“Always Listen to Your Customer” The 5 Lessons I Learned Being a 20-Something Founder
I had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon Gotlieb. Brandon runs NXTSTOR, a peer to peer marketplace for storage and a venture partner at Contrary Capital, a student lead venture firm. Brandon co-founded NXTSTOR as a freshman in college and has launched the platform this past spring. The team is currently raising a seed round and is adding more users continually.
Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?
I became a founder in that cliche college way you hear about. My roomate Mike, who is my cofounder, was describing an advert he saw for a pitch competition. I immediately thought of an idea I had been dreaming about since highschool when I first heard about AirBnB. It was to create a marketplace for someone who didn’t want to host guests. We quickly threw together a pitch deck and had an absolute blast pitching the project. We got some support and money and got to work building it. We loved the experience and have been building it ever since.
Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We stand out as student founders on a traditionally non-entrepreneurial campus. People are constantly shocked that we remain full time students and have built such an incredible product. When we meet potential partners they are blown away by the fact that we are so young and conduct ourselves in such a professional manner. Our fresh ideas are changing the way the storage industry works.
Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We are working on building out the website further and integrating a moving service called MUVE so that you have one-click moving along with the booking of your space. I’m also continually scouting amazing companies for Contrary Capital.
Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I think one of the best reads for any founder or anyone thinking to launch a business is “Venture Deals” By Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson. A great way to understand exactly what you’re getting into and what you should do to prepare. After seeing both sides of the equation now, the entrepreneur truly gets the VC viewpoint after reading this book. I think my favorite story from all this is the first time Mike and I posted to reddit. When we had initially put out the idea of NXTSTOR we decided to post to a local group to describe what we hoped to do. We go ABSOLUTELY ripped apart by the community. They thought surely the idea would never works and poked about a million holes in every plan we had. We wrote a list of everything they said and one by one checked off every aspect of their worries. When we finally launched, some of the same people applauded us for answering every one of their worries. We realized then that user sentiment was one of the most vital aspects of any new product.
Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Always listen to your customer. This goes with what’s above. If you can’t make them comfortable and love what you’ve created they’ll never appreciate what you’ve done.
- If you’re working with a peer to peer marketplace always start with supply. When we first launched we had a massive backlog of people wanting to rent. We had no supply of space available and the agitated first batch of customers vanished. We had to work to get them back.
- The small issues will drive you the craziest. Normal companies think of insurance as no big deal and a regular accessory charge that they experience every month. With NXTSTOR we scoured the US looking for someone to provide insurance for us and nearly gave up. Nobody would provide us a good solution. We searched high and low and almost created our own insurance, until we found the perfect match when we thought we would never find a solution.
- Reach out to everyone! I continually send linkedin messages to people I think are interesting and would love to meet with. More often than not I get awesome responses. Everyone in the startup community is awesome and listening to advice is super helpful.
- There will be more projects. Don’t beat a bad idea to death trying to make it work. If you’re an intelligent person (which I bet you are) take a step back and wait for the right idea to form.
Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I would absolutely love to sit down with Kai Ryssdal who hosts Marketplace on NPR. I’ve driven back and forth from OSU to Cleveland for meetings so many times this past year and Marketplace is the highlight of those days. I love the show and the way he runs it.
— Published on June 27, 2018