Kiln Lehi, in partnership with Pelion Venture Partners, is hosting a new Founders Series. This week, we welcomed Preston Alder, co-founder of Neighbor, to share anecdotal experiences and tips for “Finding Your Idea.” If you’re an entrepreneur, aspiring founder, or even just contemplating your next career move, Preston’s presentation is tailor-made for you. Watch the recorded version here, or read on for our biggest takeaways. 

Neighbor is a peer-to-peer storage company and marketplace that matches people’s empty space with other people’s extra stuff. With Neighbor, homeowners host their garages, driveways, and basements to renters looking for a storage solution at 50% the traditional price. The demand for self-storage has never been higher, and by empowering individual hosts with extra monthly income, Neighbor is in the business of creating a win-win situation. 

Preston first toyed with the idea for Neighbor when he was put in a frustrating situation. As a college junior at BYU heading abroad for an unpaid internship, Preston looked high and wide for affordable summer storage space. When he was unsuccessful, both in Provo and beyond, he tried to get creative. Realizing that a lot of off-campus housing in college towns goes unoccupied for the summer, he tried to find storage in an empty apartment, but could’t ever get in touch with the right person. Exhausted, he ended up piling his belongings into a friend’s garage before heading out of the country. 

Preston didn’t understand why storage had become a commodity when all it is, in actuality, is a concrete box. At the time, he wasn’t an aspiring entrepreneur at all, and in fact, when he first floated the idea for a storage app to his wife while they were out hiking, it didn’t land. Equipped with what was really just an unvalidated idea, he began to put feelers out to the world. As the end of college neared, Preston delayed impending life, delayed graduation, delayed a job offer, and took a leap to give his own idea his all. After making that initial decision to “stay on” Preston says that he and his team have “been 100% on since.” 

To those thinking about a new idea, Preston offers a few pieces of advice. First, he suggests that you continue to develop a laundry list of hard skills. He hadn’t anticipated having to pull weight when it came to skills like running ads or editing pictures, but it was all fair game in the earliest days. Make yourself invaluable by adding technical value. 

Next, Preston admits he spent almost all of his early effort trying to socially validate his idea. He says, “we did a good job making it look like we had tech, with our MVP website, but really all it did was populate an excel sheet with a column of people needing storage and a second column of people offering storage space. In the earliest days, I was the broker. We were really just validating the idea, not building at all.” He spent his time knocking on doors to validate with strangers. 

Over time, Neighbor has evolved through several iterations. At first, Preston and his co-founders sought to answer questions about whether they should focus on just students and university storage, or whether they should think about specific types of storage like vehicle storage. They landed upon comprehensive storage, and instead started market launches all around the country utilizing a hub and spoke model to optimize supply and demand. Today, Neighbor has raised multiple rounds of venture funding, has operations in Utah, Alabama, California, Texas, Florida, Colorado, and Arizona for everything including RV/boat storage, college storage, business storage, monthly parking, garages, warehouse storage, self storage, and climate controlled storage.

Over the next months, Kiln Lehi will continue to host our Founders Series in partnership with Pelion Venture Partners, a Cottonwood Heights firm investing in early-stage companies. We’d love to see you at an upcoming event! 

The Kiln Team is always looking to facilitate new partnerships with organizations that support entrepreneurs in Utah, Colorado, Idaho and beyond. For partnership inquiries, reach out to [email protected]. Also, be sure to check out Kiln’s recent partnerships with Pando, Womply, and The Swell Pod, as well as our ever changing list of upcoming events