Shaper: Steve Folwell

Show aired on 15th October 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
The fantastic sound of Quincy Jones with Soul Bossa Nova, you may recall it from the very famous Austin Powers film as well. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and we do something special, we put Business Shapers right alongside them. They are the people that are shaping the world of business and I am really pleased to say that I have a cracker today called Steve Folwell. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Lovespace. Lovespace is an incredibly clever business, it doesn’t ask you to store huge units of stuff if you want stuff out of your house, it says you can do it box by box. You are going to be hearing lots from Steve very shortly. In addition to hearing from Steve you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we go to the music and we have got some brilliant stuff today; trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf is on the list, young pianist Joey Alexander who I love and this from the one and only Ella Fitzgerald.

That was Ella Fitzgerald with It’s Only A Paper Moon. Steve Folwell is my Business Shaper today. As I said earlier he is the co-founder and CEO of Lovespace. It is a brilliant name for a brilliant idea and basically they – well I am going to let Steve tell you what it is and then we will go back into the dark history of this man in front of me. Steve, thank you so much for joining me. What is Lovespace?

Steve Folwell
Hi Elliot. Lovespace is the UK’s first storage by the box company. It is sort of Ocado for Big Yellow. So if you want anything looked after whether you are a consumer or a business, you just let us know, we come and pick it up as soon as the next day, look after it in one of our storage facilities and then you just need to forget about it until you want it back and you can call back the whole stuff or one item at a time to any address in the UK.

Elliot Moss
It’s a ridiculously simple idea says me who didn’t come up with it but why? Where did this idea come from and we are going to talk about you being a management consultant and maybe it’s just that you are a beer moth of a brain and you have four thousand ideas and this was the one you alighted on but I suspect it probably wasn’t that?

Steve Folwell
Well I did have about four thousand ideas when I left my previous job I had a list of really quite barmy ideas that I wanted to go and pursue but then I met two guys, one is called Brett Akker, Brett founded a business called Street Car which he sold to Zip Car and that was all about making car hire easier and simple and better value and one of his investors was one of the great entrepreneurs of storage across Europe, a guy called Carl August Ameln from Norway and they had just come up with this idea. I wanted to do something new. Their idea was a lot better than mine frankly and so I joined them to start it three and a half years ago.

Elliot Moss
Now talking about how one looks at ideas and not all ideas are born equal as you allude to. You did maths at Cambridge, you went into McKinsey’s a management consultancy firm obviously and then you’ve worked in various places; ITV and the Guardian and you’ve done interesting things because those are very interesting companies. How have you along the way been decided what would and wouldn’t work. I mean you said you had four thousand ideas, why was this one the one that surfaced after all those other ideas? If it wasn’t one that came directly from you?

Steve Folwell
Sure, well interestingly I had had a very similar idea with a friend of mine from ITV about ten years ago. We looked at people picking up you know, skip waste from outside houses and thought well, you know, why would… why do you need to throw it away, why couldn’t we come and store it and this was sort of before really the whole idea of you know, on demand grocery had come about and it really wouldn’t have worked back then so I had a bit of affinity with the idea already because I had looked at it before, this sort of space but I think really if you can explain it to your kids, your mum, your friends and it makes intuitive sense that’s a good start. Then the other thing that is just brilliant about this as an area is the market is booming and has been for twenty years. I mean traditional self-storage is actually quite a young industry globally, particularly in the UK and it only really started in the late 70s, early 80s and the fundamentals are pretty clear. You know, people are finding it increasingly difficult to find large space to live in, the idea that you’ve got an attic to put anything other than yourself in to sleep in is quite old hat and so it is not just that the idea itself makes sense but you know, the market opportunities is really clear and I guess thirdly, and this is hugely important and it’s why I have joined the companies that I have and you know, and worked so hard in those is that I, you know, I believe in what we can do as a business to help people. You know, I think it’s quite stressful living city lives and if we can, if we can provide something that people really value and our customers you know, do seem really to love the service then you know, that helps, that helps justify me spending the hours I do trying to drive the business forward.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today, that’s Steve Folwell; he is the co-founder and CEO of Lovespace and it is a rather clever idea. Time for some more music, this is the brilliant Ibrahim Maalouf with Essentielles.

Ibrahim Maalouf with the, it won’t go quietly I call it, Essentielles. It is a nice big number. Steve Folwell is my Business Shaper here on Jazz Shapers today; co-founder and CEO of Lovespace as I said and Steve we were talking about ideas. I want to talk for a moment about the fact that you worked as an employee for many, many years after University and in different kinds of places but essentially if my maths is roughly right, about fourteen years before you then said ‘you know what, I am going to be my own boss’.

Steve Folwell
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
That’s… I’ve learnt along this journey of doing this programme that there is no one way of doing things but that’s not the most conventional, that’s quite a long time to spend working for someone else. What made you hang on so long?

Steve Folwell
Yeah that’s a really interesting question and now I’ve done this I ask myself that a lot. I mean I had a great time in my career and I was very lucky to work in some really interesting places and quite fast moving places, you know, I am not the kind of person who can sort of sit still at a desk doing roughly the same thing for too long. I think you are right, I think this is an unconventional way to do it and most of the people that I know have taken the entrepreneurial route have done it much earlier and indeed there is now a real craze I think for people leaving University to get straight in to being an entrepreneur. In many ways I have been an entrepreneur in reverse. if you said to me ten years ago that I would be spending one day a fortnight driving a van, picking things up from my customers I think I wouldn’t have believed you and if you had said how much I was going to enjoy it, I certainly wouldn’t have believed you but you know, for me that is the life blood of what we do now and actually I think I found my calling, not only being a van driver but also running and growing a business and building a team, you know, quite late on in the way my career, although I hope that I have got plenty left to go.

Elliot Moss
You obviously didn’t know what you were missing but what is the light that went on for you in terms of the way you felt because obviously someone like you who, you know, you studied at Cambridge…

Steve Folwell
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…you are a smart guy, you did maths – maths is very specific, it is pretty logical stuff. The left big part of that rational brain is working hard. This, it strikes me, that you have been touched in a different way because it is making you feel great about what you do. Can you try and articulate what that’s like?

Steve Folwell
Yeah, no its interesting. I remember having sort of a bit of an epiphany when I was at ITV when I realised just how much power, I spent a lot of time in media, just how much power media had to make people feel happy and feel better about themselves and I suppose that’s what you do here as well Elliot. But it is quite difficult in media to get that response back from you know, a reader or a listener or a viewer and one of the great things about Lovespace is you know, we hear the whole time from customers – most of the time they are really delighted with the service and we get some wonderful things, we get letters about specific employees, you know, a lot of the reviews are five star reviewed on Trust Pilot you know, they call out specific drivers you know and it’s that feeling of doing something that people really value you know and is valuable to them because you know, it’s not a whilst it’s a very good value service, people do spend a lot of money on storage so knowing you can do that, you know, make a very decent living out of doing it but also delight the customer – that’s you know, that immediate feedback is probably the thing that I have enjoyed most about being an entrepreneur.

Elliot Moss
Really good answer, very interesting. Shout out to Steve Folwell the driver today for giving me a great service. Stay with me for much more from my Business Shaper. Before we come back to him though the latest travel is going to come up in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya.

This is Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM and I do hope you are enjoying the programme today. If you have missed any of the previous shows and there are lots of them, then just go to iTunes, put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’ and all being well lots will pop up, lots of brilliant guests from the past telling you, giving you insights about what makes them who they are. Steve Folwell is telling me what makes him who he is today, he is the co-founder and CEO of Lovespace, they are the storage business, the very clever one which is offering you and me the opportunity to box by box store our stuff and even send it anywhere we want. In terms of the initial part of the business when it came together, you said it’s been about three…

Steve Folwell
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…about three years and you mentioned Brett and there was another partner?

Steve Folwell
Carl yeah.

Elliot Moss
Carl as well. How did that dynamic work. Did you know Brett or was it because you’d… I mean how were you introduced to him?

Steve Folwell
I was introduced via a mutual sort of acquaintance, a guy called Peter Jackson who has now become an investor and a customer of ours who used to run Travelex and I said to Peter I said ‘look I am thinking about starting my own thing’ and he’d been approached to see if he knew anyone who would be interested in talking to Brett about Lovespace and Brett and I hit it off you know, really quickly. I mean he is a great guy, a lovely guy, very sort of generous despite his huge experience as an entrepreneur which obviously I didn’t have as we discussed you know, moments ago but you know, a very practical person and you know, very as I say, generous in letting me help shape you know, the business and the brand that exists today because that’s the sort of… that was where my expertise lay really was in sort of brand and digital marketing.

Elliot Moss
That’s what I was going to ask, do you quickly identify who can do what in a small team?

Steve Folwell
Yeah, yeah exactly that’s right and then you’ve got to build, you’ve still got lots of gaps you need to go and find people who can come in and work with you and in many ways that’s been the most enjoyable part of Lovespace is just sort of seeing a team flourish around you of sort of thirty to fifty people that you otherwise would never have met and you know obviously become great friends over the period that you work together.

Elliot Moss
People always talk about the importance of culture. I find that kind of amusing because then I say ‘okay well then describe the culture’ and everyone goes ‘well you know, nice person and all that’. For you…

Steve Folwell
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…what is the culture, what is the essence of the kind of person you want to get inside the Lovespace team?

Steve Folwell
I think they, most people you know, you have got to leave your ego at the door a little it because your obsession has got to be with doing the right thing for the customer. And you are looking after people’s things at the end of the day so you know, whether that is clothes and books which is the majority of what we store quite a lot of you know, CDs and DVDs as well, that would be sort of the base stuff. But you have also got people’s very precious memories, memorabilia, lots of stuff with you know, real emotional heft and value and so you know, we need to make sure that as a team we respect that and you know, really believe in doing the right thing and I think that’s probably and I hate the word culture as well and we don’t actually write it down particularly but we do talk about the kind of things that unite us and you know, those sort of ideas of being reliable, being the customer’s friend, you know always trying each day to make the business a bit better than it was the day before. Those are the kind of people that we are… I think culture is a very funny thing in relation to a lot of start-ups and digital businesses. People keep trying to talk to me about you know Google’s culture or Facebook’s culture and why that makes them so successful but of course they were successful for very other reasons than the culture, you know great algorithm in one place and you know Zuckerberg and what he did with Facebook and his coding up front so I think we can over obsess a little bit about culture in a way it is a bit of magic that you can’t write down, you can’t, you can’t really teach it, it just sort of emerges.

Elliot Moss
And one mustn’t forget the fact that if the product is rubbish then it doesn’t really matter what the culture is.

Steve Folwell
Yeah you’ll have a culture then but probably not the kind that you want.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today, that’s Steve Folwell. Time for some more music, this is Till Brönner, he is German, I hope I said it correctly and the name of this is Her Smile and it’s lovely.

That was Till Brönner with Her Smile. Steve Folwell is my Business Shaper today; co-founder and CEO of Lovespace. Lovespace makes sure that your stuff is stored safely, it’s protected until you want to pick it up again or get it delivered again rather and even if it is not you, you can get it delivered somewhere else assuming you may want to pick it up again but it may be that you want to send it to your auntie in Inverness, who knows but Steve and his team can do it. We were talking about the misnomer of culture in a way and that dissonance between culture and product. Now you have a great product now which is we pick it up, we store, you want it out you can get it. Sounds simple but obviously the L word, the logistics word is now going to come in. How have you got, if you are the brand guy, how have you all got your head around the importance of really nailing that set of logistics which I have just kind of skirted over very glossily.

Steve Folwell
Yeah I mean it’s the biggest challenge clearly. We promise that if you make a booking for us to pick up anything as small as you know, small bag all the way through to an armchair across the UK we can go and do that the next day and give you a one hour slot for picking it up and that feels really clever for the customer and it has to be very clever from our end as well because it’s not simple, particularly when you have got a small team – we are only thirty full-time staff mostly based in London so the way we do it is we invest a lot in technology. Technology so the customers can make a booking very easily, take pictures of what is in each box, inform us what we are picking up so we know in advance. We will have an app out in the next few weeks which will allow customers to track their driver, that makes things a lot easier when it comes to pick up as well and then we’ve got a brilliant logistics team lead by a guy who did a tour of Iraq, spent a lot of time the Army and knows his onions, called Mitch and he’s got a fantastic team working for him and then we work with terrific partners across the UK to help us pick up in areas where we don’t have our own vans and that allows us to offer you know, the same service everywhere and you know, do that in a way that is economical for us as we grow.

Elliot Moss
Literally that is a lot of moving pieces…

Steve Folwell
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…I mean just in what you have mapped out. In terms of how you lead an operation like that if you just think about your own style…

Steve Folwell
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…how do people in your team describe you because you come from a very robust background of analysis and of coming to conclusions which you hope will be both intelligent and practical.

Steve Folwell
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
What are the adjectives do you think they use to describe you? When they are being polite Steve obviously?

Steve Folwell
When they are being yeah… the ones they would probably, at least I could repeat on air, I think they would say I am quite, you know I can be quite inpatient, you know, I believe that you build a business on the basis of all the screw ups that you make over the time but, as people say, you don’t want to make the same mistake twice and I don’t like making the same mistake twice. If we make it once that’s great because it means that we have a better business after that so you know, I can be inpatient if we are not doing that. I’d like to think they know that I understand what it takes to do each of the jobs because I try and do that so I do spend time in the warehouse, I do spend a lot of time talking to customers, out on the road, using the technology because I think if you get the tech right for a business like this, that’s what means that you can build a really big business over time and it’s the bit that is so difficult to copy for anyone else coming in to the market. So I think impatience, you know, trying to do it as well as talk about it and then I hope also they think that you know, I’ve got a vision for where we want to take the business over the next three to five years because a lot of them have signed up with sweat, blood and tears because they believe they are part of something that is going to be a lot bigger.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Steve plus we will be playing a track from the young and brilliant pianist Joey Alexander, that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

That was the brilliantly talented Joey Alexander with I Mean You. He was eleven when he performed that. It was off his first album, he is now thirteen just for the record in case you want to know and track this man as he gets older which inevitably he will. He will still have been a child genius though. Steve Folwell is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes; he is the co-founder and CEO of Lovespace and we have been talking about leadership and we’ve been talking about ideas and delivering logistics and so on and so forth. I am going to talk about money for a minute. Obviously your business you’ve gone and raised a bunch, you’ve got investors, you’ve used Crowdcube and we’ve had the founder of Crowdcube on, Luke Lang, tell me about firstly what it’s been like to actually go through that process of raising money and really needing it and then secondly I want to talk to you about your own version of how much is enough for you as an entrepreneur?

Steve Folwell
Well I’ve loved actually the fundraising bit. I didn’t obviously I never had to do it before really in a corporate environment in fact in many ways I have been sitting on the other side investing money into businesses and the reason I’ve enjoyed it is it gives you a great opportunity to go out and talk about the stuff that you are doing well with people who you know, by and large really want to support businesses like ours and there is a very healthy mix of institutions, you know businesses and individuals who are looking to invest in you know, good, proper start-up businesses in the UK. We’ve got about actually five hundred investors now, many of them are with the Crowd but the majority of the money has come from people who we know personally, you know I spend time on the phone or you know, going round for coffee to have a chat with them and they act almost as an army on our behalf who represented the company, getting us customers, introducing us to partners and then when we do that next round of fundraising just being available as and when we need to go out to them. So yeah, it’s been a really good experience.

Elliot Moss
In terms of your own time, because you were talking and I was just thinking ‘oh it’s a lot of time’ that’s pretty time intensive stuff…

Steve Folwell
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…basically ensuring that your investors are your advocates…

Steve Folwell
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
….ensuring your investors know what you are up to and so on. You also talked about the man with the van and you are wearing a fabulous t-shirt…

Steve Folwell
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…which I love and I am going to get one and you’ve also talked about stepping into the shoes of the people that work for you in running that business. I mean these are a lot of things to be doing Steve. Is it just you love it and you don’t think about it or do you find that challenging?

Steve Folwell
Yeah it is challenging, I mean it is just a lot of time really. You prioritise on the basis of what needs to get done so you can always do it all because there is always three things that are at the top of the list I mean there are days when you think ‘God how am I going to you know, wake up tomorrow and get all this done’, you just need to convince yourself to go to sleep and in the morning you know, you will find a way and you always do and if you have got a good team around you nothing is impossible.

Elliot Moss
No over a few mountain ranges there is going to be some kind of moment to sell perhaps or more investment. Does money drive you in an existential way, in a kind of big and deep way or is it more ‘you know what I’ll see what will happen and then we will go’ or is there a number in your head? Are you that focussed?

Steve Folwell
No I am certainly not that focussed. I think probably over time as you get more into your business and you understand the possibilities of it then of course you start to think about the value in the business because you have to for yourself but you also have to for your team who are co-investors and also your investors so yeah, more so over time. When you start you just want to build something that works and you know, you don’t really even think about it. You go out with investment plans which have numbers in that every business always looks very impressive before it’s got a customer, but really it’s all about just you know, going to get those first hundred customers and doing as good a job as possible. Now we have to think more cleverly around what we do with the business and that isn’t necessarily to sell the business at all you know, it could as you say, be further investment. We are not very far away from making some good money through the business itself so you know, it’s really where we should focus.

Elliot Moss
Well you sound like you have got your feet on the ground and it is probably right because if you start thinking about where it’s going to end up you probably won’t get there and it sounds like all these things in front of you are good problems to have, either the problems that are associated with growth…

Steve Folwell
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…and with something that’s working so it’s been brilliant hearing all about that. Steve thank you for your time. Before I let you go and rush off and go and do more deliveries, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Steve Folwell
I have chosen a song by Us Three called Cantaloop (flip Fantasia).

Elliot Moss
Such a mathematician to the last.

Steve Folwell
Certainly. It was the first, it was on the first album I bought when I got a new ghetto blaster when I was seventeen and as my wife has reminded me this morning, it was also on the mixed tape that I gave her when we just started going out. So for all those reasons I think it’s an appropriate choice.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic, here it is just for you.

That was Cantaloop (flip Fantasia) by Us Three on Blue Note, the song choice of my Business Shaper today Steve Folwell. He moved from being an employee to an employer because he wanted to feel the happiness of his customers literally face-to-face and he’s got that in his business. Someone that understands how important it is to be in the shoes of the people that work for you and I think that is what he said which really struck about how he manages his team and all the things that they do and understands also the importance of knowing where the business is going, of having a vision and of following the vision to make sure that everyone behind you is also going to follow. Really, really good stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place – that’s 9.00am next Saturday here on Jazz FM for another edition of Jazz Shapers. In the meantime stay with us because coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Steve Folwell is the co-founder and Chief Executive of LOVESPACE, the UK’s first and largest storage-by-the-box service.  Prior to founding LOVESPACE, Steve was a Director at the Guardian Media Group, where he helped take the Guardian from being the ninth largest newspaper in the UK to being one of the top two news sites in the world. He has also worked at ITV and co-led McKinsey’s media practice in the UK. Steve holds an MA in Mathematics from the University of Cambridge and an MBA from London Business School.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow Steve on Twitter @folwell.

Our aspiration is to help everyone look after their things

If you can explain an idea to your kids, your mum, your friends and it makes intuitive sense that’s a good start.

The idea that you’ve got an attic to put anything other than yourself in to sleep in is quite old hat.

The first day I spent in a job I was drafted in to speak to a FTSE 100 CEO when I was a management consultant and I felt like a bit of a fraud.  I think I cracked a slightly inappropriate joke about his business and how it was performing.

If you said to me ten years ago I would be spending one day a fortnight driving a van, picking things up from my customers, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you said I was going to enjoy it, I certainly wouldn’t have believed you.

The immediate feedback is probably the thing that I have enjoyed most about being an entrepreneur.

You have got to leave your ego at the door because you’ve got to be obsessed with doing the right thing for the customer.

Culture is a bit of magic that you can’t write down, you can’t really teach it, it just sort of emerges.

If you get the tech right for a business like this, you can build a really big business over time. The tech is the bit that is so difficult for anybody else coming into the market to copy.

Nothing is impossible if you have got a good team around you.