Trying to shake up an industry that's still doing things the old-fashioned way? This founder has advice from the trenches. By Lakshmi Bhargave Jayanthi (Co-founder, Roomations.com)
When most people think of startups, they think of a cool app that somehow improves their efficiency, social connections, or knowledge (or is just plain fun!). When we set out to bring technology to a service industry, we knew we’d have to answer a lot of questions. Our company, Roomations, puts the entire interior design process online by connecting homeowners with a network of freelancing interior designers who work virtually to create styleboards, 3D models and shopping lists for your space. We have taken a traditionally in-person business and replicated the buying cycle online through the use of technology. Here’s what we learned along the way that you could apply to your business.
Set High Goals, but Pay Attention to Details
To conquer your plans for success in an industry that hasn’t been tapped, it’s important and exciting to reach for some high goals. When we set out to create Roomations, we wanted to disrupt the industry by:
- Bringing access to interior design to millions of Americans by making it convenient and affordable
- Making it easier for retailers to showcase their products
- Creating a new avenue for designers to earn extra money
Our biggest hurdle has been educating. Whether it’s acquaintances, potential customers, partners or investors, initially we found ourselves having to explain our concept quite a bit. We decided to tackle each "concern" by making a list of all them and addressing each one, sometimes through our user experience, sometimes with what we say and our message. Here are some examples:
- How would a designer know a customer’s style without ever talking to them? We created an image-based algorithm that assesses preferences and gives each designer details of what the client likes. Try out our style quiz as soon as you come to our site!
- Why would anyone work with a designer online? We focused on our messaging – it’s convenient, affordable.
- What happens if I don’t like my design? You will get three months of free advice to make sure you get what you like. Oh, there’s also a money back guarantee.
- “Oh, that’s cute, you’re running a little interior design company." No, we are building a high-growth corporation and plan to employ thousands one day. What are you doing?
Listen to the Naysayers, but Love Your Cheerleaders!
No matter what you are building, there will always be a few people that either don’t understand it or think it’s a bad idea. If you’re lucky like we are, you will also find many people who love your idea and want to help. Keep both people around. The naysayers are amazing because they challenge what you are doing and push you to either hone your message or tweak your product. Your cheerleaders are the ones who will spread the word about what you’re doing and introduce you to the right people. They also make you feel awesome, which is important.
The most valuable cheerleaders for us have been those who are in our industry. These are the ones who know the nuances and challenges of the current process and can vouch that what we are creating is needed.
The most valuable naysayers are those who are either in our target market, or are experienced with building businesses. If they are in our target market and don’t understand or don’t need our site, we can get some valuable feedback from them. The experienced business builders keep you on your toes and instill the perfect amount of fear about failing in you so that you work that much harder.
To successfully bring technology to an untapped industry, what it comes down to is
- Understand everything you can possibly know about it
- Talk to everyone, and
- Stick with it!
Building a company is a wonderful journey that becomes just a little more interesting when there’s a few hurdles.
Are you bringing tech to a new industry? What hurdles have you faced?
About the guest blogger: Lakshmi Bhargave Jayanthi (@lbhargave) is a co-founder of Roomations.com. Prior to Roomations, she had experience in design, consumer marketing and technology management. She holds an MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.