'I put more money into Lovespace than anything else in my life' - Brett Akker, founder of Lovespace and Streetcar

20 QUESTIONS: The founder of the storage startup and the car sharing company sold to Zipcar on why children are good for de-stressing and his parents are business idols.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 21 Aug 2015

1.  IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I’m probably very boring in that I was probably always going to start my own business. I would still like to be goalkeeper for England, but I was never going to be good enough to be a professional athlete.

2.  WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

Lovespace came to me at one of those 3am moments, with the newborn wide awake in the other room. The distant second, was The Little Storage Company, which would have been a very different type of brand.

3.  IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY WHERE WOULD IT BE?

Barcelona, both in terms of Streetcar and Lovespace, is a city that would work very well from a business perspective, and I love the city from a personal perspective as well.

4.  WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

The money came from myself and Carl August Ameln who I founded it with, as well as Smedvig Capital. Smedvig Capital invested in Streetcar in 2007 and they put a bit of money in up front. Streetcar was just through savings. Myself and Andy [Valentine] literally put in £70,000, and that was pretty much everything we owned at the time. Remarkably, it lasted a little bit more than six months in the end.

5.  WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

In both businesses it’s hiring. We got very, very lucky in hiring excellent people right across the board.

6.  WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

We shouldn’t have bought tech off the shelf to start with. I think we’d have actually been better placed to build it from scratch, which means we probably would have launched quicker and more effectively. The biggest mistake with Streetcar would probably have been not focusing on the B2B [business-to-business] market early enough.

7.  WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

Numerous. I’d have been perfectly happy if I’d launched the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

8.  HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

Family helps massively. If you have a difficult day in the office and then you get home and you discover the real issues like a grazed knee or somebody pulling hair at nursery, I think that manages to keep you stress free - or relatively so.

9.  WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

My first proper job was post-uni, which was in a small international recruitment firm. I was working in brand new area, focusing on the Middle East and Africa. As a 21, 22-year-old I was doing a lot of travel, interviewing very, very senior people, so it was a real eye opener for me.

10.  WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

I’ve only had limited full time jobs. It would probably be something like work experience at school, where I was doing a couple weeks in a law firm and I had ideas above my station in terms of how useful I was going to be. Photocopying and tea runs were not quite what I had in my mind when I signed up for it.

11.  WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

The last 10 years has been the best job - I absolutely love it. Mars was fantastic for two reasons - the people I worked with and also the training they provided. I very nearly started my own business pre-Mars, but didn’t feel I was quite there and the training Mars provides is second to none.

12.  IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE WOULD YOUR TEAM BE NAMED?

I have absolutely no idea. It would have to be something horrifically naff, because I think it must be written into people’s contracts on that programme that every team name has to be as naff as you can possibly make it.

13.  WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

I’ve invested in quite a few businesses in the last 12 months or so, so it would be one of them. There’s Chargify, which provides wireless mob charging, and Men Rock, which is in the male grooming sector. The similarity between them all is that they’re disruptive in the industry they’re looking to enter.

14.  APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

I put more money into Lovespace than I have anything else in my life. Streetcar, although it was a smaller amount of money at the time, was pretty much everything I owned.

15.  SUIT OR JEANS?

Jeans definitely. I’m not a suit person really. I wear suits for very special occasions like board meetings. If I’m working from home it tends to be shorts or worse than jeans.

16.  FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Flexible working. I’ve always tried to be as flexible as possible, both with staff and myself. I’ve certainly found when I’ve given flexible working to other people they actually tend to work harder. I think it actually benefits the business as well as the individual.

17.  WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

The people definitely. When they go for their lunch break and they’re talking about the size and strength of cardboard boxes I think, ‘Wow, I’m so proud,’ but at the same time, ‘Blimey, they need to get a life at some stage.’

18.  WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

From a work perspective LinkedIn - that’s probably the app I use most of all.  From a personal perspective it’s BBC News and BBC Sport.

19.  WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

My parents. They were entrepreneurs in own right. They built a ladies fashion business here, started pretty much with nothing and managed to do well enough to give me and my brother a good start to life. Family always came first and that’s something that’s important to me too. On Wednesday afternoon there were no business meetings ever, because they would follow me wherever I was in the country playing football or cricket or tennis.

20.  IF YOU WERE PRIME MINSTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

Bringing in small business to education. Entrepreneurship and small business have been seen as one of the key drivers out of the recession. But I think we could do more from a very early age, so that it’s actually a genuine career option for when people take that first step.

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