How to Design Your Own Startup Path
Leura Fine set out to disrupt her corner of the world with the idea that hiring an interior designer shouldn’t break the bank. What she created is a successful tech startup that is reinventing an entire industry by transforming how people furnish their spaces.
Fine’s experience as a senior designer at a top Los Angeles firm helped focus her upstart outlook. "How do we take a very expensive service, and a profession that hasn’t changed much? How do we bring it into the future and make it more scalable?"
Technology was the answer: "What I thought was a vision for democratizing interior design turns out is largely software." Within two years of launching Laurel & Wolf at her dining room table, Fine appeared on Forbes’ "2016 30 Under 30 List". The company, now with 60 employees, has raised $25 million and been featured on HGTV.
No business or engineering degree necessary
"I don’t have the typical profile of a tech CEO," she says. "In some ways, it’s an advantage. In other ways, it’s harder. I never took a business class. I knew nothing about building software. But it’s been one of our competitive advantages that I started this business with a lot of industry expertise."
Fine’s family history is full of entrepreneurs, including her great-great grandmother Leura, for whom she is named. Laurel & Wolf is a hybrid referring to L.A.’s artsy Laurel Canyon and Elsie de Wolfe, known as America’s first decorator. (The company dropped the "e’’ in Wolf.)
Build a team with complementary skills
Laurel & Wolf serves as an online platform, connecting clients, designers and merchandisers. Clients pay a flat per-room design fee for professional advice, while designers and merchandisers get new clients they’d likely never have found. The company has more than 750 designers in its network.
To keep the online marketplace growing, Fine relies on a team that melds design, business and technology. Most of her employees have no startup experience and are drawn "to be in a fast-moving industry in which they can really spur change."
Be ready for challenges in a fast-growth company
"Growing a team has been the greatest joy," she says, but not without challenges. "Things you’ve never thought about become new challenges. I think one of the interesting things about scaling a business is it’s really all about the people. You have to hire the right people, you have to make sure the people that you have work together well."
Choose a bank that gets you
The same collaborative spirit is also essential for a financial partner, and that’s why she chose Silicon Valley Bank. "I feel like founders, when they sign on with SVB, have the opportunity to really have a partner and an advocate," Fine says. "The SVB team is very passionate about helping entrepreneurs build great businesses."
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