For Deirdre Mc Gettrick comparing furniture items and prices for her home was a frustrating experience but one that eventually gave birth to an idea for a business.
She says that hunting for furniture for her home felt like a chore after long days at work, which often resulted in her creating spreadsheets, littered with URL links, lists and screenshots.
But from this frustration a business idea came for what she and her business partner and husband, Ray Wright, refer to as a revolutionary furniture search engine.
Furniture finding frustrations have led to Deirdre Mc Gettrick and Ray Wright starting their own furniture comparison website that they hope will be as big as Gocompare
In what she hopes will be a good sign for their start-up, Deirdre’s not alone in feeling like this. A survey conducted by her newly-launched business, Ufurnish, showed that 74 per cent of people found furniture shopping frustrating.
The germ of an idea eventually resulted in the couple quitting their corporate London jobs to develop Ufurnish and seek financial backing for their start-up.
Prior to starting Ufurnish, Ray was global partnership programme director at a business-to-business lead generating firm, Lead Forensics.
Deirdre, meanwhile, comes from a background of investment banking and law where she has worked on major acquisition financing deals for multinational corporations.
In spite of their finance and business expertise, the couple still took part in the London & Partners Growth Programme, which runs in conjunction with the London Mayors’ Office, which helps businesses with their growth journey. Former alumni include Revolut, Monzo and Farfetch.
It has taken the couple a year of working with both large and small retailers to create the Ufurnish platform.
Ray explains: ‘We didn’t want to launch without a substantial range covering all aspects of the home. It’s all about providing people with maximum choice and ability to find the right product with ease and enjoyment.’
Ufurnish has small and large retailers featured on its website, including The French Bedroom company
The furniture search engine has been launched at a time where the UK homewares market is estimated to be worth around £13.5billion per year according to Globaldata.
Investors appear attracted to the potential in this sector. So far, Ufurnish has raised £1.8million of investment funding from a number of angel investors.
This includes prominent businessmen such as Michael Holland and Craig Wilson, former founders of Financial Express, Anthony Ward, founder of Armajaro Holdings, and Pat Mc Cann, founder and CEO of Dalata Hotel Group.
Deirdre says: ‘To begin with we self-funded and used our own money. I had worked in investment banking and had some savings.
‘However, once we had a demo product developing the rest was beyond the reach of my pockets, so we then went out to investors and raised £1.8m in seed funding.’
Deirdre says that having worked in investment banking she wasn’t too unfamiliar with the process of finding investors, but adds that angel investors and start-ups are a somewhat different world.
She says: ‘I was raising £250million for companies so I met lots of investors but they are all institutional investors. However, they aren’t putting risk on their own money, but these people are digging into their back pocket.’
Ufurnish has also struck deals with major retailers like Dunelm. Customers can compare a wide variety of furniture such as chairs, sofas, lighting and other home accessories.
‘Angel investors know all the bullsh*t as well so you can’t pull the wool over their eyes.’
For anyone keen on getting an angel investor on board she advises: ‘Ask yourself what you would you want to know if you’re using your own money to invest in a business.
‘Remember that for some it’s not their space – look for people who’ve had success in business models similar to yours as they understand their business model and you won’t have to explain as much.
The co-founders know that there’s still a lot of work ahead of them, but they have key angel investors on their side and have so far got £1.8m in funding
Ufurnish is not in the business of making its own furniture to sell on to customers and Deirdre says there are no future plans to do so.
The business makes its money through its pay per click options and the commission it obtains through every successful sale driven through its website. They also have a second income stream which they get from working with furniture retailers on their marketing.
At the time of writing the company has 120 deals in place with furniture retailers with varying commission structures.
Some businesses have been known in the past to promote businesses higher up the rankings that award their companies the highest commission, but Deirdre insists that Ufurnish remains unbiased.
She insists: ‘We’re try to bring unbiased search results. We create a level playing field that’s unbiased by any commission.’
Deirdre’s top business tips and mantras
When asked about how to survive in the world of business and succeed as a startup, Deirdre offered these four tips:
Deirdre Mc Gettrick, co founder of Ufurnish says it’s important not to surround yourself with ‘yes men’.
Learn to delegate: You can’t do it all by yourself as you’d wear yourself out. Hire good people and trust them.
There are no short cuts: It doesn’t matter how successful your advisor and investors are you have to do all the hard work yourself.
Network and listen: Speak to as many people as you can about your idea with different ideas and viewpoints and listen. Look at those who disagree with you and listen to them. Don’t always surround yourself with people that say ‘yes’.
Critique is highly valuable. Too often people want to protect your feelings. That’s one thing we’ve tried hard with in the business – we want to give our team the power to offer open feedback.
Ensure you have enough of a runway: If you need six months before you become profitable maybe double this to deal with any unexpected consequences.
I’ve met founders who have run out of money and have just two months of a runway left. They’ve had to approach investors again and it’s never a great discussion to have.
The team has expanded from just Ray and Deirdre to a force of 13 staff members. The latest coup includes the hire of a former DFS chief marketing and commercial officer Tony Wood who has taken on the role of chief marketing officer for Ufurnish.
Everyone works remotely but Deirdre says the team keep up morale with quizzes and online networking events, so people can get to know each other as the business expands.
Ray and Deirdre still have much to do and claim the hard work is only just beginning. Profits of the business have not yet been disclosed, but Deirdre points out that it’s still early days for after it officially launched its platform in July this year.
Like most start-ups costs still outweigh the revenue being generated but Deirdre adds: ‘We’re on a route to profitability.’
Over the long term they want to expand both their retail partnerships and consumer user base.
While the focus is to still expand locally, they have big ambitions.
Deirdre explains: ‘We do want to be big. We want to be the ‘Skyscanner’ or ‘Gocompare’ of the furniture world.
While the likes of Skyscanner are probably finding business difficult thanks to Covid – the same can’t be said for the retail sector as consumers go through lengths to improve their homes now that they spend more time in them.
Deirdre says: ‘Everyone buys furniture of some stage and many people like this idea – regardless of your requirements we should be able to help.’