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The Spruce Up team on a team-building sailing day on Seattle’s Lake Union in August 2019. CEO and co-founder Mia Lewin is on the far right. (Spruce Up Photo)

Spruce Up founder and CEO Mia Lewin has a vision for what she calls “the next generation of commerce.”

She defines it as online sales that are customized for individual tastes using AI and real-life consultants to serve up items artfully matched to shoppers’ preferences, style, budget and needs, and delivered directly to them with a price-matching guarantee.

And it’s what she’s striving to offer through Spruce Up, a décor and interior design platform that has raised $4.5 million in seed round funding. Spruce up does for decorating what Stitch Fix or Armoire is doing for fashion.

“We leverage AI to curate products that are just right for you and your home,” Lewin said.

Spruce Up partners with hundreds of select brands to offer products. The Seattle startup, which launched last year, offers its stylists’ services for free. Lewin said that the revenue model is based on the company’s cut of sales made through the site.

Spruce Up CEO and co-founder Mia Lewin, (Spruce Up Photo)

This is Lewin’s third startup. In 2012 she co-founded New York-based Kontor, now called Workframe, a workflow tool for commercial real estate design. Her first startup was DesignStory, a San Francisco company with an online design platform that she helped launch in 2009. Lewin also worked to develop the curation platform at eBay, where her title was director of global product management, and she has held other marketing and investment roles.

“Spruce Up is really a combination of all of my experiences to date,” she said.

The company was co-founded by Lewin and Madrona Venture Labs, the venture firm’s in-house startup studio. Lewin was a CEO-in-residence at Labs. Spruce Up brought in Mike Dierken as a co-founder and chief technology officer, though Dierken left the company in April. 

Lewin would not say how many customers are on the Spruce Up platform. Its target customers include millennials, Gen X’ers and busy moms seeking an experience that is faster and more fun than traditional browsing online or in person.

Spruce Up has 10 full-time employees and 10 part-time stylists. Others in leadership roles include Anne Viggiano, head of stylist operations; Dan Leng, head of engineering; Darren Luvaas, head of UX and creative director; and Jess Callantine, general merchandise manager. Over the coming year, Spruce Up plans to build up its UX and data science team.

We caught up with Lewin for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

What does your company do? Spruce Up makes shopping for your home more personal. No other company pairs AI and designers to help you shop for the perfect items for your home. We believe that your home should tell the story of you and creating a home that’s uniquely you should be easy, convenient and fun.

Inspiration hit us when: I founded Spruce Up, a hyper-personalized e-commerce company, to make it easy for busy design-lovers like me to find just the right items for our homes that match our lifestyle, budgets and needs. Inspiration for the idea, incubated while I was CEO-in-residence at Madrona Venture Labs, goes back to my time in New York City. There I saw several startups pop up in various fashion verticals leveraging the Stitch Fix model as that company was really taking off.

As I looked further into the stylist-augmented AI model, I saw firsthand how it built highly engaged, loyal customers through hyper-personalization. Having spent my career in home, lifestyle and fashion e-commerce businesses, I was amazed no one had tried to leverage it in the home and design e-commerce vertical, where I believe there is even a bigger customer pain point of curating a unique look for your home.

The Spruce Up platform has users give thumbs up or down to a variety of decorating preferences and shopping options. (Spruce Up website)

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Spruce Up has raised a total of $4.5 million in seed round funding. Two Sigma Ventures led the round. Its focus on transforming consumer experiences through AI was 100 percent inline with our vision of building next generation of e-commerce through AI-enabled hyper-personalization and it has been a true partnership. Other value-added investors include Madrona Venture Group, Female Founders Fund, Alumni Ventures Group and Peterson Ventures.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our secret sauce is our designer-augmented AI that is trained by our expert stylists. Our data science is built on our proprietary taxonomy that spans more than one trillion product permutations. We gather data about your preferences in style, colors, materials and thousands of other design attributes and match just the right products from more than 70 high quality brands and retailers that fit your lifestyle, budgets and needs.

Finding the right furniture and décor items for your home is a very time consuming process. Customers are stuck in eternal scroll, facing decision fatigue — and are prone to making expensive mistakes. Designer-augmented AI curation can create a highly personalized shopping experience that is easy, convenient and fun. Our customers love 60 percent of the products we recommend.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: This summer we launched Style Tuner, an AI-powered product quiz to rate items and shop the ones you love. We’ve been blown away by how customers love tuning their style, and in the first month since launch we exceeded by 10-fold our training data goal. We now have more than 100,000 items rated and the new feature has already shown 10-fold improvement in customer engagement. Based on Style Tuner, we launched our new, improved data-science powered quiz. You can check it out at Spruce Up.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Oh gosh, where to start! I believe early stage startups are all about hypothesis, customer validation, trial and error, test, iterate, test. The key is to learn from your past mistakes and only make new ones.

Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? I am lucky to have met Julie Bornstein, former chief operating officer at Stitch Fix, during the early formation of Spruce Up. We met over coffee in San Francisco and immediately hit it off. She’s been an invaluable advisory board member since, having been part of the Stitch Fix AI-powered styling platform early on until their IPO and helping pave the way for our growth.

Our favorite team-building activity is: Our team just had a team building event sailing on Lake Union. We love being on the water surrounded by the beauty of downtown Seattle.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Maker-attitude and love for design. Most of us on the executive team have been part of both early stage startups and large corporations. But what connects us is our passion for being customer-first and hands-on, building every step of a world-class customer experience, innovating on AI-enabled personalization and creating joy in every home, one perfect item at a time.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Surround yourself with smart people who can help you, and spend time objectively validating your concept. Building my startup in partnership with Madrona Venture Labs provided me the ability to quickly test the idea through prototyping, and once it was clear that there was passionate customer demand for a personalized, home-shopping platform, they provided access to top-tier talent and co-investors. Those resources accelerated the formation of the company, hiring of the initial team and ensuring successful seed funding.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Sept. 20 to state that Spruce Up will continue offering stylists’ services for free. Spruce Up previously had considered starting for the services beginning in October.

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