LAUREL & WOLF IS THE FUTURE OF DESIGN.
At least if Leura Fine, CEO and Founder of the interior design company that offers its services online only, has a say.
An innovator in the online design space, Laurel & Wolf has developed a platform and software to allow for easy communication between a client and a designer, from anywhere. The entire service takes place in the digital world, and has opened the industry of interior design to people who never thought they could afford such services.
We put 30 minutes on the clock with the busy entrepreneur to pick her brain on everything from bootstrapping your business to the future of tech.
IN THE BEGINNING YOU MAKE IT WORK & GET IT DONE, NO EXCUSES
In January 2014 Leura began concentrating full-time on Laurel & Wolf. The first version of the site was up that month.
"I was the algorithm" she says about the company's beta site, a very bare-bones version of what exists today. Instead of spending 100k on a website build out, she paid a local LA-based developer 5k to build out eight pages with no backend. "I started spreading the word through friends and friends of family, putting it out on social media, saying, 'Hey who is looking for interior design services that only cost 300 dollars?'"
She had about 1,500 people signup over the course of six weeks. The first iteration of Laurel & Wolf took users through a "style quiz,"-- that had no outcome. What Leura was testing was the public's interest. The BIG question: Would people be willing to pay for an interior design service online?
"It was many, many long nights, of me staying up, calculating and emailing people their style quiz results. If you had this many As and this many Bs, you were 'Contemporary Eclectic.' It was terrible to demo, but between the MVP and servicing actual paying clients, we validated that not only there was a demand for the market, but what it would be like to acquire customers."
By the time they were ready raise money the company (which was two people at that point) also had a good, working idea of what the basic functions of the platform needed to do.
[define it: Minimum Viable Product (MVP): In product development, the minimum viable product (MVP) is a product which has just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development.]
By June 2014, just six months later, they had launched the site.
WHEN RAISING MONEY, YOUR RESPONSIBILITY AS FOUNDER IS TO CONTROL THE PROCESS
The interior design world provides a service that typically 1 percent of the population can afford. People like venture capitalists and those with money to invest in the business. In the beginning, there was a little pushback-- angel investors who didn't understand the service, but what Leura had was proof: the basic function of what the service needed to provide. With that proof she had the confidence to control her fundraising. The goal of Laurel & Wolf's seed round was $500k. They hit $650k in a month and a half.
[define it: Seed Round: The initial capital used to start a business. Seed capital often comes from the company founders' personal assets or from friends and family. The amount of money is usually relatively small because the business is still in the idea or conceptual stage.]
"I received this advice early on and tell every founder I meet who is fundraising the same thing," Fine explains. "You as the founder, your job is to control the fundraising process."
She was resolute, telling potential investors: "'This is the amount we’re raising, this is the day we’re closing, you’re either in or you’re out.'" And she got it done that way. "I couldn't continue to chase people in circles, it was crazy towns. I had to build a business."
In both Series A and Series B she took a similar approach. She was strategic and thoughtful, meeting with VCs when it made sense and getting to know them. When it came time to raise, it was go time. She took meetings, had term sheets by the end of those meetings, and then made decisions very quickly.
[define it: Series A: Series A is usually the first level of fundraising where VCs get involved. The name refers to the class of preferred stock sold to investors in exchange for their investment. Usually in this round you will see the company's first valuation.]
Another part of controlling the process she says, is taking all of the multifaceted variables into account. "There are questions," she explains, "that you need to ask yourself when you talk about why you're raising money. Are you raising money to accelerate growth? Could you build this business without raising money? Do you know what your business model is? Do you know the metrics that you’re trying to hit?"
That's your job as founder: to have a business model and monetization strategy in place from day one.
TAKE A SERVICE ONLY AVAILABLE TO 1% AND DEMOCRATIZE IT
It's a simple, but brilliant idea-- take a service that only a small percentage of households can afford, and open it up to more people. More people=more work=more revenue.
"You’re talking about taking a small pool of people in the U.S. who could afford to hire interior designers. We’ve opened up the market to 30% of the U.S."
This represents enormous opportunity for growing a consumer base, while offering designers the ability to extend the arm of their business. It's simple supply and demand, where both parties benefit. People get spaces they loves; interior designers get to do the work they love.
"Design is more of a science than I think people realize," Fine says. "You don't have to be in a space to make it impactful. As long as you have good assets in place— whether that’s photos, video, and obviously dimensions, then you have the opportunity and ability to design just as well as if you were in person. And most importantly, make an impact in someone's life."
CHICKEN OR EGG? DOESN'T MATTER, JUST LAUNCH
"I’ve been meeting with a lot of female founders," Fine says, "and I’ve had the same conversation the last three meetings. They tell me they want to wait to launch until they feel that they’re ready."
There is however, no such thing as ready. Sometimes the founders don't want too many eyeballs on an unfinished product. Sometimes they are worried about letting down a customer or not being able to deliver.
But, Fine notes, "When you’re building a company from the ground-up there is always the chicken and the egg. You have to go for it. You have to put it out there and see what it does."
"When you’re building a company from the ground-up, you have to go for it. You have to put it out there and see what it does."
In the beginning Laurel & Wolf was far from perfect, but that didn't matter. "The last thing you want to do as a tech company is go out and build the entire working product from A to Z," says Fine. "You really have no idea what it needs to do and what it's going to look like."
Adding, "There is no such thing as perfect."
THE FUTURE IS MAN & MACHINE, WORKING TOGETHER
"Our software," she says, "represents the best combination of humans and technology working together to really transform people’s lives. Our clients get to live a better way through the spaces that they spend time in."
At the end of the day, she realizes that all the product recommendation and algorithms can’t predict how someone will feel in their space. But that’s where the designer comes in.
“A designer,” says Fine, “really understands, beyond the aesthetics of the space, the aesthetics of the person."
Arianna Schioldager is Create & Cultivate's editorial director. You can find her on IG @ariannawrotethis and more about her at www.ariannawrotethis.com