“Rural travel may actually exceed urban, for the first time ever”: Interview with Stasher’s CEO Jacob Wedderburn-Day

Have you ever landed in a city for a few hours, and wished you could dump your bag somewhere to explore? Well, then Stasher is around to come to the rescue.

London-based startup Stasher is a sharing economy solution to luggage storage. This means that it connects travelers with local shops and hotels who can securely store their luggage on a short-to-medium term basis. Having stored half a million bags in 1200+ locations, in 250 cities, across 6 continents, and raised money at the start of 2019, Stasher has been on a roll. However with the current pandemic, we wanted to catch up with their co-founder and CEO Jacob Wedderburn-Day to see how things are fairing in the travel industry, as well as get the chance to hear their tips on how they grew so fast, and what they have planned for the rest of the year.

Hello Jacob, thank you for joining us. To start off, could you tell us what inspired you to start Stasher?

Anthony and I both knew we wanted to become entrepreneurs. We used to talk about going into business together long before we had the idea for Stasher. The year we started it, we’d both just moved to London, and we said, “This is the best year to try and make something work.” Stasher itself came about because people were often asking to store stuff at Anthony’s flat, as it was so near the train station. The more we looked into the problem, we realised that storage in cities is a genuine issue, and the station lockers were not equipped to deal with the rising demand from tourism, especially from Airbnb.

There are a few luggage storage innovations in Europe at the moment but Stasher has already stored close to half a million bags in 1200+ locations. What is unique about Stasher and different to your competitors?

We’ve put trust at the heart of what we do. That means we vet locations and aim to have as many hotels as possible on the platform, whereas our competitors tend to operate with cornershops. We’ve been around the longest, which itself isn’t a USP, but it has meant we had first-mover advantage in a lot of territories and locked in some great relationships with big partners, such as Premier Inn, Hotels.com and most recently Marriott Homes and Villas.

We’re also the only platform to use a verified review system. We use it to make sure we are constantly monitoring the quality of our own network, so that we can put customer experience first. 

I also like to think we have the best tech, but I admit I’m biased when it comes to answering that!

Stasher has already partnered with the likes of Klook, Sonder, Marriott, and Hotels.com. Do you have any advice for startups creating and maintaining partnerships with large corporations?

Creating those sorts of relationships is tough, and sometimes it takes a bit of luck. With Hotels.com, we participated in one of their accelerator competitions and won it – and that has given us a host of great contacts! Other times, you get lucky by reaching the right person at the right time. So far, I have never regretted going to a travel conference, because networking in person with people is crucial to building relationships and laying a foundation to work together. It is certainly going to be a challenge if physical networking is limited for a while in the post-covid world!

Working with so many partners, how do you manage the security of travellers’ possessions?

We uphold strict standards, modelled on the way hotels check their guests in and out. We have an insurance deal in place to cover incidents, but the wonderful thing about this model is that there are very few. Everyone is incentivised to do the right thing. Our hosts are all operating businesses – they care about their reputations, getting good reviews and driving more business, so we have never had any trouble with them looking after things securely. 

You’ve expanded to 120+ cities in 6 continents! Could you give some behind-the-scenes knowledge on how you’ve achieved this so fast?

Well, when you put it like that! We’ve run some great trips – last autumn, our growth team toured Australia and New Zealand, which made a lot of people (me included) very jealous.

Deals with big companies certainly help you expand fast – the depth of coverage we have in the UK is largely thanks to our deal with Premier Inn.

Each year, we’ve planned out dedicated trips to key cities that we model will work well on Stasher. The team have also done a great job of opportunistically signing up places on their own holidays, which is always great to see!

Being reliant on the travel industry, how have you been managing during the pandemic? Have you pivoted/adapted in any way?

Yeah, this has been a really tough period for us – being a travel tech company, we have seen revenues drop to zero and much of our network close down during lockdowns. We’ve taken a pragmatic approach. This year, our goal is survival rather than growth. We’ve cut costs ruthlessly, although so far we have avoided laying anyone off (the UK government’s furlough scheme has been a blessing in this regard). The only thing we are spending money on now is product development. We figure it’s actually a good time to get ahead of our plans in this department, as it’s a rare time to focus without distraction. 

We have not yet pivoted, but we are investigating new revenue streams, so we can diversify a bit in the future. It’s been quite fun going back to the beginning and brainstorming new ideas from scratch.

How do you think the tourism industry will move forward after the pandemic?

It will be badly scarred, for sure. Government bailouts will keep many companies afloat, but a lot are going to really suffer. Big layoffs across big companies are the start. 

I’m closest to the accommodation sector, so I can only really comment on that. Airbnb are really hard hit, there’s no getting around that fact. A lot of “rentrepreneurs” with many mortgaged properties are going to be flushed off the platform and will need to turn to longer-term lets. I love Airbnb and it’s been a major factor in Stasher’s success, but in view of the problems it has created around housing shortages, this could be a good thing. So Airbnb’s supply will drop.

However, vacation rentals should bounce back faster than hotels, because hotels will have to make a cost calculation about when to re-open. For example, how many rooms do they need to fill before it is cost-effective to open their doors? Vacation rentals and Airbnbs will not have this problem. 

Domestic travel will come back before international travel, because of the co-ordination required to re-open borders. Rural travel may actually exceed urban, for the first time ever. 

Cleanliness will be a big theme in accommodation and hotels and vacation rentals will need to make concerted efforts to demonstrate their commitment to sanitation. 

Outside of accommodation, my personal prediction is that cruises will suffer quite badly and airlines will be really set back by this, but that the assets won’t go to waste, so ultimately it won’t be the end of low-cost flights, but it will be a terrible year for them. 

You raised €2.25 million in January of this year. Why was this the right moment for you to raise funds and do you intend to raise more in the future?

Talk about timing! Looking back, this was incredibly lucky. It was the right moment to raise funds for two reasons: 1) we had hit all the milestones we had wanted to achieve before raising this round and 2) (as is most often the case with startups) we needed it for runway! I dread to think how unlucky it would have been if the raise had been a few months delayed. 

I would not rule out future fundraising – since travel may enjoy a great resurgence – but for now, our focus is on operating more profitably. It’s easy to get sucked into the world of burning money for growth, but with the risk that this pandemic may have future waves, I do not want to rely on venture funds being available to keep us afloat in the future. 

What cool plans does Stasher have for 2020 and beyond?

This would have been a more fun question to answer before the lockdowns! Our plans are significantly less cool in light of the pandemic! We’re hoping to be back to serving customers soon, and we’re very pleased that our tech is looking much better than it was. If you don’t have it already (and if I’m allowed to plug this), please check out our apps now that they’ve been given a makeover and I’d love to hear your feedback (email jacob@stasher.com). 

Rather than launching more new territories, we may look to consolidate the cities we are working in, and with luck we may have a new revenue stream to accompany our original one. Our hiring plans have slowed until the business proves it can sustain more people, but at the same time this is the sort of experience that can bring teams closer together. 

But it’s not all gloomy. Operating more profitably may seem less sexy than growing fast, but this pandemic has reasserted the fact that for all businesses, cash is king; so taking a more proactive approach to cash management as a result of this is no bad thing! And ultimately, I can’t help but think that this is a good experience for Anthony and I to have so young in our careers (aged 25 and 26 respectively) – if we can manage our way through this crisis, I’m confident we can manage our way through almost anything!

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