Mags Chilaev is cofounder of Unlease, a platform for flexible, medium-term sublets. Mags studied History and Politics at the University of Oxford.
Q: What is your background? Why are you doing this?
A: I graduated from Oxford in 2014 and lived out in my second and third years in Cowley. Paying rent over the holidays was really tough because my student loan didn’t come in until the beginning of the term, so I had to get a job each holiday just to make rent on a room that was literally standing empty for half the year. I decided I’d try to sublet one holiday and realised how risky traditional platforms were and how massively inconvenient the whole process was. That’s when I decided to build Unlease (www.unlease.io).
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: Live fast, die old.
Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: I did an investment banking summer internship and realised that office work was never going to be my calling. This is because two things have always been important to me: opportunity to learn continuously and the potential to have a big impact on society. I think entrepreneurship can help you achieve both of those things.
Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: My top one is willingness to learn and being open to having your assumptions challenged. It’s as important for the individual as it is for the company, to be able to constantly evolve and never become rigid in their views. I think one of the reasons lot of start-ups fail was because they weren’t able to adapt to their surroundings or reconcile what they believed with what was really happening around them. Same applies to legacy companies that are getting ‘disrupted’ in their industries today because what was true 5, 10 years ago is no longer true today.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: Despite how young we are, I like to think Unlease has had a significant impact on a lot of students’ lives. We have literally saved students tens thousands of pounds and being able to have such an impact is tremendously rewarding.
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: As a company, I really admire GoCardless. I think they’ve done an incredible job of attracting very bright people, and everybody I’ve spoken to from there seems really passionate about what they do. While there are some things that you can copy off or imitate off other companies, people and culture and impossible to recreate and that makes GoCardless all the more impressive.
Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: Are you wasting rent on an empty room because you’re constrained by an archaic rental market that forces you into arbitrary fixed-term contracts?
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: Seeing the first transaction go through the platform within 24 hours of launching our secure payment processing system was incredible. We’d been working on Unlease for 2-3 months at that point and it felt like the all our work paid off in that single booking. Within a week after that we realized that we were on to something really big.
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A: I contracted our development of the Unlease platform to a developer in Moscow for 3 months. After 3 months, he still hadn’t produced a single functioning part of the website meaning we had to rebuild the whole thing from scratch and we had less than 2 weeks to do it. We managed the rebuild within our timeline in the end but I learned that you should never outsource tech and that false economies can kill!
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: I think the network that you have access to in Oxford is incredible, whether that’s talent, investors or just helpful mentors.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship information or resources in Oxfordshire, where would you send them?
A: The Oxford Launchpad/Entrepreneurs has been a fantastic resource for me and I’d encourage everybody to make the most of it when they’re in Oxford. The guys running it are super helpful and always willing to go the extra mile to help a brother out.
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: If you’re not a technical founder, I’d advise you to spend as much of your university time as possible looking for a technical co-Founder in your network. When you find her, don’t compromise on personality fit or culture. I’d also ignore everybody who tells you that it’s impossible to find a CTO, because there are some truly incredible people out there who are willing to work very hard on an idea that they really believe in.