A Los Angeles-based entrepreneur and award-winning designer, Erinn Valencich has run her own successful design firm for 16 plus years. After experiencing the often challenging process that accompanies sourcing products within the design industry, Erinn took matters into her own hands, creating a space for designers to source products and manage projects all on one platform. StyleRow, which officially launches its Marketplace today, is a trade-only platform that offers designers complete project management, luxury interiors shopping, client sharing and presentations, and budgeting in a single, easy-to-use place. We spoke with Erinn about bringing StyleRow to life, and where it goes from here.
ASPIRE: What does StyleRow do?
Erinn Valencich: StyleRow is more than just a great place to discover products from top brands and showrooms, but also a better way for design professionals to manage projects and collaborate with their team and share designs and products with clients in a beautiful, interactive, digital presentation. Savvy design firms know they need to evolve their business practices, and StyleRow enables that. They can boost their productivity with our tools and get more of their time back.
StyleRow is the first marketplace for luxury furnishings built exclusively for trade brands and showrooms to connect directly with designers and architects.
ASPIRE: Why did you create StyleRow? And what was that process like?
Erinn: I started StyleRow to solve the backend mess of both the furniture brand and design firm when it comes to the software we use. Both companies are in 4-5 platforms/softwares, etc. to run the business. None of them connect, nothing is making our work-lives easier when this type of redundancy exists. StyleRow is built to save you 50% of your back-office time by removing redundant work. It’s really quite simple, but at the same time it’s a lot of software to build. I worked to raise money for a year and a half- it was a brutal process!
ASPIRE: What were the biggest challenges in building this app/website? and how did those challenges differ from creating your design firm or furniture brand?
Erinn: Fundraising was certainly the biggest hurdle for me when getting started. I had always self-funded each business, but I knew this would take more than I had and most importantly, I needed smart tech-minds to help with the side of the business that I had no experience in. Although I am not a first-time founder, as StyleRow is my third company, I had not built a software company before. Naturally then, the fundraising process takes longer when you don’t have a track record in that space. It took me a year to even be willing to raise money. I just wanted someone else to do it for me. And when that didn’t work- I took ownership of the process and decided it was ok to “ask for the investment.”
I knew a number of people in tech and in the financial world, so I started leveraging my relationships to build my network. If you can’t raise money you shouldn’t run a tech start-up! Because it’s all sales. You’re always selling in business. Yourself, your ideas. So, if you’re going to do it — decide to be the best salesperson you can be and train. Listen to podcasts from experts in fundraising like Jason Calacanis. I went up to two of his founder university classes and they were amazing! Fundraising is best done “by running a tight process.” I certainly did not do it that way in my $600k pre-seed round, but I did a better job for our seed round and we ended up oversubscribed with big-name funds backing us like Founders Fund, Fuel Capital and a female lead VC, Halogen Ventures led our round.
ASPIRE: Did you have any experience in the tech industry before you started this project?
Erinn: Only as a user of many different apps, software solutions and platforms. However, I found building software much like building a home, so it’s been a fairly easy transition for me, and I really enjoy it. There are a lot of things to learn, but I really enjoy that too. Growth personally and professionally is all about learning and experiencing new things. Some people go take a course, I prefer to start a new company and learn that way from professionals on the job. I have the most amazing, powerful team, so it’s been a job to work alongside them.
ASPIRE: Would you ever consider opening the technology up to people outside of the trade?
Erinn: Probably not. It’s built for professionals – so I could see us using our marketing ability to help designers get clients – but our focus is for designers and architects and builders and making them all more successful. Client-facing tools are being developed solely for the design professional to control and share their project with their client. That is a big focus for us and a major differentiator in how we approach the problem we’re solving and the solution we have built. Our client dashboard has had over $4 million dollars in products shared with clients in just 60 days!
ASPIRE: What is your goal for StyleRow?
Erinn: To streamline the process of design work. Most professionals use 5-7 different platforms and software to run their business, I think that is quite inefficient. We are all copying and pasting data from email, from PDF quotes into excel, then into a presentation to share with clients, then back into an accounting system for invoicing, then back into excel to easily track and share statuses with all parties on the team and project. This workflow is ridiculously time-consuming and leaves a lot of room for errors and questions. Plus then there is the communication around the project- which is done in about 4-5 different apps, emails, and such. StyleRow brings this workflow onto one platform, giving teams one place to work and saving them loads of time.
ASPIRE: How do you differentiate your platform from others in the marketplace?
Erinn: StyleRow is built with the interactions of the designer and their client in mind as a priority. Our goal is to make it easier for designers to share designs, products and budgets with their clients. And most importantly, give the client a far superior “experience” working with their designer than any other. Clients don’t want 15 invoices and various PDF’s sent over 6 months and all spread out. they want a streamlined, easy approval process. they want to login quickly, see their gorgeous design, communicate with their designer and be able to share that gorgeous design with their friends easily. This is not possible on other platforms. But it is possible on StyleRow.
With the simple fact that designers are sourcing at least 300 items per project, we need to make it easier on design professionals to access product data, pricing, lead time, stock, options, configurations. Our marketplace is the only one that lets a designer configure the product and get a quote in seconds on standard options. Then they can connect directly with showrooms and reps on the platform. We are not a middleman. We are connecting qualified buyers directly with sellers to streamline both sides of the process.
Designers have already added over 35,000 products to their projects and libraries on StyleRow in a few short months. The volume of research designers must do for our jobs is immense, we are making their work a repeatable process so they can leverage it for later projects in seconds.
ASPIRE: How has this technology influenced the industry?
Erinn: Designers can explore the best boutique, artisan, made to order, luxury brands from around the world. The StyleRow marketplace is built for designers to discover brands they love and be able to put those products instantly into a project and client presentation. We have furniture, lighting, art, rugs, hardware, accessories, fabrics, wallcoverings and kitchens. Coming later this year are appliances and hard surface (tile, stone, etc.)
Our goal here is to streamline the purchasing process for designers, make it easier for them to get real-time access to order information and connect with their showrooms and brand reps around order details faster, without making each stakeholder re-type and transfer the data manually. They can all log in and see the order and collaborate in one space- a huge time saver- and instead of the data being stuck in one human’s email…the entire team can see it. The entire showroom, the entire design office, everyone at the brand can now get the update.
ASPIRE: How has the COVID crisis affected StyleRow?
Erinn: It has paved the way for faster adoption of our tools. Designers realized very quickly they need a better way to collaborate with their teams and share projects with their clients. Showrooms realized they need a digital storefront, and we offer both. I have been building this for nearly three years. – technology is always changing, and it does so at a breakneck pace;
ASPIRE: What’s next for StyleRow? And how do you keep up with an ever-changing industry?
Erinn: We are building new tools constantly and releasing new features for users every two weeks. We are currently working on invoicing on the software side, and a connected order portal for brands, showrooms and designers to collaborate on orders on the marketplace side.
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