Meet The MD: Attic Self Storage founder Frederic de Ryckman de Betz talks potential, persistence and putting the right team together
Frederic de Ryckman de Betz is no stranger to embracing entrepreneurship during economic uncertainty.
The founder of Attic Self Storage, Frederic started his business in the midst of the 2008 financial crash.
Since then the London-based storage company has grown at pace, recently closing a £45m investment round and announcing new store launches planned for later this year.
Frederic took the time to speak to Bdaily about how personal experiences shaped his entrepreneurial journey, the importance of the right team and the power of “sheer grit, determination and persistence”.
Can you tell the readers about yourself first of all - i.e. your background, where you are from etc?
“I was born to an English mother and Belgian father in Dakar, Africa. Until the age of 16, I moved around various parts of Africa with my older brother and two younger sisters.
“In 1993 I moved to the UK, going on to study at the London School of Economics and then training as a chartered accountant with Arthur Andersen.
“I then left to set up the business and have been here since, currently residing in West Malling, Kent with my wife and twin boys - Theodore and Maximillian.”
What does your role entail?
“Although I didn’t set out with the intention of doing so, I’m quite proud to have done everything in this business, and worked in every role from the ground up.
“I think that gives you a unique perspective as a CEO, and the ability to relate to what everyone in the business does on a daily basis.
“At the moment, every day is varied. Some days I’m coordinating with architects, other days I’m interviewing people for a new role or engaging with funders.
“I’m now able to focus increasingly on the strategic aspects of the business and my leadership role, identifying potential roadblocks and opportunities whilst ensuring I am building the right environment for my team.
“I work closely with them to showcase my vision of the business and to let them know what’s expected of them.”
When was Attic set up, and how has it grown since then?
“I left my previous career at the end of 2006, but didn’t launch the first facility (in Bow, London) until 2008, with a second one following in 2016 near King’s Cross.
“We’re currently in the process of adding two new sites in London which will both launch this year, and have a further two acquisitions in the pipeline.
“We have grown through sheer grit, determination and persistence!”
What was your role before this began, and how did you work your way to launch the company?
“Most of the men in my family such as my father, uncle and grandfather were entrepreneurs at some stage of their lives. This inspired me to start working for myself as early as the age of 12.
“Unfortunately, most of their businesses didn’t work out for various reasons. However, I was determined to ensure my future venture was a success, so I chose to work in corporate finance during the early years of my career.
“By focusing on restructuring and turnaround work, I hoped to better understand what caused businesses to fail in the first place. I also managed somehow to become a chartered accountant in the process!
“When I was 29 years old, my mum passed away and I found myself needing a storage unit for some of her things.
“When I found somewhere, the customer service was average at best, I received two rent increases in 18 months and they were building a side extension to the facility.
“It was four storeys high! I was intrigued and so began to research the sector and the more I saw, the more I saw the potential.”
What is it about your organisation that motivates and excites you the most?
“The people, for sure. Building a business is actually about building a team. You need the strategic vision, courage, work ethic and patience to pull it all off but once you get going, it’s all about the team.
“It can be challenging to find the right people and win their trust, but as the team starts to build momentum, it gets easier.
“When you see the team identifying and solving problems autonomously, when you see them working at odd hours of their own volition, and when you see them laughing together, you know you’ve nailed it and that feels great.
“When that happens, you feel as if you can conquer the world and anything’s possible.”
Looking back on the past year, what has been your biggest achievement?
“Our business requires significant levels of investment and so we had to make the decision to bring on board a private equity firm.
“Getting through the first 12-15 months with them was a massive challenge; it meant a change in mentality for me, and a step change in the growth path of the business.
“We were building a relationship with our new partners while at the same time investing heavily and so we had a steep learning curve.
“Two thirds of the team only joined us in 2019, and there were many firsts, so I guess successfully navigating through all that really.”
Did you find a niche in the market before setting this up? How does Attic compare to others in the industry?
“When doing market research, I found that there was a gap in the industry in terms of customer service and innovation, and I decided to be the one to tackle this.
“Attic stands out by being a bright, modern, clean facility that customers get 24/7 access to within a safe, secure and welcoming environment - almost as if to reflect one’s personal Attic.
“Plus, we continually develop new services and tools such as our online check-in and account management system, and VR to make things easier for customers.”
What have been your biggest challenges during your time at Attic and how have you overcome them?
“At the beginning, my biggest challenge was managing cash flow as the business was growing but we were quickly burning cash. With the worst economic crisis in a century, banks weren’t lending to individuals or businesses. The skills I gained during my first career heavily helped enormously during this period.
“By 2013, we were stable in terms of cashflow and were looking at growing, so our challenge for the next five years shifted to finding the right capital partners. That in itself proved quite the challenge and has required compromise in a number of areas.
“As the business has evolved, so have its needs. Currently, people are our biggest asset and greatest challenge. I believe that if you get that right, the rest follows.
“However, you have to have a plan and a strategy for how you want to grow your team, based on where you see the business in the long term.
“Then you have to find the right people, share the vision with them and persuade them to join your team. You need to ensure they’re inspired and work with them to deliver it.
“And now we have Covid-19. We will get through it like we have every other challenge – by knuckling down, working together as a team and looking through to the other side of the crisis.”
What advice can you offer budding entrepreneurs?
“Always try to surround yourself with good people and build trust. In order to do that you have to empower your team and allow them to make mistakes.
“You have to be willing to take a step back if you want to grow and that means investing in people so that you can leverage yourself.”
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