Every so often, I interview someone from a company that’s still in the early stages of development, but has created a truly unique business with enormous potential. Such is the case with Noa Santos, the co-founder and CEO of HomePolish. Together with company president Will Nathan, Santos has created a full service interior design firm whose mission is to make this luxury service accessible to the masses.
Their formula is simple. They start by recruiting top young designers from the best firms in the city. For a mere $50 fee, clients can schedule an in-home or virtual consultation with a designer who has been carefully matched with them. From there, design packages begin at $500. With no added design fees or furniture markups, HomePolish designers are free to seek out the best deals for their clients, since they are not motivated by commissions.
As Santos explained, they endeavor to create a collaborative environment in which designers work to embody a client’s personal style into his or her home. Furthermore, the company fosters a non-competitive spirit of cooperation among all their designers, so they can easily help one another to deliver their best work on behalf of their clients. The centerpiece of their 1100 square foot Flatiron district office is the “design bar” – an original piece of furniture crafted out of packing crates that not only shows off a bit of design ingenuity, but also functions as a great spot to consult with members of the design team or even enjoy a glass of wine. The space is already attracting attention as a venue for outside events.
Originally from Hawaii, Santos attended Stanford University, where he studied business and architecture. Craving a faster lifestyle, he moved to New York City, where he was fortunate to land a position in a high end residential interior design firm. There, he got a crash course in lifestyles of the rich and famous, as well as a ton of hands on experience in all aspects of the business, including client meetings, proposal development, furniture sourcing and billing.
It was here that Noa also learned about one aspect of the interior design industry that he felt was becoming antiquated, namely the secrecy regarding the pricing and purchasing of furniture and accessories. With so much information and incredible deals available online, Santos decided it was more in step with the times to adopt a policy of transparency. All client purchases are documented – receipts are shared, charges are put on clients’ cards so they can receive their miles, etc. Their designers are motivated to get excellent deals on behalf of their clients.
This type of disruptive approach to an industry that has long been seen as the exclusive purview of only the very wealthy seems to be paying off. While their early clientele were working with budgets of 0-$20,000, current clients include those with six figure projects ranging up to $250K, as well as 9000 sq. ft. start-up offices.
By cultivating a truly collaborative environment, Santos has succeeded in attracting clients who truly love the process, making it more enjoyable for everyone involved. In his prior company, 50 for 50, (“Champagne Interiors on a Beer Budget”), this approach was so successful that he realized he needed to scale the idea. In fact, co-founder Nathan was a former client! After working together, they realized they could pool their skills and experience to co-create HomePolish. With less than $1000 each, they bootstrapped the company and have never looked back. Perhaps some fundraising will exist in the future, but for now, they are quite happy to meet their monthly goals with increasing success.
Santos’ biggest challenge, he says, is maintaining focus amidst the plethora of great ideas and potential collaborators. His goal is to continue to form strategic partnerships in service of the goal of bringing great designers to people’s doorsteps.
Most rewarding for him is the kind of joy brought to people’s lives when they realize they can afford to create a home that they are happy to return to each evening, where they can spend time relaxing or entertaining guests. The happiness of his clients is his main priority. Second is that of his designers. He is dedicated to working on their personal brands, currently developing custom profiles for each of them, and rewarding them for bringing in new clients.
As for advice to new entrepreneurs, he advises going in with immediate, short term goals, and being prepared to iterate every step of the way. “The most important lesson that I learned is never refuse a lunch.” He believes that there is something to be learned from everyone. He also suggests, “Never lose touch with your clients.” Santos spends much of his time staying in touch with them, especially the problematic ones who require a little extra hand holding. He is always trying to figure out new and better ways to make them happy.
As Santos looks toward the coming year, he is filled with great enthusiasm and confidence. “It’s gonna be huge – this is gonna be a big deal.” You heard it here first!
Listen to the full interview here:
Deborah Oster Pannell is a writer who specializes in the arts, culture, special events and creative & innovative projects of all kinds. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog, shesaysyes.wordpress.com. Currently she is preparing to launch Project Mavens, a content branding firm. On Twitter @projectmaven.