GBDA alumni entrepreneur turns heads at Y Combinator Demo Day

Monday, September 21, 2020

When investors logged in to Y Combinator’s virtual summer 2020 Demo Day, they saw Waterloo entrepreneurship in action. OpenUnit, a company founded by Stratford School alumni, took part in the event, among three other Waterloo/Velocity startups. Y Combinator brought together a class of 198 founders from 26 different countries.

“To have four founders with ties to [Waterloo] in a group from across the globe is a testament to the strength of our entrepreneurs and the tools and supports we’re able to provide here at Waterloo,” says Adrien Côte, executive director of Velocity. Among these 198 founders from across the globe was Taylor Cooney, GBDA graduate (class of 2016). Cooney’s GBDA background and passion for entrepreneurship are currently helping him disrupt traditional markets with his innovative new company, OpenUnit.

OpenUnit

Taylor Cooney has always had an interest in entrepreneurship and leveraged the Velocity Residence at Waterloo to build the skills he knew he would Founders of OpenUnitneed. But it was an unexpected move that inspired OpenUnit, the business he co-founded with friend Lucas Playford in 2019. When faced with the challenge of moving and storing his belongings on just a few days’ notice, Cooney realized that the online presence of smaller, independently-owned self-storage companies — what he calls the “mom and pop facilities” that make up around 74% of businesses in the industry — didn’t line up with consumer preferences.

“The online shopper may have 13 or 14 tabs open when looking to make a purchasing decision. If you got to a website that doesn’t have pricing information, doesn’t have inventory, doesn’t have a button to rent online, and they’re just a phone number, you’re going to close that one down and go to another website. And you’ll end up at one of the big companies,” explains Cooney, adding that these small business owners often can’t afford the off-the-shelf software needed to compete online.

OpenUnit is helping these operators by providing them with an all-in-one platform designed to boost their online presence, plus a reservation system, merchant solutions, support for legal agreements and insurance, and management software. And customers with storage needs can use their website to compare availability and prices for facilities near them.

With COVID-19 increasing the demands for storage rentals and the kinds of contactless and online options that OpenUnit can offer out-of-the-box, Cooney and Playford are taking advantage of a full schedule of meetings with potential investors and customers.

“The industry had to rapidly adopt contactless move-ins to keep their frontline staff and renters safe,” says Cooney. “Being built right out-of-the-box to accommodate this new process, like accepting eSignatures for rental agreements and allowing customers managing their own information and payment methods, makes us attractive to operators when we are speaking with them.”

*This article originally appeared in Waterloo Stories and has been adapted for the Stratford School.

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