Deirdre recalls: “We found the experience very frustrating and disconnected. Working long hours, the last thing we wanted to do in the evenings was trawl through websites to find the right sofa or bedside cabinet. We were constantly repeating the same search criteria on every website and the same retailers kept appearing; but we wanted to search all retailers”.
They decided there had to be a better way to search, discover, compare and shop furniture and so the idea for ufurnish was born. Now 3 years on they have a team of 12 that built out the product to 100 plus retailers, including the likes of John Lewis and Dunelm, and have just raised £1.8M in investment to help them exploit the £25bn UK furniture and homewares market. Tech Juice talked to them about their experience.
Tech Juice: “ufurnish.com is an innovative product that you’ve created in a highly competitive space. Why pursue the business now?”
Deirdre/Ray: “We felt like now is the perfect time to create and scale up a business like ufurnish.com. Prior to COVID19 the rate in which consumers were turning to online shopping for furniture and home furnishings was pretty rapid. That number has now exploded as a result of events this year with the ONS recording that 35% of all retail sales from March – June transacted online, that’s a staggering number and our business helps make this possible”.
Tech Juice: “Both of you left strong corporate jobs to start ufurnish.com. Can you describe the feelings and emotions of leaving the corporate world and going it alone in the start-up world?”
Deirdre/Ray: “It was extremely tough for both of us, but our underlying desire to pursue the ufurnish.com opportunity and our belief in the business’s prospects are what really drove the decisions. Ray had been part of a tech start-up which he joined as employee number 5 and he was a key part of taking that business to 500 employees globally. Deirdre had risen rapidly within the Leverage and Acquisition Finance world and was responsible for her own portfolio of high-profile clients at HSBC. Whilst the success and career fulfilment were there, you have to follow your passion and take a risk along the way to truly challenge yourself. That’s what drives our motivation every day.”
Tech Juice: “Your business has come a long way since you founded it back in 2017. Can you describe the biggest challenges and successes you’ve had in growing the business along the way?”
Deirdre/Ray: “It has been an amazing journey so far that has been full of highs and lows. The biggest challenges for us have been building our technical stack and website. As a very data led business behind the scenes, we’ve spent a lot of time designing and engineering data to drive the website. Successes have been mastering this and continuing to drive excellence in the area. We also are proud of the fact that we raised £1.8m in seed investment and have managed to scale our team to 12 employees.”
Tech Juice: “The Start-up world is tough, and most businesses fail. What advice would you have for an early stage start-up if they were to approach you?”
Deirdre/Ray: “There are three key elements to surviving in the start-up world. 1 – You need to have an extremely resilient mindset and be prepared to take setbacks on the chin and keep moving forward. 2 – It’s all about the people you surround yourself with. We were fortunate to win a place with Root 21 under the guidance and mentorship of Adrian Braine which helped us become ‘match fit’ for scale and investment. 3 – Watch your cashflow closely. It’s really important to keep on top of your cashflow and ensure you know where you’re at all the time.”
Deirdre/Ray: “The next 12 months will be significant for ufurnish.com. We have 6 key product feature releases over the period, so it is rapid innovation and development. We will also be heading into a Series A investment round where we will be significantly scaling up so that will be exciting. Finally, we anticipate doubling the team size to over 20 people in the next 12 months so we can’t wait to welcome new team members on board.”