At 22, Mark Ang is a successful business owner, several times over, and is now the co-founder of Second Closet, a valet storage solution. Mark received his commerce degree from Rotman and took part in the CDL program as an undergraduate student. We sat down with Mark to chat about his entrepreneurial journey, the part that CDL plays in it and the lessons learned along the way.
How did your entrepreneurial journey start and what has shaped you as an entrepreneur?
I was involved in our family business from a young age, which I think has helped me tremendously. By the age of 22, I had successfully run five businesses, entirely self-taught. I have the mentality of just doing it myself and that has allowed me to take on challenges without the fear of failure or the fear of not having the right tool set to get it done – I will build my own tools, if the right ones are not available.
My father encouraged my brother and I to get involved in running the family business when I was 12 and by 14, we were managing multi-million dollar projects. Doing things from such a young age got me really excited about the process of building things. By the time I was in grade ten, I was managing an import and export business on my own.
While managing these businesses, I did my own legal, accounting, product design, distribution and advertising. Doing that taught me to be very resourceful and figuring out how to do things on my own.
My journey thus far has really shaped who I am as an entrepreneur and my extensive experience with entrepreneurship helps me examine things critically.
How did you hear about the CDL program and why did you decide to join it?
I first heard about the CDL program through Rotman while pursuing my commerce degree. I thought it was of great value, economically speaking, as you can take MBA courses and work with some amazing startups.
As I learned more about it, I realized that there was so much more value to be had in CDL than probably my whole undergrad career because it is a culmination of everything you have learned.
What is the story behind Second Closet and what makes it so unique?
My brother and I decided to move out of our parents’ home and, together with our golden retriever Riley, got a condo downtown. My brother had a full-time job and he got us the condo – obviously he took the room and I got the couch. Come to think of it, Riley had more space than I did!
Since my brother occupied the bedroom, he also got the closet and I had nowhere to put my stuff. That is when I started shopping around for storage space but there wasn’t anything available that was affordable and secure. We did have a storage locker but it was really dirty and broken into numerous times, so that was not really a great option either.
I thought that other people probably have similar issues and it turns out that a lot of them do. They may have more space than I did, but they do want to downsize and declutter. That is when I envisioned a service like Second Closet and the seed for this startup was planted. I revisited the idea later, started actively working on it, and it took off.
Second Closet is a valet storage service of sorts customized to individual needs. We realized early on that most people don’t fill a standard-sized storage space right to the top because everyone’s storage needs are different. Second Closet helps you store according to your own needs. It could be a box or a mattress, we can accommodate it.
When you need something stored, simply request it through our site and we will pick up the stuff. When you need it again, you click your mouse and we deliver it back to you anywhere in the city whenever you need it.
The fundamentals of the storage business are quite good because people will spend additional money on offsite space but our proposition is to make the process of getting there much easier, more seamless and less expensive. This has resonated with a lot of people and has been great for business.
Since you pursued a commerce degree, you could have potentially gone down the consulting path but why did you decide to pursue the entrepreneurship route instead? What was the key factor in making this decision?
I have completed internships at companies like KPMG, where I did audit, corporate finance work – mostly M&A. Ultimately, I secured full time offers in management consulting.
Given my family background, I just wanted something stable that was going to pay the bills and set me on a good career path. When I got the offers, I thought I was set, but we closed our funding for Second Closet the day I was supposed to start full time.
I sort of knew this in advance, as things were in motion before I got the job offers, and had chatted with my managing director about it. Apparently, they were making bets that I wasn’t going to start the job! So someone won money on that.
I met Michael Hyatt through the CDL program. Michael is a Fellow and Founding Partner at CDL-Toronto, and now an investor in Second Closet. He really took a liking to me and asked what I needed to start full time on Second Closet. That was a real turning point for things and we closed funding shortly after.
How did you meet Michael Hyatt and how did that lead to funding for Second Closet?
We launched Second Closet on April 12, 2017 and met Michael a week and a half after.
Initially, the service was meant for students and we mainly wanted to provide it over the summer, when they have to move away from residence or their student accommodation. We were using a third party and just wanted to make a bunch of cash over the summer, while working on our full-time jobs.
In order to reach more students, we got a booth at a startup expo. Michael walked by and I caught his attention by saying that I am in the CDL program. Initially, he thought that Second Closet was a CDL venture, I corrected him, but the CDL connection piqued his interest.
The Creative Destruction Lab has a very rigorous process in terms of which students are accepted, so that was a pre-qualifier in his mind that probably made it worth two seconds of his time. The business model itself was what grasped his attention. We connected over coffee the next week and he ended up investing in the business.
At the end of the day, if we hadn’t received the funds, I would probably be working a full-time consulting job.
What has been the key advantages of the CDL program for you?
The program really rounded things out and allowed me to validate what I already knew about business and be more confident in it. It also gave me an opportunity to learn new things and improve upon them.
The Creative Destruction Lab really breaks it down to a science, which I think is really unique. I liked the fact that you are working with real companies and trying to drive real results. CDL helped me round out those ideas and thoughts that I had and gave me a stage to present those ideas – whether during class discussions or through assignments and ultimately through the companies that I worked with.
What is the vision for Second Closet and where do you see it going in five years from now?
We are working on a few big initiatives and if we can close some of those, the company will just take off in a way that I had never expected it to. We want to grow Second Closet across North America and own the experience and the process of self storage.
What do you do in your downtime outside of work?
A lot of people assume that I read a lot. I honestly don’t have the time to.
My day begins at six in the morning and I work till 11 at night. Then I go home and do more work until I fall asleep on my laptop and do it over again seven days a week.
Any advice for people thinking of joining the program or thinking of applying, be it as a company, student or founder?
My advice to students would be that you have to come into the program with the mindset to just do good work. Be resourceful and scrappy. Do not ask CDL ventures “what do you want me to do today?”. Instead figure out what should be done and how it should be done.
Companies should come to CDL to really expand their business over the next nine months and be very rigorous about it. There is going to be a lot of pressure that comes with building a business, so be prepared for it.
As a founder, you are going to get out from it what you put into it.
If you come in and you put in a concerted effort then the results can be astronomical because you are surrounded by brilliant people that are very precise in terms of advice and guidance that they will give.
CDL engages Fellows and Associates with years of business experience and through the program you have access to the kind of captive audience that business owners wish for. You are granted the time instead of fighting for it. Use it wisely.
If I was an incoming founder, I’d want to hit the ground running for nine months, do as much as I can and prove to these investors that my trajectory is upwards and fast-moving.
How have you leveraged CDL’s resources once you are out of the program?
A lot of current and former students have reached out to chat with me and receive guidance.
Personally, I leverage the network on the advice side, which is the premise of the CDL – that you are going to get the best business advice from the best business people.
Thank you Mark for taking the time to chat with us!