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More in store

Published on Saturday, 15 Nov 2014
Photo: Lau Wai

Most Hongkongers live in cramped apartments - more than 90 per cent of homes here are less than 690 sq ft, according to the Housing Authority. But the limited living space does not discourage people from going on shopping sprees. For somewhere to keep their less-essential items, mini storage facilities are becoming a popular choice.

Mark Sims, chief executive of start-up Go N Live, sees huge potential for storage space. "The idea for Go N Live came from my wife," he says. "She had a lot of clothes that she seldom wore. My wardrobe was being invaded by her stuff. This led me to the idea of providing a service that cleans and stores winter items that people won't wear during summer and then return them to clients in winter."

Although the idea was at first quite simple, Sims got a lot of help from his EMBA classmates to perfect it. He had been an IT specialist in Australia, with a double major in accounting and computer science.

He first came to Hong Kong in 2003 to work on a government-tendered IT project and has made the city his home ever since. "After all those years in IT, I found myself not being challenged," he says. "I was doing same thing over and over again, and although I was incredibly busy, I felt I needed to change. So I took up the IVEY Business School Executive MBA programme in hope of finding a new direction in my career."

Spending time with high-flyers from various sectors brought new inspiration to Sims. "I always thought if I were to do something on my own, it had to be something that can change the world, like finding a cure for cancer - but it doesn't have to be like that.

"Sitting in class talking to other intelligent and successful people made me realise a lot of the skills I had acquired in my career were transferrable - while all along I had thought of myself as a specialist who should be in IT only. That boosted my confidence to do a start-up," he says.

During a study trip to San Francisco, Sims got the chance to present his business idea for mini storage to a group of investors. "The feedback was that it was a bit rough around the edges, but there was something there. We decided the market for women's clothing was too narrow, so we expanded it to pitching to men to store sporting equipment like golf clubs and bikes. But the volume was still too low. Then I discovered that it was silly to be so focused and we decided to broaden the scope of things that we store," he says.

After more market research, Sims decided to deliver high-grade industrial plastic boxes for clients to pack their items in. "Using boxes provides flexibility. What sets us apart from mini storage is that we are not a dumping ground for people to put away stuff that they do not want. We want clients to interact with their belongings; every month we will email clients to remind them of the items they stored with us. We want them to be able to use the items.

"If clients really want to get rid of stuff, we will try to sell it for them or give it away to charity," he says.

Doing a start-up was a difficult decision for Sims, who had a long and successful career before deciding to be his own boss. "The major challenge for me to run the business was me. After two decades of reporting to an office and getting a monthly salary and bonuses, it was scary for me to not get paid regularly, and I had to take money from my pocket to invest in the business."

He says he could not sleep during the first week of business. "I was really worried that it might not work. I wanted to ring my boss to ask him to give me my job back. I guess a young man with less working experience would make the transition more easily."

Another challenge was the issue of insurance. "We want to provide extra value for our clients. Most mini-storage services only offer insurance for fire and water damage. I wanted to provide insurance for damage and theft, but no insurance company was willing to insure for that, because they had no idea what items would be stored and could not decide the insured amount.

"Finally, we found an insurance company that was willing to put forward a cap value for the insurance for theft and damage. Clients can consult them on their own if they think the cap is too small."

Sims believes that for a business to be successful, it needs to seek advice from its clients. "I try to go on every appointment to collect boxes from clients to find out what they want. Nobody is going to work on your own business as hard as you do. I need to get as much feedback as I can from clients," he says.

"I am actively developing the market for students by offering them cheaper plans that use cardboard boxes instead of plastic. They are willing to provide feedback and are active on social media, giving us exposure."

Sims expects the storage and delivery service to go global. "With cities getting more congested and people becoming more mobile, the storage service needs to go global," he says.

"I think in the near future, clients will be able to check in their belongings in Hong Kong and check them out in London."

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