CREATIVE ECONOMY

Furnishr’s Mike Van didn’t follow his passion; he found his passion

Jackie Gill - November 26, 2019 Karen Lau and Mike Van, co-founders of Furnishr, make decorating a home easy with a platform that helps customers plan, purchase and place their furniture
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Mike Van knows what it’s like to feel uncomfortable.

For two weeks, he slept on an inflatable mattress on the floor of his New York City apartment. He had plenty of space, mind you, but no idea what to do with it. And even if he did have a plan, he was too busy starting his business to furnish the place.

“I was just running in and out of meetings,” he says. “I would come home late, try to do some designing at night, but ultimately I didn’t have the time.”

But he had one thing going for him that no one else did. That company he was building? It’s called Furnishr. Like the name suggests, it’s an interior design platform that’ll completely furnish a home – from planning to setup – within a few short days.   

“It was a Monday morning when I decided, you know what, I’m not going to do this myself. I run a turn-key furnishing platform. I’m going to get the team to do this,” he remembers. “On Wednesday afternoon, I had the furniture set up in my place.”

Now with a comfortable bed to sleep in, a sofa where he can kick his feet up and a desk to get work done, it’s a huge weight off of his shoulders. “I’m just able to go back to work and focus in on what I need to focus on,” he says.

And it turns out, air mattresses aside, he actually likes feeling a bit uncomfortable. A good trait to have when you’re a non-decorator running an interior decorating company.

“I like being placed in a situation where I know nothing about it.”

Starting from scratch

For Furnishr co-founder and Van’s counterpart Karen Lau, interior design was a no-brainer. While working as a program manager at Telus, she spent her evenings at Seneca College taking night classes in their interior decorating program.  

“Interior design was her passion, what she really wanted to do and grow into,” Van says. For him, though, it was a different story. “Interior design wasn’t my passion.”

In fact, it was more of a nightmare. Before Furnishr, he earned his CPA and worked as an ERP consultant. But when it came to his own home, he never really knew what to do with it – even before New York.

“I wanted to pursue something that was something completely foreign, where I could really dive into it.”

– Mike Van

“One of the biggest things I found initially was decision paralysis. Knowing what to do but not knowing how you want to fit that all together, and then having too many options,” he says. Plus, long days meant he didn’t have the time to map things out, purchase the products or wait for delivery.

So he called on an old friend for her help. Lau swooped in with her keen eye and connections, and helped him set the place up. It wasn’t easy, though. Coordinating shipments and deliveries between different retailers, making time for installation – it was all too fragmented.

What makes a home feel like home? Furnishr helps customers design plans and buy furniture that’s both beautiful and comfortable.

That process got the pair thinking: there must be an easier way to do this, for others like Van who wanted a place to call home but didn’t have the time or expertise.

“A lot of us just need help, and there’s no shame in admitting that.”

– Mike Van

To start the business, Van had a lot to learn. How furniture is constructed. What materials work best in which climates. Where to find a double-decker sofa bed (yes, that exists). “I wanted to pursue something that was something completely foreign, where I could really dive into it,” he says. “That ended up becoming more and more of a passion, just spending a lot of time and a lot of long nights learning about the space.”

And although he’s talking about interior design – not learning a new business – one key lesson applies to both: “A lot of us just need help, and there’s no shame in admitting that. I think it’s actually better for us to seek help from the people who actually know what they’re doing.”

Home sweet home

Furnishr began in Toronto in 2016, and since then, it’s come a long way through the MetaProp Accelerator in New York, the Fierce Founders Bootcamp in Kitchener, Ont. (where they snagged a $50,000 prize), and the DMZ in Toronto. They operate in 62 cities around North America, with more than 200 customers and about 200 vendors. The cherry on top: they just celebrated their first $1 million account this year.

Here’s how it works.

First comes discovery – figuring out your style, what kind of products you want in your space and fitting everything together.

“You’re probably spending about 60 to 90 days just trying to find your pieces. I think on average it’s about 79 days to fill out your entire home,” Van says.

Not only do they help you hone in on your style of choice, but they assign a decorator to collaborate on the floor plans, colours, materials and more. And because they deal directly with manufacturers, the cost is typically 20 to 30 per cent lower than retail price.

Once you’re in love with your plan, Furnishr snaps into action, coordinating the orders and delivery of each piece, so it all arrives on one day.

It takes an average of 79 days to fill an entire home with furniture.

Then, their team comes in to assemble your furniture for you. “If you’ve dealt with any kind of knockdown furniture, it just takes a long time for you to build that up. So you can imagine how long it takes for you to set up an entire room, or an entire house,” Van says.

(He’s had to assemble his fair share of furniture as co-founder, and can now build a couch in about half an hour, he adds.)

From style to setup, Furnishr makes furnishing a home seamless.

Finally – and “the other big thing that nobody ever thinks about” – they take care of all the boxes. Essentially, when you get home after work, your apartment is completely set up and completely clean.

When you do all of that yourself, “it’s a long cumbersome process. It’s not the most complicated of things but it’s complex enough where it creates issues because of all the different layers,” says Van.

But with help, it’s a breeze. “We pride ourselves in the supply chain. We spend a lot of time looking at sourcing products and finding the best products, but also the best deals and being able to tie it all together.”

Finding comfort in discomfort

Van describes his own style as an eclectic mix between mid-century, industrial and modern influence, but above all, he values comfort.

And it’s not just that comfy sofa in his New York apartment. Now, he feels at home being a foreigner in a new industry, asking questions and learning from the experts.

“I like to be the guy in the room who has the least knowledge about whatever I’m talking about,” he says. “I can be entertained by problems like this from the standpoint that it allowed me to put on my thinking cap to be able to find something that I would really enjoy.”

And he’s at home with how the company is growing, with new partnerships on the horizon.

“I like to be the guy in the room who has the least knowledge.”

– Mike Van

“I’ve met so many great people who have helped us get to this point and who continue to help and support us. They’ve been able to like help me learn and grow,” he says.

“It’s been a great journey and experience so far and like I just can’t wait to see what’s next.”

DRAFT CARD

Draft Card Logo
  • Name: Furnishr
  • Solution: A turnkey furnishing platform with beautifully furnished room designs to be delivered and assembled in a single day.
  • Owners: Karen Lau and Mike Van
  • Employees: 7
  • Headquarters: Toronto, Ont. and New York City, NY
  • Founded: 2016
  • Contact: [email protected]
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