In early 2013, Jonathan Chang was frustrated after trying to decorate a new home. He wanted to create a functional and stylish space, but didn’t have the luxury of working with an interior designer.
Chang recognized a problem in the interior design space and set out to find a solution. He teamed up with a colleague, Alan Toledo-Ocampo, and began interviewing designers — one of which became a co-founder of what is now PurpleWall, a new startup that connects homeowners with interior designers online.
“PurpleWall’s goal is to help customers find accessible interior design options so that they can feel inspired by the spaces around them without costing them an arm and a leg,” said Chang, formerly a senior marketing manager at Microsoft. “For interior designers, PurpleWall opens up a world of opportunities to help them expand their customer reach, grow their portfolio and earn some extra cash.”
PurpleWall lets users submit info about their room and style to a pool of designers for free. The designers then submit their ideas for the room, and users choose a favorite. From there, the designer receives a deposit to create a design guide, including 3D renderings of the completed room, links to all furniture and decor items, and guidance on how to lay the room out. The entire process can be done virtually.
We caught up with Chang for this installment of Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “PurpleWall allows multiple designers to try to help you design your dream room online, all without them ever having to step into your home. That means it’s more efficient and affordable than ever before to receive professional help to design a room that actually makes you proud to invite your bridge friends over.”
Inspiration hit us when: “When we realized how the interior design industry is still one of the few traditional services which hasn’t migrated completely online yet. We personally experienced the inefficiency from both sides of the marketplace and knew it wasn’t a matter of when technology was going to help disrupt this industry, but a matter of how soon.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “First we bootstrapped and now we’re seeking angel investment because when we first started this journey, we hadn’t proven this new concept of digitizing the interior design experience end-to-end yet. We bootstrapped until we got to a live beta version and we knew we needed to test the experience and understand both sides’ reactions to the online marketplace. Since beta-launching in 2014, we’ve enjoyed a very positive momentum and the ‘e-decor’ industry in general is very active.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our team, and just because it’s a cliché doesn’t make it wrong. The diverse makeup of our founding team ensures we are constantly learning and adapting quickly to meet the challenges and needs of both sides of the marketplace in order to achieve a transparent level playing field. Furthermore, we have the global business expertise to scale internationally while still remaining focused on validating our business domestically first.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Focusing 100 percent of my time as the CEO to networking and fundraising. The startup world can be very complex and it takes time to develop your networks and reputation, especially when you’re first starting out.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Not bringing an in-house developer from the very beginning.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos — we love his ‘go get them,’ confident attitude where it’s OK to fail but it’s not OK to not learn and move on.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “We break down the myth that interior design is exclusive to the rich and famous.”
Rivals should fear us because: “More than fear, they should respect us because of our determination. We are creative, energetic and most importantly, open to learn and react fast.”
We are truly unique because: “We deeply understand the challenges faced by both homeowners and interior designers, and so we’re building a transparent, low-friction, level playing field where both sides can truly benefit.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Helping our users properly define their sense of style. Style is such a subjective topic with so many different variations; ‘modern’ to one person might be ‘traditional’ to another. And it’s even more difficult to nail down by simply using online tools. But fortunately, we have a great team that’s attentive to our users and we’re constantly improving our algorithm to help users properly express themselves.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “A great team can make a small idea shine bright, but a bad team can cause the idea to quickly flame out, or worse, never light up in the first place. Be appreciative that teamwork is way more than a set of complimenting resumes — it’s that level of anticipatory, unspoken understanding where you know what’s needed before it’s even said.”