Ezra Box: Cornell’s Storage Solution with Karnavat (’17) and Tayal (’16)
For many people, summer is a time for friends, sun, and relaxation. That is, unless you need to find a place to store your stuff. In short, many college students who live far away from their university campuses struggle to find local storage facilities to house their belongings over long breaks. Similarly, even when students are successful in finding a place to store their belongings, storage facilities charge high fees that can put a damper on anyone’s summer fun.
Fortunately, Cornell students won’t face this problem for much longer. A team of Cornell students recently founded Ezra Box: a peer to peer platform that helps students who need storage space find other Cornell students with more than enough space to spare. The platform currently operates as a website, and matches Cornell student as renters and hosts to find the ideal storage solution.
Entrepreneurship@Dyson had the privilege of interviewing two of Ezra Box’s four co-founders: Sagar Karnavat (’17) and Shivang Tayal (’16). Fueled by a passion to save students money, the duo is determined to make Ezra Box a success. Sagar and Shivang offered their thoughts on Ezra Box and entrepreneurship below:
Tell me about Ezra Box.
Shivang: The inception of Ezra Box came out of international students. Storage is a big problem for people that come from halfway around the world. When you’re carrying your home with you to Cornell, it’s difficult to take it back every summer and every winter. You’re left storing your things at expensive prices, just throwing it away, or doing a last minute scramble with your friends to find storage at their houses. Ezra Box is a conception from international students who thought, “How can we fix storage and make it cheap?” We came up with this peer to peer model where you institutionalize that search of the scramble for spaces at your friend’s houses, and turn it into a virtual market where people can buy and sell storage.
Sagar: Ezra Box connects you with people at Cornell whom you’d feel more comfortable storing your stuff with. It allows you to store at a place that’s closer to you for a much cheaper cost. The idea is to democratize storage to make it more accessible for everyone on campus.
Can you walk me through the process?
Shivang: There’s a component where you can search for listings. I’m going to start off as a “renter,” who is anyone that wants to store their belongings for the summer. A renter can search for listings at Ezra Box by location. We’ve covered North Campus, West Campus, Collegetown, and the Commons. You can alter your price preferences, which are based on box sizes. When you compare our prices with our competitors, we’re about one-third of their price. You can list the booking, check the availability of the person, write a message, and fill out the number of boxes you have based on size.
On the host side of it, a host is someone who gives a listing. The host can add a listing, give a title for the listing, give a limited access time, add an address, provide flexible dates for check-in, and use a location tag. Once that’s set up, we give the renter a unique code.
Sagar: The reason for the code is so the admin can check where the boxes are and where the boxes have been. We’re trying to keep the payment secure.
Who is your ideal user?
Sagar: Our ideal user is someone who wants to store his stuff for a cheap price at a reliable location. There are more than 14,000 undergraduate students and even more graduate students on Cornell’s campus. That is our market.
What happens if a renter has something to store that doesn’t fit well in a box?
Shivang: We anticipate that a lot of the items stored won’t fit well in boxes. You can store other things like microwaves, mini-fridges, couches, guitars, lamps, and things like that which you usually end up throwing away for dump and run.
What liabilities are you concerned about?
Shivang: The main liability issues are those hypothetical situations where you worry about your stuff. The other storage options don’t provide very robust insurances, and the renter is liable, not the host or the website. Other services do it like that, but we’ve created a lot of safety nets. We ensure that you’re a Cornellian, we do background checks on each of our hosts, and Sagar and his team have created unique designs that work well for storing items safely. Once we have Facebook integration in the website, there will also be a sense of how well you know the person (first degree connection, second degree connection, mutual friends, etc). It’s within the Cornell community, so liability isn’t a big concern for us because we background search our hosts.
What’s the revenue breakdown?
Shivang: None of this goes to us. We’re currently a non-profit service, we’re Cornell funded, and tentatively, this falls under the International Students Union. It’s an extension of Cornell University, but we’re looking into different organizational structures.
Sagar: We’re trying to solve a very human problem, which is to provide cheap and accessible storage.
Can you talk about your team?
Sagar: Our team has 20 people from about 10 different countries all over the world in a lot of different schools at Cornell. People in AAP, people in the Hotel School, people in CALS, and we’ve seen a lot of leadership in some of the younger students. The website is great as a result.
How do you overcome your biggest challenges as entrepreneurs?
Shivang: One thing that we’ve been very fortunate with is that we’ve always had a very strong mission driving us. We’ve had a lot of transitions in the product, but the driving force is always within the same realm. Everything we present has a lot of meaning behind it.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Shivang: Listen to all the voices that make up the background noise in your daily experience, and absorb as much as you can from the community. That’s what’s going to shape your idea and help you become more efficient.
How would you define an entrepreneur?
Sagar: An entrepreneur is a very motivated individual who tries to solve things he finds are lacking in society.
Shivang: An entrepreneur is someone who creates unconventional, meaningful change to the human condition. A huge part of entrepreneurship is improvement and change, and that’s what Ezra Box intends to do.
If you’re interested in learning more about Ezra Box, check out their new video campaign.