FindDesign: Sarena Shetty

While working for an online furniture start-up, this former medicinal chemist realised customers needed a one-stop-shop for their homeware needs

Name: Sarena Shetty
Company Name: FindDesign
Location: London
Date Launched: 09/01/2017
Website: www.finddesign.co.uk

Tell us what your business does:

FindDesign has a simple mission: to bring beautifully designed furniture and homeware to the masses. We do this by curating the internet, listing the best pieces on our website. Sort of like Google Shopping, with taste and style.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I used to work for an online furniture start-up for three years. I saw them gain much needed seed funding as well as go through a massive series A round that rocketed them to the next level. During the early stages I used to speak to every customer on the phone with one aim – to delight each and every person.

I would spend hours with each one, listening to their feedback and suggestions about the business. By the end of each phone call I would make sure the person on the other end of the line was happy, even if they didn’t buy an armchair. I learnt so much from this experience and saw a shift – savvy shoppers were happy to part with money for furniture items that they had not seen in the flesh.

At that time our focus was on brand, product and customer service, as we knew this was needed to stand apart in a hugely fragmented market. If people had found us, we wanted them to come back rather than search for an alternative.

I also learnt (somewhat not unsurprisingly) that people did not tend to buy all the furniture in their home from one place, but found it difficult to know where to start online, often just ending up at John Lewis (they were taking a punt on us!). These were really the seeds for FindDesign.

After this I remember going to a friend’s house, she was moving to an unfurnished flat and had so many browser tabs open: Pinterest, Google Shopping, Ikea, Made.com to name a few, yet she couldn’t find anything she liked. I knew there was a better way – she needed one place that she could go to, where she knew she could find exactly what she wanted.

How did you know there was a market for it?

After speaking to thousands of customers and transacting orders, I was convinced that people were buying furniture and homeware online; and with consumer spend on furniture having a predicted growth of 8.1% by 2021 it seemed a good bet.

Currently the main places for discovery are: Pinterest – which can be very frustrating when you click through to a page that only sells to the US, or Google Shopping – where the retailers with the highest budgets are given importance over lesser known brands and designers who are overlooked. There was no place that linked the discovery process to being able to purchase what you want.

What were you doing before starting up?

Before starting up, I was originally a medicinal chemist with a view to helping the world by curing multiple sclerosis. When I realised I wasn’t a very good chemist I decided to work for an online furniture start-up, helping people by offering them beautifully handcrafted furniture for the fraction of the price of a traditional high-street retailer.

I left the start-up world to go back to my roots travelling around India, then extending the trip to Sri Lanka and Malaysia. When I came back I was ready to start my own business, FindDesign was born.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

In all honesty, no. I’ve always known I wanted to do something that was impactful. Life has led me down a windy path and I’m incredibly excited to be in the coveted position of being able to start my own business.

How did you raise the money?

We’re self-funded, the only initial cost was the site so now it’s up and running it ticks along with very few overheads.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

We’re currently based on the affiliate model. We earn a commission on every sale that’s made when someone clicks through from our website.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

We’ve faced so many challenges so far: to curate vs. aggregate, partnership troubles, whether to focus on good unique content or volume of products uploaded? The list can go on. I’ve approached each problem with the same thought process. What is best for the customer?

What was your first big breakthrough?

There are too many to choose from to say one, so I’ll be cheeky and say: our first sale through organic search, being featured in the Evening Standard design column and securing our first partnership with a designer, oh and being featured in Just Started of course!

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

I have two favourite quotes: It’s a hill not a hump and (even more morbid) the struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart.

Starting up a business is hard, otherwise everyone would do it. You will have various existential crises along the way (why am I doing this?). People will doubt your sanity (you will doubt your own sanity, see previous point). My advice is ‘do it’. Keep going, have faith, adapt and be sure to learn from others. Oh, and enjoy the ride!

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

We want to be the go-to place for people who are shopping for design-led products, authorities in our space, having helped to showcase a breadth of design talent whilst fulfilling a need for all our customers

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