The pandemic-induced lockdowns halted many a home decoration project, but the irony was that our homes became even more important. But where to get ideas to decorate? Home décor experts could no longer visit. Now an LA-based startup is addressing this digitization of the interior design market, but kicking off with a typically LA-oriented, high-end clientele.
The LA-based The Expert — a platform for video consultations with interior designers — has raised a $3 million seed funding round led by Forerunner Ventures, with participation from Sweet Capital, Promus Ventures, Golden Ventures, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s WndrCo, AD 100 designer Brigette Romanek and CEO/founder of goop, Gwyneth Paltrow.
The Expert offers 1:1 video consultations with leading interior designers, it says.
The founders consist of Jake Arnold, a celebrity interior designer (who has worked with John Legend and Rashida Jones and Chrissy Teigen, among others) and YC-alumni, Leo Seigal, who previously founded and sold Represent.com to CustomInk for $100 million in 2015.
After being “inundated” with DMs during lockdown asking for his advice, Arnold says he realized he didn’t have the business model to help non-retainer clients. So he joined Seigal to create The Expert.
The Expert features 85 designers, so far. Clients click on designers’ profiles to see rates and availability, then click to book. Clients can upload any relevant floor plans, images of the home, inspiration ideas, etc. for the designer to review ahead of time. They then join a Zoom link (the platform uses the Zoom API) to meet with an interior designer, and can leave a review afterward.
The company claims it has 700 designers on its waitlist and will hit $1 million of bookings after its first quarter, after launching in early February this year.
The startup has some competition in the form of Modsy and Havenly, but The Expert says it is going for a more high-end experience, where clients are willing to pay $300-$2,500 for an hour of a designers’ time. The startup takes a 20% cut of the transaction.
Co-founder Leo Seigal said: “We were able to attract a crazy roster of designers partly thanks to co-founder Jake who is so highly regarded in the industry, and partly due to a timeliness of offering which is far above anything that has been tried in the home space.”
In a statement, Gwyneth Paltrow said: “I’ve always felt that access to great design – and those who create it – is too rare of a commodity. It’s a game-changer for someone without the budget for a full-time designer to have this roster of talent on speed dial.”
Nicole Johnson, partner at Forerunner, said: “We’ve been thinking through new models for the interior design sector for years at Forerunner, observing room for improvement for the trade and consumers alike. Interior design is arguably the ultimate, best-suited source of home inspiration and commerce enablement for consumers, but the trade is a famously walled garden. The Expert solves for this, connecting anyone, anywhere with the world’s leading interior designers via video consultation—allowing Experts to broaden their reach and monetization in a predictable, rewarding, and low-friction way.”
Pippa Lamb, partner at Sweet Capital, which led their pre-seed investment round last summer said: “The Expert is democratizing access to top creators in the $150B global interior design industry. By partnering with leading talents like Amber Lewis and Leanne Ford, it’s solving both upstream discovery and downstream services: bringing Instagram feeds to life. Leo and his team are visionaries and Sweet Capital has been proud to back them since Day 1.”