I recently caught up with Dom Moorhouse … a serial entrepreneur, business book author and angel investor. Dom built and sold the successful professional services business (Moorhouse) but now – after many years ‘travelling the line’ to London is now focusing his work activities within his home City of Bath.
ME: Hi Dom! A quick one to start. Have you always been an entrepreneur?
Partly. I spent my twenties as a Royal Marines Officer so that was clearly a different phase in my life; albeit, this still gave me some excellent lessons in leadership and organisation which I have always found invaluable in business. Prior to this, at University, I had a small advertising business – publishing student term planners – which covered my living costs. Since leaving the Royal Marines though – bar a short stint at Deloitte Consulting – I have been somewhat of a serial entrepreneur. Firstly, with the concerted eight-year project that was Moorhouse and now with a ‘basket’ of exciting, new projects.
ME: Tell me a bit more about the start-up you are involved with.
StoreNextDoor seeks to shake up the traditional self-storage model as serviced by the large corporate incumbents (Big Yellow, SafeStore etc). As part of the ‘collaborative consumption’ wave, we are going to build a community-based alternative. Through our site, people with stuff to store can link with people in their neighbourhood who have spare space and – by linking at a private level – enjoy a match that saves money (and provides a welcome extra income stream for the space owner) as well as, often, being more convenient and local. Trust is clearly the key issue here so we have worked hard to build a professional site/service – member profiles, identity verifications, proper contracts etc – all fully backed by an insurance product that has been developed for us by Aviva.
ME: How did the idea come about?
As always, it is less about the idea per se but about people … and how, when you bounce ideas off of talented people, a creative serendipity ‘kicks in’. For me, the project came to life when I discussed it with two other Bathonian friends … Dan Hilton and Rosie Bennett. I had just come back from the 2011 Wired Conference and mentioned the excellent talk given by Rachel Botsman on the ‘collaborative consumption’ phenomena (Airbnb being the oft-cited ‘poster child’). It really got me thinking as to where else there was ‘spare capacity’ in our lives that could be better matched via the internet. Space seemed like the really obvious asset. Loads of people have redundancy here and, equally, loads of people really need it at core ‘pressure points’ in their lives. By example, over a Bath ale, Rosie got talking about how she had just received a sailing dinghy as a hand-down from her dad; Dan, similarly, had just become a father to his second child and needed to de-clutter a room to make a nursery. In this instance, I could offer some garage space to Rosie and Rosie could help Dan, with storage of his items (she just didn’t have a room for a dinghy). It just got us thinking as to how many other such matches could be better facilitated by a well built site. The real ‘eureka’ for me though was just a recognition as to how complimentary our skill sets were. Dan is a CTO par excellence and Rosie is a very experienced digital service designer/marketer. As importantly, we enjoy working together, so the development of the proposition and business model kind of grew naturally from there.
ME: When does the site launch?
Development thus far has been a part-time concern for us all; but, we have recently ramped this up (working from the excellent Dispensary) to prepare for a September beta-launch. Thereafter, the plan is test the idea locally in a Bath/Bristol trial for c. 6 months (looking closely at some central financial hypothesis we have as to its take-up and the cost of contract acquisition etc). During this phase, we know we need to work hard to promote what is a very new concept – primarily offline and with real innovation. In fact, you should look out for Rosie driving around Bath in a squirrel costume (our company mascot). If we pass ourselves out of this local test, we will seek to then start to move it to other regions via a series of dedicated offline marketing campaigns.
ME: Having built and sold a successful professional services business, what lessons do you think cross over to this venture?
There are some aspects that cross-over identically but there are also aspects I realise that are totally new – and potentially unknowable – in relation to this specific venture. In terms of the fundamentals, that I have learnt from previous experience, the key is to work with people brighter than yourself (tick), to collaborate in a really dynamic ‘make and break stuff’ fashion (tick) but not to get seduced by the ‘we don’t need a business plan, school of cool’ (we have spent as much time modelling/discussing the numbers as we have conceiving the service/site). A pure tech start-up is, however, pretty new ground for me so I recognise there is much to learn here. Fundamentally, we are also building something that requires a fundamental behavioural shift in how people currently ‘consume’ self-storage. The question as to how much inertia is in this market – and how best to encourage a behavioural shift to our new model – remains a very large, open question.
ME: What role do you think entrepreneurs play in the recovery of our economy?
A pivotal one. I have recently written a series of mini-books (also to be launched in September) that talk to this topic focused, specifically, on entrepreneurial owners of professional service firms (consultants, web design, creative firms etc). Ultimately to entrepreneur is ‘to dare’; start-ups rarely makes sense from a pure ‘risk management’ perspective not least because risk probabilities are not well understood at this stage. Entrepreneurs break this logical impasse and just start to make things happen … a kind of unpredictable serendipity then emerges. If you get it right, there is no better satisfaction in knowing that the vision, spark and force-multiplying enthusiasm of the founders went onto create a mini-economy that others then also gain from. For sure, the UK needs more such people and start-up teams to rescue us from our current economic malaise.
ME: What’s your take on Bath as an entrepreneurial City?
It has been a real revelation to me. For the last decade, Bath was really just the beautiful City I came home to after another long week at work in my London office. Since stepping back from Moorhouse last year, I have seen Bath through a new set of eyes. It is clear that there is a real glut of talent in the City particularly so in the digital, creative space and I have really enjoyed meeting people in this network. Hats off to you Mike in this regard for being such a facilitator of these kinds of forums – they are a really important part of the entrepreneurial equation.
ME: Thanks Dom. Last question, how can our readers contact you with questions?