Business founders think outside the box
January 22, 2009 10:32 pm
Fourth-year psychobiology student Mario Feghali recalled that a year ago he didn’t know the first thing about starting a business.
Now Feghali and his friend Chuck Gordon, a fourth-year art student, are the founders of Homstie.com, a Web site that matches up people, particularly college students, who are looking to list and rent storage space.
Gordon and Feghali came up with the idea for the site after being dissatisfied with the costs of using large storage companies.
“Chuck and I always had to find a place to store our stuff over the summer when we went home,” Feghali said. “Obviously we weren’t going to take everything back on the plane, but storage facilities would end up costing around $600 a month.”
When Gordon moved out of his apartment to study abroad during spring semester of his third year, he decided to store his things in friends’ apartments rather than pay to rent out space at a storage facility, he said.
Gordon said he came up with the idea for Homstie after a friend joked that he should charge Gordon for the use of his extra storage space.
Gordon immediately called Feghali and the two began laying down the groundwork for the new business.
“Chuck started working on the project while studying abroad in Singapore, and I took off spring semester to focus on it,” Feghali said. “We hired a programmer to develop the site, raised funding over the summer and then launched the site about a month and a half ago.”
Gordon and Feghali now work with Thor Andersen and his younger sister Anna Andersen, a fourth-year communication studies student and Daily Bruin contributor.
The Web site currently has 25 listings for storage space in California. Listed facilities include backyards, garages and a warehouse in Sacramento.
Feghali said that managing the site while still completing his studies as an undergraduate student is difficult.
“Being a student takes up enough time and then the Web site is just 24/7. All through class I’m thinking about whether the ads are working, whether more people are signing up, how we can get more people to use the site: there’s always more to do,” he said.
Still Feghali said he is able to balance academics and business, though sometimes this comes at a cost to his social life.
“You learn to adapt. If you’re a student and you’re working, you learn how to adapt to your schedule and manage your time. This does take up a lot of free time ““ I don’t go out and have fun as much as I used to ““ but I still get the chance to hang out here and there,” he said.
Gordon and Feghali said they encountered a number of problems, most notably in finding funds needed to start up a company, while attempting to advance the site beyond the conceptual stage.
“Raising money was a big obstacle, especially in this economy,” Gordon said.
Gordon solved the issue by appealing to friends and relatives, among whom he was able to raise $55,000 over the summer. As the business expands, over the next six months Gordon said he hopes to reach out to venture capitalists for an additional $1.5 million.
Although Gordon and Feghali both said they lack business experience, they have consulted books, friends and family members for advice.
“A lot of our friends have had great ideas, and the more we get, the better,” Feghali said.
“Even my insurance broker was like, “˜This would be such a great idea if you did it up in Chico where I went to school. We always had trouble finding places to store our stuff and there’s a lot of college students that have houses and would be willing to open them up,'” he added.
“We’re not business majors, but I think that’s actually better because we bring a new perspective and can approach how we do things in more creative ways,” Gordon said.
Gordon and Feghali said they intend to continue working with Homstie after they graduate. They also expressed an interest in obtaining graduate degrees in business some time in the future.
Despite the inherent risks in starting a business, Feghali said he keeps a positive attitude.
“It’s worth it 100 percent. Whenever you start any kind of venture, some people are going to say that you’re crazy and other people will say you’ve got a great idea. At this point Chuck and I are both 21 ““ what do we have to lose?”