Startups Awards Hall of Fame: Julien Callede,

The furniture e-tailer discusses the challenges of maintaining a strong brand during fast growth, and why entering the awards is "definitely worth it"

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Founders: Ning Li, Julien Callede and Chloe Macintosh 
Year Started: 2010 

In 2012 the high end furniture e-tailer won our Young Business of the Year Award due to its sheer growth capacity – in less than two years the start-up had expanded from three people to a team of 80, doubled user numbers and were in the final stages of opening a showroom so customers could look at items before commiting to buying them. 

The business’ concept – selling quality, independent and (where possible) locally sourced furniture at up to 70% cheaper than the high street online – was dreamed up by serial entrepreneur Ning Li and launched with co-founders Chloe Macintosh and Julien Callede. The e-commerce business now has several innovative showrooms and has continued to blaze a trail in the homeware, design and business world: expanding internationally, generating over £43m in turnover and securing $60m in funding so that it can keep growing at its current 60% rate and step up its European expansion.

Startups caught up with the design-championing business’ co-founder Callede to discuss a very busy few years, company highlights and why other start-ups should consider entering the awards…   

What’s happened in the last year since you entered the Startups Awards?

This awards ceremony actually feels like 10 years ago already. A lot of things have changed since 2011. Our team has grown massively, from a few of us to 180 now. We were only retailing in the UK, with no physical presence, and are now operating in six countries (UK, France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium), are operating several innovative showrooms, and have launched our own online social showroom platform called Unboxed.

Thousands of products have been developed since launch. We’ve reached £43m of revenue in 2014, growing by 60% over 2013, and are still growing at the same rate in 2015. And we’ve just raised $60m in order to keep growing and accelerate our European expansion. That kept us busy!

What’s been the single biggest highlight for the business since winning?

I’d say it’s the awareness the brand has been gaining in the UK after just a few years. It’s impressive to see that many people not only know us, but rate us highly.

We have sold almost one million products since starting, with at least one customer in almost every street in London, but this is very hard to visualise. Therefore getting good feedback from people, both in the UK and our new markets, helps us to do this and makes us proud.

What are you hoping to achieve in the next year or so?

The next few years are all about raising our awareness and improving our efficiency in our current markets. We’re still growing very fast in the UK, and we want to keep innovating through launching new categories of products, improving our customer experience, etc.

In the meantime, France, Germany, Netherlands and Italy are growing even faster, and the challenge there is to keep three digit growth levels whilst building a very strong brand.

What did winning at the Startups Awards mean to you? 

It meant that we were doing something great and that people believed that our business and our offer were worth it. Also, it was great recognition for our very committed team who has always worked a lot. Awards are for them rather than for us.

Why would you recommend entering awards like this?

Just as I said above, it’s a great recognition, it’s something you can celebrate, and it always feels good when you win one. Definitely worth it.

To enter the 2015 Startups Awards, click here.

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