RoomLab: Suzann Bozorgi
Believing great design shouldn't be limited by location, this start-up enables interior designers to work on clients' homes remotely for £225 per room
Tell us what your business does:
We’re an online platform which enables everyone to access leading interior designers for help with their home regardless of location, budget or style.
In short, it’s the full service you’d get with a traditional interior designer but for a fixed fee of £225 per room. We pass on trade discount for everything bought through us, meaning customers often get the design service for free.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I was an interior designer running my own practice for six years before starting RoomLab, and was often approached by friends who wanted design advice and to source furniture for their own homes but didn’t know where to start. They couldn’t afford a traditional interior designer or didn't even know where to source one, so they came to me.
I was also approached to design a home on the other side of London that I felt I would have to turn down due to a really busy schedule and the commute not being an option. The client was determined and asked if I would consider designing their home online, based on photos of his rooms, his furniture and Skype tours.
This was a great success, and I then did a couple more projects, all remotely. From that the seed was born – what if everyone had access to the most talented interior designers across the country without the need for on-site visits?
I ended up taking on this challenge and assessing how well designing remotely worked – and found that communicating online was perfect. Customers loved that the design was always to their space and, crucially, their budget. We took the pain out of transforming their home, and designers loved the flexibility and creativity that the projects offered.
I ultimately stopped taking on new clients, scaled back my work for existing clients and started to build the prototype of RoomLab.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Having run projects remotely and due to the huge amount of design advice that I was asked for, I had a very strong insight that this service was needed.
I conducted a lot of customer surveys that had an overwhelmingly positive response to the proposed service as well as a huge amount of desk research. I found that there were several companies in the US that were doing this very successfully, so that was enough to make the jump.
What were you doing before starting up?
I was running my own interior design studio, working on two to three high-end residential projects a year.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
It was always on my roadmap, yes. Before setting up my interior design practice I spent eight years in advertising getting a great business foundation – but running my own show was always at the back of my mind.
I was fortunate that I grew up in an environment with a really strong work ethic, where my parents reaffirmed often that I could do anything I set my mind to. This gave me a strong sense of self belief and the platform I needed to set up on my own business, and ultimately it was always on my roadmap.
How did you raise the money?
I raised venture capital funding from Forward Partners, an investor which invests in start-ups at pre-seed and seed stage.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
We charge £225 fixed fee per room – this covers being matched with your designer and working with them over the course of about two weeks to finalise your room design exactly to your style and budget.
At the end of the process, the designer will supply a room plan layout, concept boards showing how the finished room will look and a detailed shopping list of every item that has been chosen throughout the process.
Of the £225 fee, we take a small percentage and the rest goes directly to the designer.
We have a second revenue stream in that we make trade savings on all items that we buy on behalf of the customers. We pass on an average of 10% of this discount back to the customer, meaning that they often save money by using RoomLab, and we profit from the remainder of the markup and volume.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
I’ve faced a few on the journey so far; it can be quite a rollercoaster. To begin with it was how to build the platform, who was to build it, what it would be – a huge challenge and learning experience for me.
As soon as we were up and running I was quickly faced with the need to raise money to maintain and grow the site and to get some team support – I had bootstrapped and self funded to that point.
Fundraising was another huge challenge and exciting minefield that was all completely new to me, but I knew it to be crucial so I had to take another jump whilst growing the business day to day.
I overcame the challenges by always keeping the end goal firmly in sight but by breaking everything down into small pieces or components. I found this really helps me to focus on one thing at a time and not get overwhelmed; a solution then often arises where you least expect it.
What was your first big breakthrough?
That would have to be the day that our website launched to the public, and then seeing the first customers go through the process of working with a designer to create an amazing space, from end to end.
It was a very proud, emotional moment after months of hard work laying the foundations.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Be positive and believe in success – you’ll have setbacks of course, but keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll be surprised where it will take you! I certainly didn’t think I’d be here two years ago!
Where do you want to be in five years' time?
I’d love for RoomLab to be a household name, synonymous with giving everyone a beautiful home for a price that they can afford. Surely everyone deserves this?