start a company of his own. In fact, entrepreneurship in his blood. Both his father and grandfather built their own companies, and Mr Hansen has always loved the fact that capitalism allows you to have an idea and then and then make that idea into a reality. But more than just opportunity, Mr Hansen is motivated by a desire to help others. If someone is having trouble, he loves that there is a culture and associated policies in place to help him or her find a solution on Storcade.com.

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Other winners of last year’s Idea Explosion competition include Reharvest (an Enactus Project), a social enterprise aimed at reducing food waste and empowering women in Fife. Representatives from the Enactus team Grace Dau, Renee Horster, Meleah Moore and Joshuah Pooley won a judges’ prize of £350. Tobias Harris also won a judges’ prize of the same amount for his idea Mental Health Monologues, a play raising awareness of mental health based on writers’ experiences. The writer of this article, Antonia Wade, also won a prize for her idea for a make-up allergy app that would discover which makeup and skin care products would cause an allergic reaction for individual users. Finally, the team of Robert Hammon, Stephen Gillespie and John Kennedy won the final prize for their scatter light integrating collector (SLIC) which detects particles by studying the scattering of laser light in a new, more sensitive way.

To learn more about student enterprise at the University, the careers centre’s website has information about bringing ideas to life, seeking guidance, attending events and entering competitions.

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