Clutter merges with MakeSpace to add scale to the business of moving and storage

Some consolidation is afoot in the world of moving and storage startups: Clutter and MakeSpace, two erstwhile rivals in the market, are merging to form a single company, which will operate under the Clutter brand, serving some 6,500 towns in the U.S. that together cover about 60% of the total population in the country, with operations also in Canada, covering services like on-demand moving, storage, self-storage, and disposal.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed, Clutter founder and CEO Art Mir told me in an interview, but he confirmed that the company combined will be clearing close to $200 million in revenue annually, that it will break even this year, and that it’s planning for an IPO in 2023. Mir will continue with his role and will also be CEO of the merged business, while MakeSpace’s CEO Rahul Gandhi will become president.

The combined, enlarged Clutter does not have any plans to raise any more funding before then, Mir said. It’s unclear how many employees will be at the combined company. Clutter has around 1,000 and Mir said they made offers to some but not all MakeSpace employees to join the merged firm. Both companies operated on a model of employing all of their delivery drivers, rather than employing gig workers.

“It was a natural culture fit for us,” Mir said.

I have confirmed that Clutter was valued at around $580 million when it last raised money, back in 2019, a $200 million round led by SoftBank. MakeSpace last raised in 2021, a $55 million round when the pandemic was well under way, with its investors including strategic backer IronSource and a number of others. MakeSpace has never disclosed its valuation. Both companies have grown since then.

Mir said that the deal caps off a long-held ambition of his to make Clutter a consolidator in the space and he’d been eyeing up MakeSpace for a while now.

“I’ve always been a big fan of building relationships and have been working on the relationship with MakeSpace for years now,” he said in an interview. He said he’d periodically reached out “once or twice a year” before the latter company finally bit. Indeed, I heard about this deal going down several months ago, although both companies declined to comment on the situation at the time.

The deal underscores a couple of bring trends that are moving the market, one that is estimated at $38 billion for storage alone annually.

One of these is the effects of the pandemic.

Covid-19 has been a period of social distancing and staying put, but not for everyone: a lot of us took the moment to pause, think about how and where we are living, and in many cases take action by relocating, downsizing or simply rethinking our living spaces. All of that has had a big impact on companies like Clutter and MakeSpace, both of which saw business continue to grow in the last two years. Clutter, Mir told me, was designated an essential service and continued all operations as normal, while MakeSpace’s Gandhi told me last year that it was outpacing its growth forecasts for the period by 30%.

The other is economy of scale.

As with any logistics-based business — the wider category of e-commerce being one prime other example — ultimately the most successful players are those that have grown to a big enough size that they are maximizing their network of operations with as many customers and orders as possible for the best margins on that model.

That is very much the case here, too. Clutter, Mir told me, was profitable in its bigger markets but not everywhere; this merger will give it, and MakeSpace, the ability to aim for positive unit economics and better margins in more places. And, it will also cut out one more competitor in places where they overlapped, meaning less money to spend on marketing and promotions.

This is not Clutter’s first acquisition and consolidation move. It acquired The Storage Fox in 2019 for $152 million also as part of that strategy. It also bought assets from failed storage startup Omni in the same year, and has also picked up assets from Handy, Livible, Shed, and Callbox. MakeSpace has also been doing some consolidating, acquiring Stashable from Iron Mountain when it raised its Series D led by the business storage giant.

“The moving and storage industries are fragmented, and a really frustrating experience for a lot of customers. There is clear demand for a brand that consumers know they can trust nationwide, and the combination of MakeSpace and Clutter will put the company in an excellent position to offer convenient storage and moving services nationwide, with plenty of room to grow,” said Gandhi in a statement.

Saltbox raises $10.6M to help booming e-commerce stores store their goods

E-commerce is booming, but among the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs of online businesses are finding a place to store the items they are selling and dealing with the logistics of operating.

Tyler Scriven, Maxwell Bonnie and Paul D’Arrigo co-founded Saltbox in an effort to solve that problem.

The trio came up with a unique “co-warehousing” model that provides space for small businesses and e-commerce merchants to operate as well as store and ship goods, all under one roof. Beyond the physical offering, Saltbox offers integrated logistics services as well as amenities such as the rental of equipment and packing stations and access to items such as forklifts. There are no leases and tenants have the flexibility to scale up or down based on their needs.

“We’re in that sweet spot between co-working and raw warehouse space,” said CEO Scriven, a former Palantir executive and Techstars managing director.

Saltbox opened its first facility — a 27,000-square-foot location — in its home base of Atlanta in late 2019, filling it within two months. It recently opened its second facility, a 66,000-square-foot location, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is currently about 40% occupied. The company plans to end 2021 with eight locations, in particular eyeing the Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles markets. Saltbox has locations slated to come online as large as 110,000 square feet, according to Scriven.

The startup was founded on the premise that the need for “co-warehousing and SMB-centric logistics enablement solutions” has become a major problem for many new businesses that rely on online retail platforms to sell their goods, noted Scriven. Many of those companies are limited to self-storage and mini-warehouse facilities for storing their inventory, which can be expensive and inconvenient. 

Scriven personally met with challenges when starting his own e-commerce business, True Glory Brands, a retailer of multicultural hair and beauty products.

“We became aware of the lack of physical workspace for SMBs engaged in commerce,” Scriven told TechCrunch. “If you are in the market looking for 10,000 square feet of industrial warehouse space, you are effectively pushed to the fringes of the real estate ecosystem and then the entrepreneurial ecosystem at large. This is costing companies in significant but untold ways.”

Now, Saltbox has completed a $10.6 million Series A round of financing led by Palo Alto-based Playground Global that included participation from XYZ Venture Capital and proptech-focused Wilshire Lane Partners in addition to existing backers Village Capital and MetaProp. The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets.

The company’s customers are typically SMB e-commerce merchants “generating anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million a year in revenue,” according to Scriven.

He emphasizes that the company’s value prop is “quite different” from a traditional flex office/co-working space.

“Our members are reliant upon us to support critical workflows,” Scriven said. 

Besides e-commerce occupants, many service-based businesses are users of Saltbox’s offering, he said, such as those providing janitorial services or that need space for physical equipment. The company offers all-inclusive pricing models that include access to loading docks and a photography studio, for example, in addition to utilities and Wi-Fi.

Image Credits: Saltbox

Image Credits: Saltbox

The company secures its properties with a mix of buying and leasing by partnering with institutional real estate investors.

“These partners are acquiring assets and in most cases, are funding the entirety of capital improvements by entering into management or revenue share agreements to operate those properties,” Scriven said. He said the model is intentionally different from that of “notable flex space operators.”

“We have obviously followed those stories very closely and done our best to learn from their experiences,” he added. 

Investor Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing partner of Wilshire Lane Partners, said his firm was impressed with the company’s ability to “structure excellent real estate deals” to help them continue to expand nationally.

He also believes Saltbox is “extremely well-positioned to help power and enable the next generation of great direct to consumer brands.”

Playground Global General Partner Laurie Yoler said the startup provides a “purpose-built alternative” for small businesses that have been fulfilling orders out of garages and self-storage units.

Saltbox recently hired Zubin Canteenwalla  to serve as its chief operating offer. He joined Saltbox from Industrious, an operator co-working spaces, where he was SVP of Real Estate. Prior to Industrious, he was EVP of Operations at Common, a flexible residential living brand, where he led the property management and community engagement teams.

Neighbor raises $53M for self-storage marketplace after 5x YoY revenue growth

Neighbor, which operates a self-storage marketplace, announced Wednesday that it has raised $53 million in a Series B round of funding.

Fifth Wall led the financing, which notably also included participation from returning backer Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and new investors DoorDash CEO Tony Xu and StockX CEO Scott Cutler. Xu and Cutler will join former Uber CEO Ryan Graves as investors and advisors to the Lehi, Utah-based startup. A16z led Neighbor’s $10 million Series A in January of 2020.

At a time when the commercial real estate world is struggling, self-storage is an asset class that continues to perform extremely well. Neighbor’s unique model aims to repurpose under-utilized or vacant space — whether it be a person’s basement or the empty floor of an office building — and turn it into storage.

Colton Gardner, Joseph Woodbury and Preston Alder co-founded in 2017 with the mission of giving people a more accessible and personal alternative to store their belongings. 

Image Credits: Neighbor

The $40 billion self-storage industry is ripe for a shake-up, considering that most people are used to renting space out of buildings located in not necessarily convenient locations. 

Neighbor has developed a unique peer-to-peer model, connecting “renters” in need of storage space with “hosts” in their neighborhood who are willing to lease storage space in their home, garage or even driveway. The company says it has hosts on the platform making more than $50,000 a year in passive income.

“We really grew into a national business over the last year and now have active renters in more states than Public Storage, which is a $43 billion publicly traded company,” CEO Woodbury said.

Neighbor makes money by charging a service fee (a sliding-scale percentage) of each rent. Its algorithms provide suggested rental fees for hosts.

COVID has only accelerated Neighbor’s business, with revenue growing “5x” and organic reservations increasing “7x” year over year.

“If you think about it, fundamentally on the demand side, everyone’s moving out of these major metro areas like New York and San Francisco, and are moving to these more rural locations. All that moving activity has created a lot more storage demand,” Woodbury told TechCrunch. “In addition to that, people are just spending more time at home and cleaning out their homes more. And they no doubt need storage as a result of that.”

 It also doesn’t hurt that the company claims the self-storage offered on its marketplace on average is priced about 40% to 50% less than traditional storage facilities.

Neighbor also partners with commercial real estate operators to turn their under-utilized or vacant retail, multifamily or office space into self-storage. This provides new revenue streams to landlords hurting from the pandemic keeping so many people at home. And that increased demand led to Neighbor’s commercial real estate footprint growing 10x in 2020. 

With its new capital, the company plans to expand its nationwide network of hosts and renters as well as continue to spread awareness of its marketplace.

“We have tens of millions of square feet of self storage on the platform,” Woodbury said. “The beauty of that square footage is that it’s in every single state. But we want to continue to expand nationally and as we grow and mature, we’ll turn our eyes globally as well.”

Interestingly, before leading the round for Neighbor, Fifth Wall approached the company about business development opportunities. Partner Dan Wenhold said he offered to introduce the concept to the real estate venture firm’s LPs, which include more than 65 of the world’s largest owners and operators of real estate from 15 countries. For example, Fifth Wall partners Acadia Realty Trust and Jamestown are already onboarding properties onto Neighbor’s platform. 

“We are sort of the bridge between the largest owners and operators of physical real estate assets and the most disruptive technologies that are impacting those property managers and landlords, Wenhold said. “And Neighbor fits perfectly into that thesis for us.”

After introducing Neighbor to a short list of Fifth Wall’s strategic LP partners, the feedback the firm got “was fantastic,” Wenhold said. 

“A lot of owners in retail, office and even multi-family expressed interest in working with Neighbor to help monetize space,” he added.

The company’s mission also has a sustainable component considering that creating self-storage space out of existing property can help minimize the amount of new construction that takes place.

Fifth Wall, Wenhold added, is aware of the waste and the emissions that come from the construction process to build new space and admires Neighbor’s role in minimizing that.

“Our firm ardently pursued the opportunity to invest in a transformative proptech business like Neighbor,” he said.

Clutter acquires The Storage Fox for $152M to add self-storage to its on-demand platform

The world of on-demand storage has seen some ups and downs, with some of the biggest hopefuls pivoting into new areas, some as unrelated as cryptocurrency, in the search for better product-market fit. One that found its groove early on, however, is today announcing an acquisition to expand its existing business into a new market category. Clutter, the on-demand removals and storage company backed by SoftBank, is today announcing that it has acquired The Storage Fox, a startup that will spearhead Clutter’s expansion in to self-storage services in urban locations, starting first in the New York metro area where The Storage Fox is currently active.

The deal is valued at $152 million, Clutter said. Ari Mir, Clutter’s co-founder and CEO, added in an interview that  Clutter did not need to raise any extra funding to finance this acquisition, but said his company is likely to be taking on more financing in the future for growth.

To date, Clutter has raised $310 million, according to PitchBook, including a $200 million round earlier this year led by SoftBank that valued the company at $600 million post-money. Future financing is likely to come in the form of debt to acquire property, as well as equity to expand the business’s platform, hiring and more. It’s currently active in 1,000 cities and towns across the US and the plan will be to stay domestic until it has wider penetration, before exploring how to grow internationally. The deal will bring the total amount of space that Clutter leases and owns up to two million square feet.

“Expanding into self-storage is something we have been discussing since Clutter’s Series A pitch to Sequoia and we are excited to see it come to fruition,” said Omar Hamoui, partner at Sequoia Capital, in a statement. “The acquisition reinforces Clutter’s market leadership and expands Clutter services by offering a better experience for customers who need self-storage or on-demand storage.”

(Notably, too, is that Clutter had to actively bid for this business: “Portfolios like that of The Storage Fox are extremely rare, and this acquisition signals that Clutter is uniquely positioned to take on and succeed in the self-storage industry,” said Eliav Dan, Head of West Coast Real Estate Finance at Barclays, which acted as Clutter’s exclusive financial advisor, in a statement. “Clutter competed with multiple self-storage REITs throughout the bidding process to win the deal — a testament to the strength of the company’s management team and its ability to execute on an innovative business model.”)

Up to now, Clutter business has focused on extending the on-demand model — which has become a cornerstone for a huge wave of e-commerce startups that are tapping into new innovations for managing logistics, the rise of the gig-economy, the proliferation of smartphones, and consumer tastes for instant gratification — to the messy business of helping people move and store their worldly possessions, from which Clutter makes revenues by charging service fees.

Customers might typically be urban dwellers — for example moving to smaller digs or simply looking for a way to, yes, de-Clutter — but the storage centers themselves tend to be far outside city centers. On top of this, Clutter has largely operated on a long-term lease model with the facilities that it uses.

In that regard, this acquisition will be giving the company a couple of interesting new possessions of its own, to tap the self-storage market, estimated to be worth $40 billion annually.

The Storage Fox’s facilities, like other self-storage businesses, are located in areas that are much closer to urban centers, since the model is predicated more on people being able to dip in and out of their storage units quickly and potentially very regularly. In its case, its facilities today are in Yonkers, White Plains, Queens and Brooklyn.

It will also give Clutter a trove of real estate that it will now own: The Storage Fox didn’t appear to raise any traditional VC funding, but it did have large finance agreements in place in order to buy property. That is a pattern that Clutter is likely to continue, Mir said.

Now that there will be more accessible space on Clutter’s platform that it actually owns, it will also give the company a point of entry into a new potential range of business services alongside the self-storage. Could that extend into something like office space, potentially pitting Clutter against one of its portfolio neighbors, WeWork? Mir declined to answer specifically but we’ve seen some outlier cases — such as this guy who lived out of his storage unit — that, while not exactly okay for a number of reasons, does underscore that there is a lot of potential there.

“There are over 52,000 self-storage facilities in the US alone,” Mir said. “If you take all that and add it up, there are more square feet in those storage spaces than there are in McDonald’s and Starbucks in the US, combined. At the same time, inside of cities, we’re running out of space. So our vision is to apply all the technology that we’ve built in house to increase the value that these self-storage facilities provide across society.”

Clutter has already made some moves beyond simple storage in its existing business: it’s already actively advertising the option to rent, sell, donate and dispose of your items if you choose — although it seems that these four services are not yet actively live. Earlier this year, it acquired the storage business of Omni, which itself is currently focusing on rentals.

Storage over all has not been an easy area to tackle for a lot of reasons: on top of the usual issues of needing to ensure that the contractors — the face and engine of your business — are responsible and good at their jobs, the cargo can be unexpectedly large or fragile, and the movement of it might be tied up in all kinds of backstories that make getting from A to B and eventually back to the owner again very complicated.

Mir concedes that the customer satisfaction aspect has been challenging: it’s one of those areas that people are quick to publicly complain when something has gone awry. He also insists that its ratings and Clutter’s efforts are generally improving, and frankly it’s great to hear him be honest about this and not deny that criticism is a challenge and that the company is always working to make this better.

Ori Living partners with IKEA to bring robotic furniture to Hong Kong and Japan by 2020

Welcome to the robotic bedroom of the future, coming in 2020 to tiny apartments beginning in Hong Kong and Japan, but expanding around the world.

IKEA is now selling robotic furniture that can convert from a storage and seating unit into a bed and closet and back again.

The new line of furniture, based on the company’s PLATSA storage unit, is called ROGNAN and is designed to use space inside the home more efficiently, especially as housing units become smaller to accommodate the 1.5 million people who move to a city somewhere in the world every week, IKEA said in a statement.

“We have been working with developing small space living solutions for a long time, and we know that some of the biggest challenges in peoples’ homes are storage and finding the place to do all the activities that you’d want to do in your home,” said Seana Strawn, Product developer for new innovations at IKEA of Sweden, in a statement. “This is especially the case in big cities where people have to make compromises in the functions of their homes. We wanted to change that,”

Conversations between Ori Living and IKEA have been underway for the past two years and the launch of the collaboration in Hong Kong in 2020 is only the first step in their collaboration, according to Ori Living chief executive Hasier Larrea.

“People across the US have been living large in a small footprint with Ori’s robotic interiors since we introduced our first commercial product two years ago. At about the same time, we began working with IKEA to bring robotic furniture to the world,” Larrea said in a statement. “We share IKEA’s passion to enable people to make the most of their living spaces, and look forward to helping realize this as we continue to develop living spaces for the next generation.”

Born from research conducted by Larrea and MIT professor Kent Larson at the university’s famous Media Lab, Ori launched in 2015 as a way to reduce the footprint of living spaces in urban environments.

The two men were inspired by the Urban Land Institute’s blockbuster study, “The Macro View on Micro Units,” and collaborated with rockstar designer Yves Béhar, to create bed/storage/workspace units that were designed to meet the needs of folks who are trying to do more in increasingly cramped urban spaces.

The company’s first system consists of a retractable bed that can slide in or out at the push of a button from a wall mounted controller, an app on a smart phone, or by using a skill the company has programmed into Alexa.

With IKEA, Ori Systems has licensed the technology and will leave the manufacturing to IKEA and its incredibly sophisticated supply chain. “With this collaboration there is a license arrangement, which is one of the ways Ori can work with partners due to our technology’s modularity,” Larrea wrote in an email.

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“With ROGNAN, small space living customers will no longer have to compromise their needs, dreams or comfort in order to achieve a multi-functional living environment. With ROGNAN the customer gets eight extra square meters of living space, using robotics to transform the solution from bedroom to walk-in closet, to work space, to living room. An all-in-one solution activated through a simple interface touchpad,” says Seana Strawn.