Brett Akker is no stranger to scaling up a business; his first venture, a car sharing club, successfully sold after just 6 years. Here, Brett tells us how the experience has helped him turn another simple idea – storage – into an aspirational brand.
Starting a business is a constant learning experience – even if you have done it before. In 2004, Brett Akker started Streetcar with university friend Andrew Valentine. Just six years later the business sold to Zipcar for $50m.
Now Brett is going through the scale-up process again with his second venture, Lovespace – a storage company with a simple USP and an aspirational brand– while also sitting on the boards of several other early stage businesses. For Brett, it’s a welcome shift in perspective from the all-encompassing nature of running his first start-up.
“When you’re solely focussed on growing one business, it’s a 24/7 job: it’s all you think about, you can’t escape from it. Now, I have the best of both worlds; I can still enjoy the excitement and energy of being part of several start-ups, but I can take a step back and switch off from it to a certain extent. If anything, it helps me to be more objective – which is hopefully of benefit to the businesses.”
That’s not to say that the first venture provides a blueprint for success the second time around. “I learned a lot with Streetcar, not least from my mistakes, but every business is different. During the early days of Lovespace, I definitely made a few errors by not being as rigorous as I had been with Streetcar. I think I’d assumed I knew the answers because of my experience when, really, I should have been more thorough.”
One thing that has stayed the same for Brett is the importance of the brand journey, and communicating that effectively to prospective customers. At their heart, both businesses are simple ideas, well-executed: Streetcar made car sharing accessible, while Lovespace has made storage hassle-free and convenient, through delivery and pay-per-box solutions.
Yet each business has something more, a brand identity that sets it apart from competitors. “With Lovespace, we rebranded in 2013 to improve our engagement with our target audience. We looked at who really uses us, and who we could appeal to, and created a brand that reflected that. It is something that Steve and the wider team can be hugely proud of”
“Getting that balance between functional and aspirational has been key to both brands’ success,” adds Brett. “In a competitive market, you have you to offer more than the service – it’s about engaging with your customers and creating something that people both want and need and something that they will come back to time and again.”
Brett Akker was featured in the 2017 Smith & Williamson Power 100, celebrating those who champion British entrepreneurship, created in association with Fresh Business Thinking.