The KIT start-up store2be has created an online platform that facilitates the temporary lease of advertising and retail spaces for brick-and-mortar businesses. It allows companies to benefit from the existing customer frequency in these spaces and present their products in an optimal environment. We have interviewed the store2be team on their idea, the foundation of their company and their future perspective.
What does your company stand for?
store2be is the ideal online marketplace for promotional and sales areas in shopping centres, retail stores and in special locations such as gyms, cinemas or bars. On the website, store2be.com, companies can request and book the best spaces for their brands and products with just a few clicks. They profit from the existing customer frequency in these spaces and get to address new customers in a real-world environment. We create a new marketing channel and help our clients to execute targeted offline marketing campaigns with little effort. Our partners who offer their spaces on store2be benefit from additional rent income, greater diversity and an enhanced shopping experience for their own customers. Brick-and-mortar retail will undergo a significant transformation over the course of the coming years, and we wish to take part in shaping its future.
Where and how did you get this brilliant idea?
The idea of store2be came to us during our work in a variety of other start-ups. We noticed how important and, at the same time, complex the topic of offline marketing had become. Over the course of the past years, a clear trend has become apparent: companies that turn out to be successful in the long term rely on several customer touchpoints and channels; the key word is ‘omni-channel marketing’. A brick-and-mortar presence requires a great deal of effort, however, and it is difficult to measure the success of such campaigns. This is exactly the problem that store2be solves: we offer our customers everything they need for a successful campaign.
Besides, the retail sector appears to be plagued by increasing uniformity. By creating bridges between innovative brands and products, on the one hand, and brick-and-mortar traders and their infrastructure, on the other, we are restoring a certain degree of diversity in retail.
How did your founding team come together?
Sven and Marlon met during their studies at WHU. They started working on the idea for store2be while Sven was finishing his undergraduate degree and Marlon was working on his doctorate. Peter and Emil have also known each other for a while: they met at PionierGarage, the Entrepreneurs’ Society at KIT. Our entire team came together in the summer of 2015, as common acquaintances introduced us to each other. A few months after the start of our project, we established store2be GmbH in October 2015.
What would you say are the benefits of being your own boss?
A particularly exciting aspect of founding a start-up is the responsibility inherent to your role as a founder and your own boss. Especially in the beginning, each of the founders tends to be responsible for two or three important parts of the company that must be coordinated and prioritised. Every day, we make important decisions that have a considerable impact on the future of our company and, as such, everyone involved. We need to be role models for our first employees. That has taught us a lot.
What do you think are the properties that one should have to be a successful entrepreneur?
For example: endurance, self-reflection, confidence and a good dose of optimism. On the one hand, it is essential to believe firmly in your vision, break the rules of the market and never be intimidated. On the other hand, founders must be open to change and criticism and pay close attention to the market. Usually, the final product is completely different from what you had in mind in the beginning. This is why a healthy dose of confidence/conviction and self-criticism/reflection is crucial. You also need a talent for inspiring enthusiasm in others. After all, you are starting with no more than an idea: from the very beginning, you need to convince your fellow entrepreneurs, employees, customers and investors of your vision. You don’t usually have a finished product to help you.
What would you term as the hurdles on the way to a successful business? Where did you get support?
Start-ups are normally faced with a catch-22 in the beginning: without a finished product, it is hard to acquire customers and find investors. Without revenue or funding, however, you cannot develop your product. This is why funding programmes for start-ups in their early stages are so popular and essential. The support from our mentors, the CyberForum and a variety of funding programmes has helped us to get past this initial stage and launch our first product on the market. As an online marketplace, we are particularly heavily affected by this chicken-and-egg problem. We need to recruit proprietors of spaces and potential tenants to our platform at the same time. Those partners and customers who believed in us from the start and used store2be during its earliest stage have helped us a great deal.
How did you deal with the large workloads during start-up?
As clichéd as it may sound: if you put your heart and soul into your start-up, you can cope with the higher workload. We are also very good at motivating each other within our team. A regular sense of success is crucial – this is why you always need to remember what you have achieved, especially when the goings get tough. In terms of our processes, we introduced a range of communication and collaboration tools right at the beginning of our work together. This adds structure to your own work and helps you keep on top of your departments. A small team has the advantage of communicating and acting very quickly, which has helped us achieve efficient operation methods and fast decision-making processes.
Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs?
Apart from the usual advice: it is important to engage with a topic for a while before deciding to launch a start-up in a specific sector. Many people seem to underestimate the significance of industry insights and the forces dominating any market. This is why young entrepreneurs should get in touch with experts, absorb their knowledge and display great willingness to learn. Entering the market early and aiming for short feedback and development cycles is advisable. In conversation with our customers and partners, we learned about a lot of factors that now influence our product. Last but not least: find time to switch off. As an entrepreneur, most of your thoughts will be dominated by your product or the challenges facing your company. A bit of time off will yield the best ideas for your start-up. Enjoying sports and free time with your friends and family becomes even more important.