SUMMARY

I am joined by Alex Glass from easyStorage to hear how Alex became an entrepreneur, his tips and mistakes he made that he’d never make again.

SHOW NOTES

In this episode, Mike Foster, the Entrepreneurs Mentor, is joined by Alex Glass from easyStorage. They discuss how Alex became an entrepreneur, his tips, mistakes he made that he’d never do again, and why he describes his entrepreneurial journey as “oh my goodness”.

00:00 – Introduction
00:25 – Alex Glass and EasyStorage
01:55 – Why did you become an entrepreneur?
06:12 – Alex’s first business
09:00 – Alex’s biggest challenge to date
14:00 – Alex’s best moment as an entrepreneur
16:35 – Tips for other other entrepreneurs
18:44 – Mistakes made that you would never do again
21:55 – What’s your motivation?
25:10 – Planning for the future
26:42 – Three words to describe Alex’s entrepreneurial journey

Connect with Alex: [email protected]

Website: entrepreneursmentor.co.uk
YouTube: youtube.com/c/MikeFosterOxford
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/mikefosteroxford
Twitter: twitter.com/mikefozoxford
Instagram: instagram.com/mikefozoxford
Facebook: facebook.com/TheEntrepreneursMentor

WHAT IS STEP CHANGE PODCAST WITH MIKE FOSTER, THE ENTREPRENEURS MENTOR?

The Step Change Podcast is a business podcast created specifically for entrepreneurs, hosted by Mike Foster, the Entrepreneurs Mentor. As an experienced mentor, with a commercial outlook, Mike’s business is to support your business and help you start, develop and grow.


PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION

Mike Foster:

Welcome to the Step Change podcast from me, Mike Foster, the entrepreneurs’ mentor. My podcast is established to help you with your thoughts in the development of your business. This Step Change podcast is entitled, The Entrepreneur’s Journey, and in this episode, I’m joined by Alex Glass of easyStorage to share his journey. We will explore why they started, what they’ve learned, the highs and the lows. So welcome, Alex.

Alex Glass:

Hi. Good afternoon, Mike.

Mike Foster:

Thanks for joining me for this latest podcast. Firstly, tell us a little bit about your current business.

Alex Glass:

Well, easyStorage, I guess, is a storage company. It’s also a franchise. It’s part of the Easy group of companies. And my wife, Emma, and I launched it last October so October 2020. After a fairly extended period of due diligence where we were looking at whether it was a good thing to get involved with or not, in essence, it’s a storage company so there are warehouses and lots of stuff belonging to other people that we look after for extended periods of time. But the unique piece about it really is that normally, storage is a DIY situation for the customer where they have to take all their belongings, transport them to the warehouse, transport them within the warehouse, which isn’t always apparent, and then bring it all out again eventually at some point in time.

Alex Glass:

In our case, we do that for the customer, so we’ll always go to their property or their business. We’ll collect everything. We’ll take it off. We’ll store it. And then they simply book an appointment when they’re ready to get it brought back, and we bring it all back to them at the end of the storage period.

Mike Foster:

That sounds fantastic actually. It sounds like you’re taking all their pain away to get them the solutions they need, I guess.

Alex Glass:

Yeah. If you speak to anybody that has a storage experience and you tell them what you do, they roll their eyes and go, “Oh, my goodness. I wish I had known about this a few months ago when I was going through it myself.” So it’s an easy value proposition to get your head around, I think.

Mike Foster:

Awesome. So I want to take you back to the first business that you owned and when you went from employment to business. What was the reason, what fueled your thoughts to become a business owner, to become an entrepreneur?

Alex Glass:

Yeah, that’s a long story, man. I’ve worked in semiconductor. My background is in electronics, so I worked in semiconductors for, I don’t know, 30 years or something, almost entirely in Silicon Valley, in California and for companies that worked over there. And I was just on a corporate pass and I had done well. I got to senior management at a fairly young age, and life had been continually going in the same direction, which was just upward and onward. You start looking after a territory, and then you end up looking after a country, then you’re looking after Europe, then you’re looking after North America, then I’ve got a global responsibility, and the thing was just getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Alex Glass:

But there was a point at which we took a pause and collectively, Emma and I, my wife, Emma, and I just sat down and just said, “Well, you know what? What is this all about? What are we doing this for?” It seemed to have gotten a life of its own. There was an inexorable momentum forward that we almost felt like we didn’t have any control over it. And at one point, I think we felt like we did, but by then, we just didn’t. We were just kept getting offered new jobs, move here and move there. Here’s another job. Here’s another job. And before you knew it, you didn’t feel like your life was your own.

Alex Glass:

So I guess the first bet was we decided we were going to get off that particular train. We didn’t want to be on it. We hadn’t really intended to be on it, but it was a quite a big step to snap off it, particularly because you’re thinking, “Well, what else are we going to do instead?” And at the time, we were living in California and the kids were getting to teenage years so the school bet was getting more important. And so our journey into starting our own business started with moving back from the states locally to let Emma start training to be a midwife and for me to start thinking about, okay, let’s see what kind of a new venture we can formulate here that will allow us to be UK-based, which is one of the other things we wanted to do, and have something that was locally sustainable. It didn’t involve me travelling to every corner of the world.

Mike Foster:

So tell me about that first idea then. What sparked that first idea?

Alex Glass:

It was a book. I have it here. It’s Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki book.

Mike Foster:

Brilliant book. Brilliant.

Alex Glass:

You can’t see this on the podcast, but we might go see how many Post-it notes I’ve got on this thing. I read and reread. And the essence of his philosophy, I guess, in a nutshell is that you’re you’re often better off owning your own business. You’re often better off owning assets that generate income for you. In a lot of ways, it’s a very simplistic way of describing what he talks about, but that started me thinking that, okay, having our own business was possible, having our own business that maybe has had some tangible assets, and amongst it was maybe desirable. And that’s the way that we started ahead.

Alex Glass:

But actually, practically speaking, what happened was we moved back to the UK, and I went to London Business School for a year, and the idea was that we were consciously going to create a firebreak from my old life to my new life and then use the year of the programme at LBS to think about what that business might be. So in truth, when we moved back, I didn’t know what it was going to be. I had this Kiyosaki thing in the back of my head, and I knew that I wanted to take a year of not working in order to try and work out what it was going to be. So it was a bit of a leap of faith. Emma was very sure what she wanted to do. I wasn’t at all sure what I was going to do.

Mike Foster:

And when you decided what you were going to do, can you remember where you were at that moment of time? Is it a particular place that you went, “Ah, that’s what I’m going to do?”

Alex Glass:

Yeah. Our first business was a property business, and we got into it pretty much, like all best laid plans, right? So we’re coming back. I’m definitely not getting a job for 12 months. I’m going to do this thing. Within a couple of months, we started buying properties and were then renovating them and flipping them just for transactional profit on the deal. So we started doing that pretty much straight away, and we started doing that largely because when we were in the states, we were avid Watchers of BBC America, would you believe, and we were watching Homes Under the Hammer all the time. So we had this notion that you could maybe buy stuff at auction that was a little distressed and maybe you could do something to it and add some value to it.

Alex Glass:

It started as a background project while I was there studying that we would buy and sell these properties along with me working at uni and Emma doing her thing. I’m afraid I can’t remember his name now, Martin something or other, isn’t that? And Lucy were the guys that you have. Robert, Martin and Lucy were the three catalysts for the journey that we ended up on.

Mike Foster:

Brilliant. It’s a great story. And in terms of when you then first started your business, what were the first things you did, can you remember doing, in terms of to start the ball rolling?

Alex Glass:

Yeah. Some of it is tactical. For that particular venture, you need access to a good bet of capital and you need to be fundable. You need to be able to present the picture that the lenders are looking for in order to be able to fund you. And then there’s those mechanical stuff. You got to find the properties. You got to get used to the process. You’ve got to understand that you have to be able to move very quickly. And the high level bet is you’ve got to be able to see value where other people don’t see value. Cause because ultimately, you’re in a competitive situation for a particular acquisition, and if somebody can see the same value you can or they can see more value than you can, they’re probably prepared to pay more for it than you are, and then it’s just an opportunity that never became anything.

Alex Glass:

So developing that sense of whether you could do that or not was quite something. And then being in the auction room and near the gavel going down on your first property and you’ve now committed a large amount of money to this notion that you can do that is quite a sobering experience because you suddenly think, “Okay. It’s not a spreadsheet anymore. We have to go do this now.” So I remember that quite distinctly.

Mike Foster:

That’s brilliant. There are certainly those moments in our entrepreneurial life, isn’t there, where there’s that reality factor, that moment. So talking about moments in our business, what’s been your biggest challenge to date?

Alex Glass:

Yeah, that’s interesting. There were several really, I think. I’m quite restless as a person and intellectually restless. So I’m always trying to find little tricky problems that I don’t know how to solve and go explore them and unravel them like picking at a knot kind of thing. So that’s been a challenge because I think the skillset you need to start something is not necessarily the same skillset as growing it or maintaining it or further into a period of maturation. And I’m increasingly aware over the years that I’m most interested when I’m starting something and growing something, and I’m not particularly engaged when it comes to actually maintaining and sustaining something. So that’s quite a challenge because it basically means that you’ve got, I don’t know, you’ve got ADD or some description where you get to a point where you feel like you understand what the problem is, and then you say, “Okay, great. Well, I’ll go do something else now.” So there’s a bit of that, which is a personal character thing that I guess you have to come to recognise over time.

Alex Glass:

And then other things are circumstantial, like the COVID thing we’re all in the middle of right now. We developed the notion that we needed a multiple income stream strategy because we didn’t want to be completely reliant on any single activity. So that’s really now why we have a residential property business, a hotel. We’re now doing the easyStorage business. And also, Emma runs her own private midwifery practise. So that’s largely because we don’t want to wait until we have a problem before we build our bridges and build our defences against the possible threats that we might incur, if you see what I mean. So we’ve always been fairly paranoid in that sense that you’re only a heartbeat away from something going wrong and you have to be ready for it.

Mike Foster:

Exactly. And then you were saying, we’ll just pause from the questions just to reflect on the hotel business because you’re saying to me that during the pandemic, it wasn’t perhaps as hard hit as other hotels. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Alex Glass:

No. As anybody listening to this that’s in the hospitality business or even just paying attention to the news, the hospitality business has been hit, one of the industries that’s been hit very, very hard. And we’ve managed to weather the storm on that, I think, partly because we didn’t … Strangely, we didn’t want to be hoteliers. We wanted to buy it as a building and in its best use was as a hotel, but we didn’t want to be Basil Fawlty. We didn’t want to be in the hotel. So we built this thing to be totally hands off; digital door locks, computer booking systems, no reception, very light touch operationally. And at the time, that was fine because our client base was white and blue collar contractors, visiting Reading for work, coming through Monday to Friday, going home, coming back on the next week and just doing that again. So it was very orientated towards our customer base at the time.

Alex Glass:

But fast forward into a COVID environment, and you suddenly find yourself in a situation where your operating model is actually pretty well suited to anybody that’s got any vulnerability to the virus and/or frontline workers that needed to be in a relatively secure, somewhat isolated living environment. So we were able to … As our white collar and blue collar customers evaporated virtually overnight, we were able to really ramp up in a couple of different areas. So our model lent itself quite seamlessly to shift our customer base quite quickly. So actually, we feel a bit embarrassed to say it, but we actually had a pretty good year in 2020 because we were well positioned to cater to a different customer base.

Alex Glass:

And now the challenge is, of course, we’re coming out of that, so now we have to migrate again, and do we continue doing what we’re doing? Is that customer demand going to maintain itself? You would imagine our traditional customer base is going to start coming back to us. How do we manage that transition? Do we consciously go one or the other? So there’s another challenge coming our way as we emerge from this situation as I think a lot of business owners will find themselves trying to work out, what’s next? What happens next and how do we adapt to this ever-changing situation that we find ourselves in?

Mike Foster:

It’s certainly not going to go back to normal, normal, is it, in terms of immediately? So yeah, good point.

Alex Glass:

Right. Yeah.

Mike Foster:

So let’s flip that the other side then. What’s been the best moment as an entrepreneur?

Alex Glass:

Actually, I think it’s similar as to what I had when I had a job, job, really. I always found the most rewarding thing was the people side of it. I think when you work alongside people that you feel either that you’re benefiting from being in and around them or you’re somehow benefiting them being in and around you, I find that terrifically rewarding. And it’s been the same in our small entrepreneurial way as it was when I was working for corporates and things really.

Alex Glass:

So we’ve consciously not wanted to be operationally involved in our business on a day-to-day basis. The old … You ever read that book, The E-Myth Revisited? It’s on your shelf there. Yeah, I can see it. That’s another one that really resonated with me, that classic conundrum of being an owner operator and being just completely handcuffed to your business and not having a life and all that stuff. So we’ve consciously built teams quickly from early stages in order to be operationally free. And in doing that, it’s meant that we’ve built some really nice teams with some great people that have really thrived in that environment that they could really feel like they had a real piece of what we were trying to build and that they really owned it. They weren’t just working on it. They had a piece of it, and it felt like it was theirs as much as it was ours.

Alex Glass:

And I think that’s happened to us a couple of times now since we’ve started these smaller local businesses. And it’s nice when it works out. It’s nice when the business stays around, and it’s nice when you’re able to pay your bills and all that stuff. So don’t get me wrong. It’s nice to … Our corporate business has been going since 2007 now, so we’ve got a little bit of longevity there. So you enjoy that bit too, but I think that’s the bit I reflect back on that I think we’ve impacted people in a positive way along the way. And I think that’s important to me at least.

Mike Foster:

Yeah. I certainly know from all our engagements and people in the network that talk about you, reflect as you being a people person. So that’s a nice reflection. That’s your best moment as well. So what one tip would you share with other entrepreneurs then?

Alex Glass:

Yeah. I’m like from the night school of management as far as that goes. It’s just there. I think the hardest thing I think is taking the step, the first step, and depending on your environment, they … When we did it, the environmental situation wasn’t good because everybody that you knew, everybody that you worked with, your family, the whole thing, were all immersed in a job mentality where we were at the time. So there isn’t really a great deal of support for this idea that you’re going to blow the bolts on this thing, move home. You don’t know what your job is? Hold on a minute. All that stuff creates an awful lot of inertia. There’s a lot of stuff pulling you back the way that you came, and I think those first steps are hard to take.

Alex Glass:

So I would say just do it and learn fast. Your plan means nothing two minutes after you finished writing it. You need to remember that you just made that up. It didn’t come down off the hill on a tablet with Moses. You made it up. You probably got some stuff wrong. Learn fast and move, but move. Always move. Always be making decisions, and always be moving forward, but just learn. Don’t be so stuck on what you thought the first thing was that you can’t let go of that. You need to be, in my view anyway, you need to be very nimble and not really hold on to things too hard in that sense. I don’t know. Does that make sense?

Mike Foster:

I love it myself. Yeah. I love it myself. I think I always say to business owners that what you do will give you an outcome, and it’s what you learn from the outcome that is then your future. If you don’t do it, you don’t learn from anything. Like you say, what you probably made up in terms of the business plan anyway. What one thing have you perhaps learned then that you’d never do again?

Alex Glass:

It’s back to people again. People are so central. I don’t think it matters really what venture you’ve embarked upon. We’ve had a mixed experience of working with other people. One is because there were simply just too many people involved in a venture, and that’s just a headache. It’s just the proverbial herding cats. You can’t get anybody to agree what time it is or what day of the week you’re going to have a meeting on it. I find it very, very hard.

Alex Glass:

And I found that it reminded me of my corporate life, the thing that I didn’t like that much. That thing where every time you need to make a decision, you’ve got to check in with umpteen different departments just to make sure everybody is on board, and some of them make sense because they’re directly affected, and other ones don’t, but you’ve still got to do it because if they’re not involved, there’s going to be a problem and all that. So I’d say I avoid like the plague now getting involved in ventures that have multiple people involved at an ownership level.

Alex Glass:

And then the other one, which is related to that, is pick your partners very carefully. We wanted to get into storage for quite a while. We really liked the sector. If you’ve ever had a chance to look at it, it’s a good business to be in. It grows. It’s profitable. It has a lot of good things going for it. But we couldn’t find the partner. We couldn’t find someone to work with that felt like we wanted to be engaged in that way for an extended period of time. You must have seen it yourself. Sometimes, those relationships work out tremendously well. Sometimes they don’t work out at all. Sometimes they’re great for a while and then they fall apart halfway through.

Alex Glass:

So my jaundiced view of things now is if Emma and I can do stuff on our own and we don’t really have to partner with anybody at all, other than maybe the bank, that’s the way that we like to do it now because it’s just simpler if we do it that way. That may just mean that I’m not really good at managing that very well, I don’t know, but that’s been my experience with that, and that would be one of my takeaways, I think.

Mike Foster:

That’s great. I think I would be in that club. I think that’s a whole new podcast if I was to share the amount of partnerships that I’ve chosen that probably didn’t go to plan, and hence, one of the reasons of coming back out on running my own business that way. So yeah, that would be a whole different podcast.

Alex Glass:

[crosstalk 00:21:53] play well, Mike. That’s what it is. That was just like being in the corner of a playground with our own ball and our own sand but looking after ourselves and just letting the other kids do their thing.

Mike Foster:

That’s been said about me as well before. Yeah. What about your motivation? What fuels your motivation?

Alex Glass:

It’s just that restlessness. There seems to be no end to it. It’s just insatiable. I don’t know what it is. I’ve always been that way. I don’t know how to explain it. I am just restless. I want to learn new things. I’ve always had a general thought that as long as I was doing a decent job and I was learning something new, in work anyway, that things would never really go that far astray. And that’s really just been the thing that’s propelled us from different roles and corporate jobs to what we’re doing now. And I think that’s the essence of it. There’s just a little bit of energy there that is both a good thing in some ways and is also a limitation in other ways, but it’s the way you are.

Alex Glass:

Somebody said to me once you can change your behaviour but you can’t necessarily change your character that much. And I buy into that. So you know that you’re wired that way, and you know in certain circumstances, it makes you behave in a certain way, which sometimes can be good and other times, it can be not so good.

Alex Glass:

So one of the things I find difficulty where there’s trying … I’m talking about books a lot. You know the Seth Godin book, The Dip?

Mike Foster:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alex Glass:

I always find that difficult working out whether I’m in a dip or a cul-de-sac. My brain always says, no, no, I’m in a dip. There’s a way out of this and I just haven’t found it yet. And, obviously, in the book, obviously it says, no, no, sometimes you’re in a dead-end and you just need to realise you’re in a dead-end and get out of that. I find that hard because my mind is always thinking, no, no, there is a way out of this. I just haven’t worked out what it is yet.

Mike Foster:

And another great recommended reading book there, certainly. So is Emma at the other side of the equation in terms of keeping you on the [crosstalk 00:24:09]. Yeah.

Alex Glass:

Yeah. Emma is very much a grounding factor. She describes me as a balloon on a string that is anchored to the ground by her holding on to it. And that’s not far off true. So whilst I’m more like, “Hey, yeah, let’s do this. It’ll be fine. We’ll work it out.” Emma is like, “Well, hold on a minute. What happens if that doesn’t work out and maybe we to do something else?” So we’re very complementary in that sense. My sense for danger and risk is not that great, and Emma’s is pretty good. Yeah. She keeps me on the trainer wheels most of the time. But now we’ve worked …

Alex Glass:

I think that’s another key thing. If you’re going to work with your partner, your family, your life partner, you have to work out where you stop and where they start and then where work stops and where life starts as well. So we’ve been doing that for a few years now, and I think we’ve largely worked out how we fit together and where our skill sets are. But yeah, no, definitely, Emma is the sensible anchor rather than me.

Mike Foster:

Brilliant. And so what’s next for you, and what’s this year hold, what does the future hold?

Alex Glass:

Well, in the immediate time, we’ve got to take this thing from being a startup to being something more sustainable, and we have to get out of that operationally. So first, so a principle really, first principle, make sure the thing actually works and we can grow it and do a good job for our customers and everything else that goes with that. But for us personally, we are already building the team that will give us the operational freedom that we need and that we must have. We didn’t get into this to take on full-time jobs at this point in our lives. We took this on because we thought it was a business that we could build a team around and that had some longevity to it.

Alex Glass:

So I would say for the rest of this calendar year and probably into the first part of next, it’s really about getting to a point where we are involved directly in the business, for sure, but we’re not operationally involved every day. That’s a big one. That’s a big personal objective really.

Alex Glass:

And the business objectives are many. We have to have more vehicles. We have to transition to our own warehouse at some point in time. We have to scale. We have to make money, little things like that. So those are the things that preoccupy us most at the moment.

Alex Glass:

And I think the other thing is we’ve ended up in a portfolio type scenario so we can’t lose sight of the other stuff. We are somewhat preoccupied with storage right now, but our property business needs attention. Our hotel business needs attention. Emma still has clients that she looks after. So we can’t be completely myopic, although we are proportionally balancing our time towards the storage venture at the moment.

Mike Foster:

Yeah. Excellent. And just a thought really. What three words would you use to explain your entrepreneurial journey in full? Any three words that stand out?

Alex Glass:

Three words. Oh, my goodness. Is that three words? Oh, my goodness.

Mike Foster:

It was.

Alex Glass:

Yeah. Good thing, yeah? That’s interesting. I think one would be accidental.

Mike Foster:

Okay.

Alex Glass:

I didn’t set out to be this way. It just happened over time. Actually, it’s funny. The entrepreneur thing, it doesn’t always sit comfortably with me because I’m not sure … I don’t know how entrepreneurial we really are because we tend to go for franchises. I think that’s almost like a safe harbour in some ways. You’re not taking the full rest of starting something completely from scratch off your own back. You’re looking for people to guide you along the way. So I would say one is accidental. What’s the other one? The other one is … I need two more, don’t I? Oh, my goodness. There you go. You put me on the spotlight and now I’m struggling.

Mike Foster:

Oh, my goodness. [crosstalk 00:28:30] No worries. So if people want to know a little bit more about your businesses, how would they find that out, Alex?

Alex Glass:

Well, we’re on LinkedIn. So if you have a look for Alex Glass and probably put easyStorage, then that’s probably the one that will pull me up on LinkedIn most easily. You can certainly reach me at [email protected] And yeah, we’re quite active as you know, Mike, in a lot of the networking stuff that you’re involved in as well with some other things, so you’ll probably just see us around the place. We’re like the proverbial bad pennies. We just keep popping up in different spots right now. And if it’s not me, it’s not Emma. So if there’s somebody on a network and calling and they’re wearing bright orange t-shirts or something, chances are it’s probably us.

Mike Foster:

Look out for those big orange vans.

Alex Glass:

Yeah.

Mike Foster:

Brilliant. Alex, thanks very much. Really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you for sharing your entrepreneurial journey and the insight in terms of that journey with us.

Alex Glass:

You’re welcome, Mike. It was fun. I enjoyed it too.

Mike Foster:

Thanks, Alex. So thank you for listening to my latest Step Change podcast. As always, I hope you found the content interesting, thought provoking and useful in the development of your own business. Please do subscribe to this podcast. And when I release the next episode, you’ll be one of the first to know.

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