Tylko bags $3.1M to size up a bespoke furniture business

Bespoke shelves can sell themselves if you make it easy enough for buyers to be designers. That’s the conviction driving Warsaw-based Tylko, which just closed a €3 million (~$3.1 million) Series A round aiming to step up its app-based custom flat-pack furniture business with additional marketing muscle, while also working to expand the range of products it sells online.

Investors in the new round are Paua Ventures, G+J Digital Ventures, Experior Venture Fund and Daftcode Ventures. The startup has been selling customizable hardwood shelving units as its first focus since September 2015 — but doing so online and via mobile apps, rather than from bricks-and-mortar showrooms.

It’s also using augmented reality to help grease the sales pipe. Users of the Tylko iOS app can push a button to view their custom shelving unit design in situ via their mobile device, thanks to AR — although you first need to print an A4 “context card,” and put the paper on the floor where you’re intending the shelves to sit. But so long as you have a printer handy, it’s a quick and painless way to get help visualizing how furniture looks in a room — arguably the biggest blocker to most furniture sales.

Tylko has paid special attention to seeking to simplify the customization process, using a series of sliders to let users quickly tweak and apply dimensions, styles and finishes. The design process is similarly streamlined via an algorithmic process called parametric design that allows design changes to be rules-based and thus user-controlled by a slider, too.

So while users can’t literally spec out exact interior shelving dimensions of a Tylko shelf, they can adapt a design by eye (and finger) to get something that’s more to their liking. Switching between different shelving designs is quick and easy — just a case of a few taps and sliding a slider until you like the look of the result.

“Parametric design permits the designer to create a controlled environment in which the customer can move with the use of the intuitive UI (such as sliders),” explains co-founder Mikołaj Molenda. “The result is a product created by the designer yet adapted to the specific needs of the customer.”

“We realized that there was no easy way to get the perfect piece of furniture. Everything was either standardized or too complicated, so we decided to think in a customer-centric way so we could fulfill everyone’s needs,” adds co-founder Jacek Majewski.

“We know that shopping for furniture in the real world is a nightmare for many people. It’s time consuming to fight the bustle of a busy shop to find the ideal piece amongst standardized products, and the product is bought, they often discover different hidden logistical costs or even worse — have to transport it themselves. The assembly process is often tedious and at the end of the day, the product is very low quality.

“This was our inspiration: to create a high-quality solution in which our clients’ needs are met from start to finish — from personalizing the perfect-fit shelf, to easy in-home assembly.”

The team tells TechCrunch they’ve sold products to around 3,000 customers at this point, with Europe their main market so far, and within that German-speaking countries and the U.K. — though they have also shipped further afield, including to Japan, Israel, Australia and the U.S.

They’re using a fully automated manufacturing process, relying on CNC machines that receive production files straight from the customer, and machine parks based in Poland.

While shelving units are the first focus, they also offer custom tables — with different dimensions, leg designs and colors. They’re also intending to develop additional products with the new financing — a well-placed source tells us storage will continue to be a focus, with custom cupboards one likely future product, for example.

Tylko uses slow-growth wood from Finland’s birch forests as the base hardwood for its furniture. Customers have to wait between three and six weeks for delivery after they’ve submitted an order, so this does not match the immediacy of an IKEA DIY pick-up job, though Tylko says they’re hoping to reduce wait times soon. Shipping is also free within Europe.

Per-unit pricing is also generally much higher than flat-pack giant IKEA’s products — so, while a basic six-shelf IKEA Billy bookcase can cost just €40, a Tylko hardwood grid-styled equivalent might cost as much as €440 — but it’s chasing higher margins by targeting more of a designer furniture buyer, given the use of hardwood and ability for customizable dimensions, as well as look and feel.

Tylko describes its customers as typically “design and tech savvy,” with an average age range of 25 to 35 — and evidently plenty of disposable income to spend on minimal-looking furniture. Buyers can’t change an order after it’s submitted, but the startup does offer a 100-day return policy for any bespoke shelving regrets.