Stuf CEO details converting underutilized real estate for storage

Stuf CEO & Co-Founder Katharine Lau joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss turning underutilized space into a storage.

Video Transcript

BRIAN CHEUNG: Well, the pandemic has led to a lot of displacement in real estate as we were just talking about. But that doesn’t mean that people and companies don’t still have stuff to store. Well, startup Stuf with one F hopes to address both of those problems by flipping unused storefronts or basements into self-storage units.

The company’s CEO and co-founder Katharine Lau joins us now on the show to discuss. Katharine, it’s great to have you on the program live. I want to kick off this conversation by just kind of explaining to us what the model is here. You’ve been pulling this type of business model in Washington, DC, Los Angeles. Where do you see the need for this? And how is the business growing right now?

KATHARINE LAU: Hey, Brian, thank you for having me. So Stuf, our mission is to be a home away from home for stuff. And we’re a next generation startup doing that. And just for a little bit of background, I spent my entire career in commercial real estate and have toured thousands of buildings, so have noticed and kind of become obsessed with the basements, garages, underutilized spaces within those buildings. And during the pandemic, I had my own spring cleaning experience that led me to storage.

But all of the options were underwhelming. So they tended to be far away, expensive, had poor customer reviews. And at the same time, when I looked into the business, realized half of renters are millennials. I’m a millennial, and there’s not a single brand out there that really resonates with me. So I brought all of these ideas together to monetize underutilized real estate as self-storage, and in doing so, bringing inviting, tech-enabled storage closer to where people actually need it. And the business is performing really well. Year to date, we are up over 200%. And we’re not even halfway through the second quarter.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, Katharine, you talked about your own pandemic experience. But I’d imagine a lot of these businesses were looking to make some extra cash on the side as well, spaces that they weren’t necessarily utilizing, but trying to make up some of the losses because of the shutdowns they experience. Can you talk a bit about the acceleration that you saw as a result?

KATHARINE LAU: Absolutely. So some of the challenges in commercial real estate, particularly with office and retail, a lot of those owners were looking for ways to monetize their spaces in nontraditional ways. And so we serve as not only a new revenue stream, but also an amenity for office tenants, residential tenants. And for office, it really– we can help facilitate a hybrid work from home model, and on the residential side, help extend the boundaries of the home. And so many of the owners that we’re working with are really interested in finding new ways to make money.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Katharine, I want to ask you about kind of your engagement with the real estate landlords that are actually working with you to convert some of these spaces into storage because that’s something I imagine that involves a little bit of work. Who’s doing the actual building? We were showing some VO of some of these properties. It looked quite nice. Who’s doing the building here? And how does that revenue share, I guess, happen, depending on who’s doing that work?

KATHARINE LAU: Yeah, we’re partnering with commercial landlords. And we’re doing the work to build out the spaces and to operate them. But what’s really interesting about what we do is unlike traditional self-storage, which typically involves buying land, building a new building, which takes a lot of money and a lot of time, we’re converting spaces that currently exist, and in doing so, can save costs, set up quickly and affordably, and we’re doing all of the ongoing operations. We don’t have a single person on-site, so everything is 100% remotely operated. But with IoT sensors, access control systems, cameras, we’re able to provide a really good experience.

AKIKO FUJITA: Katharine, I’m curious to hear more about your experience in raising money as a female founder, an Asian-American founder. There are some new numbers that came out from PitchBook that point to female-led venture funds having already raised more money than they did last year. That’s a positive sign, but we have consistently heard from female founders who say it’s still not as easy as the male counterparts. What’s been your experience?

KATHARINE LAU: I’ve been very fortunate. Raising money is never easy, but two of my– the colleagues of my seed round, Harlem Capital and Wilshire Lane Capital, both Black-owned, Black-led VCs investing in women and people of color. So I feel really fortunate to have them in my camp and have been pretty impressed with some of the newer investors who’ve come in.

And I gave birth to my daughter a couple of months ago and raised a little bit of money at the time. But the pregnancy really didn’t stop anything. So I think things are trending in the right direction for women and people of color startup founders. So, all good things coming.

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, you’re inspiring a lot of other moms who are trying to get their company off the ground as well. Katharine, it’s good to talk to you. Katharine Lau joining us from Stuf.

Christin Hakim

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