10 Sep 2020

Launch HN: OpenUnit (YC W20) – Software for managing self-storage facilities

Home Launch HN: OpenUnit (YC W20) – Software for managing self-storage facilities
Launch HN: OpenUnit (YC W20) – Software for managing self-storage facilities Hi HN, I’m Taylor Cooney. My co-founder Lucas Playford and I are launching ( ) - software for managing self-storage facilities. Lucas and I met 5 years ago at a startup in Toronto. Since leaving the startup, we’ve been looking for ways to “get the band back together” ever since. I would hack on side projects, such as an order-ahead food app and applicant tracking system for recruiting tech employees, but most of these fizzled out after a few weeks. Despite our best efforts to get something started, we quickly realized that good startup ideas don't just happen out of nowhere. Or do they? 12 months ago my landlord came to me with an offer: they wanted to sell the place I was renting, and they’d give me a surprising amount of money if I could be out with just a few days notice. Pulling that off though meant finding somewhere to keep all of my stuff while I looked for a new place to live. Within the first hour of searching, I discovered how antiquated the process of finding and booking self-storage is. After digging in, I found that for many facility owners having the time, technical skills, and frankly, money, to piece together a system that lets customers rent online, is hard. If you’ve ever tried to find self storage yourself, you probably noticed that many of the small operators have horrendous websites that are slow, non-responsive, and don’t give you the ability to rent without picking up the phone. After talking to self storage owners directly, I also learned that they spend hours every single day doing back-office work that really should, and could be automated. Since I was actively working on side projects, and I had just had this terrible experience trying to rent a storage unit, I decided to focus my time diving even further into the self-storage industry. I took time to research the tech used in the industry and connected directly with storage facility owners and operators to get a better understanding of the pain points of this large and, what appeared to be, technologically-backwards industry. Wanting to take the idea of “building something people want” a bit more seriously, I joined the Y Combinator’s online Startup School program (before it became a Continuous Program) to work more formally on what would later become OpenUnit. After Startup School, I was invited to take this idea out to Mountain View for an interview with YC. Two months later Lucas and I had quit our jobs, the band was back together, and we were on our way to California. The initial idea was to build a marketplace that makes it easy for people to find and instantly rent a storage unit online. But after speaking with more storage operators and hearing the same themes over and over again, we thought, why not be even more ambitious? Why not build a product that solves the problems of the renters AND facility owners? It turns out that self-storage generates $48 billion in rental revenue a year. But, while you might see big players - Public Storage, Extra Space, CubeSmart etc. — in downtown cores, 74% of all self storage facilities are small and self-reliant. And they can’t afford expensive software. As a result, the bad software they end up using creates terrible business inefficiencies and a lackluster customer experience. When I rented my storage unit, I experienced this firsthand. For the most part, large enterprises can spend enough money patching together systems to deliver an acceptable customer experience. But, for mom-and-pop operations, that is done with shoe leather - or it’s not done at all. Instead of just building a marketplace, we were going to build a truly affordable, all-in-one management ecosystem. So here we are. We provide self-storage facilities exactly what they need — merchant solutions, lease agreements, websites and more to provide an amazing customer experience. We designed OpenUnit so that a typical facility can get up and running fast and with zero paperwork. We also tailored the features we’re offering to meet the unique needs of small operators first. As a result of this, our hope is that the entire experience is less overwhelming than competing management tools. Our enterprise package for facilities with >5 properties is 15% more affordable than anything else we’ve seen in the market and customers get a lot more than what’s included with the other storage solutions. Surprisingly, we're seeing an increased level of interest due to coronavirus. Many operators and facilities are looking to adopt a contactless move-in process (think eSignatures for rental agreements, with customers managing their own profiles/information and payment methods), which is something we’ve kept in-mind, and can be accomplished out of the box with OpenUnit, keeping employees and customers safe. As a team, we’re firmly focused on the web: the core technology that powers our applications on all platforms. It’s hard to pin down a name for this stack, but it’s a majestic monolith, built using Ruby on Rails. We embrace a “HTML over the wire” architecture, of server-rendered HTML, and “sprinkle” bits of interactive JavaScript. Season with Redis and ElasticSearch, we should have all we’ll ever need. For the foreseeable future anyways. We’re taking a privacy-first approach to customer data and use lockbox, which aims to make encryption as friendly and intuitive as possible for Rails. If you have experience or if you have close friends, relatives, or colleagues that are in the storage space, please reach out! We're keen to get the community's input, in the comments below or at After reading this, don’t be surprised if you start to notice the number of self-storage facilities in your city. Thanks so much, and we can’t wait to hear your thoughts! -- September 10, 2020 at 04:09PM

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