Lessons Of Growth: Clutter’s Saad Shahzad

Clutter startup growth

Growing a company is hard enough, especially when you are disrupting a $50B/year industry — which is exactly what Clutter is doing to the storage industry today. 

Clutter is a tech-enabled, on-demand storage company that manages the pickup, storage, and retrieval of your belongings. The company was co-founded by  Ari Mir and Brian Thomas in 2013, and has since grown to become one of the largest on-demand storage providers in the world. 

Over the last six years, Clutter has expanded its footprint significantly, now operating in over 1,000 cities and eight states across the U.S., including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and the Bay Area, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Jersey, San Diego, Orange County, and Delaware.

To accelerate growth and expansion into new markets, Clutter has raised nearly $300M in total funding from notable investors, including Sequoia Capital, Atomico, Google Ventures, and most recently Softbank. The company also recently acquired Omni’s storage business, which is Clutter’s second acquisition (last year they acquired Handy).

saad startup growth

We had the opportunity to chat with Saad Shahzad, Clutter’s General Manager of Enterprise and former VP of Sales and Customer Care, to learn more about Clutter and his advice on growing and scaling a startup. 

Saad joined Clutter in early 2016 to build out the sales organization and help grow the business. 

Saad started his career in finance and venture capital, which led to an opportunity to join Gusto, a high-growth HR startup, where he helped grow the business from  800 to more than 50,000 customers. 

Saad made the decision to move back to Los Angeles and join the Clutter team because he saw a startup with a highly addressable market with a massively underserved customer base.  

The vision, potential and value of Clutter were clear. Self-storage is an industry that’s never focused on the customer. After meeting with Ari, he realized Clutter had the potential to completely disrupt the space and offer consumers a much more convenient solution at price parity with the incumbents. As Saad explains, “We make people’s lives more convenient so they can spend time doing what they love.”

Since joining Clutter, Saad has been part of the executive team that has helped grow the company from its Series A to Series D rounds. 

Saad is sharing four pieces of advice for startup founders and entrepreneurs as they build their businesses.

#1: Invest In People 

As cliche as it may sound, a big part of Clutter’s early success was the company’s approach to people. It was more than a focus on building the right culture, but building the right processes to help create the right culture. 

One of the first initiatives Saad worked on when joining Clutter was working with the CEO Ari on the company’s hiring philosophy. They re-imagined Clutter’s approach to people management — including everything from how job specifications are written to candidate offers and onboarding for new hires.

This was all designed to bring not only the best but also the right people for Clutter. Saad shares, “As your business starts to scale in the early days, you need to make sure that people understand the DNA of your company and are aligned with your core values. At any high-growth company, your team has to have the adaptability to problem-solve in high-pressure situations.” 

A practice that Clutter started in the early days — and continues today — is celebrating failure and empowering team members to be more right than wrong. 

Saad continued, “Build a strong culture and be vocal about who you are and what you stand for. Sometimes, that means you’ll have to walk away from great talent. And that’s okay. One of the riskiest things a high-growth company can do is bring on people who are extremely talented, but not culture fits.” 

#2: Ruthlessly Prioritize  

In the early days of a startup, wearing multiple hats is a given. As Saad recalls, there were times when Ari would be out in the field driving trucks and working in the warehouse until 2am. 

As they started scaling and hitting milestones, it became critical for Ari and his team to ruthlessly prioritize their time and identify roles/functions that required bringing in outside expertise. 

Building the right team includes both internal leaders and external stakeholders who are involved with the business. According to Saad, when thinking about scaling and growth one of the best resources is the VC fund that you take capital from and the specific partner who will sit on your board.

A lot of companies in the early stages often prioritize valuation. For Clutter, it was all about finding the right partner — one that would help them reach the next level of growth. As Saad explains, “The best advice we can give [to founders] is focus on the partner who will be joining your board, because he or she will become your best resource and sounding board. Your partner will ask the difficult questions, and hopefully the right questions — they will be with you throughout the entire journey.” 

#3: Optimize for learning

As Clutter grew, its leadership team prioritized “optimizing for learning rapidly.”

One of the ways they did this was by encouraging senior leaders to seek out their own advisors. As Saad explained, “One of the things that makes Clutter unique is that we give each one our leaders the ability to go find their own advisors, who would get equity in Clutter to align incentives and interests.”

Saad brought on a  former Chief Revenue Officer of a public SaaS company as an advisor and mentor to serve as a sounding board and resource for the challenges he was facing. It gave him the opportunity to work through challenges with someone who’s been there and come up with solutions.

#4: Be intellectually honest  

Starting and growing a startup is often a lonely road. Many startup founders are going against the status quo, and a degree of resilience is required. 

But as Saad explains, staying focused shouldn’t cloud intellectual honesty: “ As you start out, you have to be intellectually honest with yourself and other stakeholders on success, failure, and more importantly, why.” 

This often translates into difficult decisions and iterating on things that are not working. It also means being okay with cutting your losses and trying a different strategy or direction.

To ensure they were approaching everything with intellectual honesty, Saad and the leadership team looked to data — even at the earliest of stages — to inform decisions and grow faster.

Final Thoughts

One of the key takeaways from  Saad is not to underestimate the importance of your company’s foundation — you have to be very deliberate about culture. 

While Clutter constantly iterated, it was more than trial than error. The approach Clutter took was structured, methodical, and purposeful. This permeated across all off Clutter, which Saad referred to as “radical transparency”. 

Be intentional about how you grow your company. In true growth fashion, there is always more to achieve and Saad, reflecting back, continues to challenge himself and his team to “raise the bar even higher.”

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