Painting, Philippines and a startup: how to turn a €30 website into an on-demand rental service
How did a two-year-old painting on the floor and a family trip to the Philippines inspire the creation of a startup? In an interview with Conte.ai Magazine, Julian Azofra Begara discusses how he came up with and promoted Yakk, a rental service in demand among travellers and film industry workers.
How childhood dreams collided with harsh reality
“As a child, I dreamed of becoming a Formula 1 driver. One day my parents and I were watching a championship, and there was an accident — one of the drivers flew off the track. I ran to my room, buried my face in my pillow and started crying. Dad asked: ‘What happened?’ I replied that I was afraid to become a Formula 1 driver now because it was such a dangerous profession. That's how my dreams collided with reality,” says Julian bitterly.
A year before starting college, Julian still didn't know what he wanted to do or who he wanted to be. His friend Lucia advised him to study computer engineering in London because he had always been interested in technology and mechanics. Lucia knew what she was talking about because she had studied in this field, and she was confident it would suit him. In the end, he took his friend's advice, and he is still thankful to her. She was correct — he enjoyed his studies.
Until recently, studying has been one of the most important areas of life for Julian. In July 2021, he graduated from Lancaster University, where he majored in engineering, and he immediately applied for an MBA in marketing.
“I'd like to learn more about this area and the processes that it involves. I'm a strategic thinker who enjoys attracting customers, so I need to figure out how to make this happen. Two members of the Yakk team are already engaged in marketing. Of course, I won't be able to teach them anything new. But it's important for me to be able to assist them.”
Julian Azofra Begara, photo from Yakk Instagram account
The pandemic as a starting point for Yakk
Yakk's journey began when Julian took a vacation to the Philippines with family and friends. They wanted to take a professional GoPro camera with them on the trip and had spent a long time looking for a service that would rent them this gadget. But, surprisingly, across all of Spain, almost nothing could be found. Only one girl in Madrid agreed to loan them a camera, but on the condition that they paid a high deposit. As a result, they decided to buy the gadget, but Julian remembered this incident for a long time.
“When the pandemic struck, classes at the university were cancelled. My academic performance was excellent, and the teacher said that it would be better for me to go home for the quarantine,” shares Julian. “I was upset that I would be spending six months of my life doing nothing. I immediately started thinking about how to fix the situation. My sister recommended a six-month entrepreneurship course, which I leaped at. I signed up because I needed something to do with my time. We were encouraged to establish a business concept and develop it throughout the training course, from the very first class, so I started thinking about which project I wanted to execute.”
Julian remembered the GoPro incident prior to the trip to the Philippines... He also remembered that when he was living in London, his artwork had sat on the floor for about two years because he couldn't find a drill anywhere. Then it occurred to him: why not establish a universal platform where you can rent everything from a GoPro to a drill? He told his sister about his idea, and she loved it, so they started thinking about the project's concept.
Before establishing Yakk, the startup newbies analysed the market and determined that an eco-friendly initiative was required to help reduce pollution and the overconsumption of goods. Every year, Amazon discards 300,000 products, which is extremely harmful to the environment. They agreed on Yakk's primary goal: to make technology and goods more democratic. People can use the service to put their goals into action without having to pay a lot of money. Anyone can rent anything. Say, for example, you want to shoot a beautiful video on the beach, but you don't have a drone. And you know that after you shoot this video, the drone will be lying around your house gathering dust. So why buy it, if you can just rent it instead?
“In July 2020, we created our first website for 30 euros. It was a complete ‘blank slate’ because there were no similar companies on the market. We continued to work at our main jobs but devoted 2 hours a day to this project. But in January, we saw that people were getting interested in our platform. As a result, we decided to apply to a startup incubator in Barcelona. We agreed that if they moved us there, we would leave our jobs and focus on growing the company. They took us on, and we devoted all our efforts to developing the platform. At first, I wanted to call the service Penguin, but it turned out that the brand had already been registered — it’s a famous British publishing house. I urgently had to come up with a new name, and the word Yakk came to mind.
Julian and the team
A service that will try to find 100 cameras and microphones
The target audience of the service is travellers and people in the film industry. It is expensive to transport large-sized equipment for filming, and you can rent everything you need from Yakk for any period of time. And while travelling, you may urgently need things that you do not want to buy and then take home.
Before launching the site, the CEO and his team conducted research to determine which products were the most appealing to these two audiences, as well as ensuring that there were few companies on the market that could rent out a full set of shooting equipment or find unusual items for tourists. The service's portfolio currently focuses on filming equipment and outdoor gear.
The service did not instantly gain traction with its target audience. The team has been working on expanding the product line for a long time to add anything that can be useful on a trip or on the set. After the launch of the platform, Julian and his assistant called Spanish stores and rental services with an offer of cooperation. The guys understood that in order for Yakk to become a serious platform, they would need to collect at least 2000 items in their catalogue. Now Yakk cooperates with three hundred rental and leasing companies and has also positioned itself as the largest rental platform in Spain.
“Our motto is: ‘If you can't find what you need from us, we will get it for you.’ This is what makes us stand out from the competition. If the usual rental service does not have the right thing for the client, he will have to look further,” says the entrepreneur. “We accept all orders and go out of our way to find the things we don't have in our catalogue. To achieve this, we use all available channels. For example, we look through ads at local markets and ask people whether they would be willing to rent their things out instead of selling them. Sometimes a client writes or calls us with a request to find this or that thing in the middle of the night — and we immediately get to work. The most memorable challenging order for Yakk came from a video studio in Madrid. They asked us to urgently find 100 cameras and the same number of microphones. I had to call all our suppliers and find the equipment piece by piece. In the end, we managed to find less than required, about 70 units of each. But it was a cool quest.”
Yakk's business model has changed significantly over its year of operation. At first, the company had a problem with customer returns: people would rent something for a short time, give it away and stop using the service. Julian and his business partners made the decision to shift their strategy and focus on attracting long-term clients. They created a separate website, placed 5 Apple products and an electric scooter in the catalogue, and wrote that all the gadgets could be rented for the long term. Within a week, 20 people had committed to year-long subscriptions to the products. The Yakk team realised that this provides a solid profit, and focused on this direction, which they eventually called Flexing.
The Yakk team has also grown since it first launched. At first, Julian, his sister, and a friend worked together, but they were soon joined by another assistant, a content and podcast specialist, an SMM manager, and a marketer. Today, the company employs 11 people, and they also cooperate with freelancers. The team is gradually expanding.
How an online community and podcast help attract customers
The goal of Yakk's marketing strategy is to build Spain's biggest community of useful individuals. Google Ads has proven to be an effective promotional tool. Yakk also has Facebook and Instagram accounts. At first, they struggled to attract subscribers on social networks, but when content manager Carla Mouriño Sapiña joined the team, their promotion started to boom. She redesigned the firm and gave it a new image: it became more youthful and adventurous. Immediately after that, the startup's Instagram account took off.
“Colleagues from the incubator advised us to use TikTok for promotion, but this platform didn't work out for us. One of the Yakk videos went viral, but we couldn't figure out how the platform's algorithms worked. On Instagram, for example, hashtags are not as important as on TikTok. We also failed in our efforts to promote on Twitter: we publish content that is unsuitable for this social network, such as landscape photos. Twitter requires more humour. But there are a lot of potential customers on these sites, so we will try again one day.” Julian does not give up. He intends to use as many tools and services as possible in the future to help maximise his work with social networks.
The entrepreneur thinks that if a person is passionate about his or her business and knows how to talk about it, he or she will be successful. He uses the example of TikTok pharmacists who talk about their jobs. They have various viral videos, as well as millions of followers and likes. In the modern world, if a person does not have a social media account, they hardly count as human at all. This also applies to businesses. When it comes to social media, each brand has its own specialty and target audience. Corporations, for example, use social media to not only attract consumers but also to build a brand reputation and discover exceptional staff. Yakk has not reached this level yet, but they soon will.
“We're currently working on a new social networking project. We'd like to work with influencers and travellers who move across Spain in vans and RVs and use our platform to find what they need. We also have our own podcast, ‘Aventuras en Alquiler,’ where we discuss our platform, travel, and any technology that might be useful on trips,” the entrepreneur reveals about his future goals.
In the future, Julian plans to conduct offline environmental activities, for example, garbage collection on beaches
Essential business rules for beginners
Developing a personal brand on social media is crucial for any businessman. Julian uses LinkedIn for this; they publish high-quality content related to startups, and there are also many business opportunities on the site, so he maintains both a personal account and a company profile. Thousands of heads of companies and founders of small and medium-sized enterprises across Europe actively use this network to promote their brands.
But to fully exploit even a single social network, you need a lot of time, which is always in short supply. Especially when you are the CEO of a startup and you need to get an entire enterprise on its feet. You can delegate this task to an SMM specialist or agency, or you can use Conte.ai’s services that relieve the burden of managing social media due to our AI-powered team’s relevant expertise and affordable prices (several times less than other options).
Julian may not have 10 years of business experience, but he knows how to launch a successful company. The most important piece of advice he can offer aspiring entrepreneurs is to avoid investing millions of dollars in their firm in the initial stage — instead, stick to a minimal budget.
“Our example shows that this strategy works. Don't be afraid to let go of ideas that don't arouse your audience’s interest. Pay attention to what your consumers have to say. If you see that your audience is interested in a certain topic, learn more about it and put that knowledge to use. Make an effort to test each theory. What you assume doesn't always add up to what the customer requires.”