LEE MAYER HAD A SPACE AND NOTHING TO PUT IN IT.
Rather than rummaging through retailers, scrupulously studying HGTV, camping out on Pinterest or hiring a high-price decorator, she believed there could be a solution that transformed home design through technology.
So in late March 2014, the Harvard MBA grad ditched her profitable corporate consulting career and, alongside her little sister, Emily Motayed, set out on a mission. Though neither had interior design or tech backgrounds, the sisters were theoretical customers of their own business, Havenly.
"Overwhelmingly, we did this out of personal need," says Mayer, 35. "There was definitely an opening in the market."
The idea was to build an online home design service, pairing interior decorators with consumers who want to spruce up their homes or offices--from a few accents to a complete overhaul.
Self-taught, Mayer built the original prototype.
"I quickly realized that was not my strong suit," she recalls. "So we brought on our first paid employee, who was a developer."
The consumer business centers on a smart algorithm that understands, through a survey, what a customer wants. It then plays matchmaker, putting a designer on the job. Clients can purchase their furniture and flourishes through the site's shopping cart; the service tops out at $199 per room.
"Havenly has a fairly simple revenue model," COO Jessie Dixon says. "We make money from design services and from ecommerce sales. We don't take on inventory--we drop-ship everything we source for clients directly from the vendor. This provides a lot of flexibility as we scale rapidly."
Havenly's core value is to "deliver on the delight factor," nimbly catering to consumer desires. Core demographics are women and couples moving a step beyond a rental apartment, and customers spend an average of $3,000 to $5,000.
"I always say thank goodness we didn't know what we didn't know," Mayer says. "I've heard it's a little bit like childbirth," admitting she was naive in the beginning.
Mayer recalls her first furniture convention in 2014 and being laughed at by institutional players in the industry.
"I came from a big company background and I'm used to being treated with some modicum of respect. I thought, 'Why did I strike out on my own?'"
After emerging from the first cohort of MergeLane, a Boulder-based incubator directed at women in technology, the company hit its stride.
"They've been growing quickly in a market that is really starting to...