On The Up

Design for Me founder: it’s important to have a vision of where you want to be.

Fred Heritage | 29 February 2016 | 8 years ago

Design for Me founder Emily Barnes
Design for Me founder Emily Barnes
Qualified architect Emily Barnes set up Design for Me after working in residential architecture for a several years. She spoke to Business Advice about her startup experience and the importance of goal-setting.

Finding that people simply don’t know how to begin searching for an architect or designer, and recognising a common misconception that such professionals would be too expensive for small, residential projects, Barnes? online platform connects homeowners with appropriate architects and designers for specific jobs.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

My name is Emily Barnes and I’m the founder of Design for Me an online platform that matches homeowners with the right architect, interior or garden designer for their particular job.

(2) How long have you been around for?

I came up with the idea for Design for Me about three years ago. Half of this time was spent researching, planning and building the early version of the website. Then, 18 months ago I left my full time job as an architect to launch the site and grow thebusiness.

(3) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

Unlike other databases or search engines, Design for Me provides a double-sided platform to quickly and effectively whittle down your search with no phone calls. Once jobs get posted, they are quickly matched with the best candidates, and businesses will be notified of who’s interested.

All the design professionals on Design for Me have been invited to join based on their suitability and willingness to work on private residential projects with “normal” budgets.

Design for Me also provides a simple and effective marketing tool for the design professionals to find new work. It’s particularly good for innovative young practices or freelancers, who can otherwise find it difficult to build up a reputation and portfolio.

(4) How does Design for Me make money?

The answer to this question continues to change! I think it’s always important to interrogate the business model and change direction if necessary.

Up until recently Design for Me charged both homeowners and design professionals to use the service. Although many homeowners were willing to pay, it really held back growth of our user base one which I knew would be critical to the ongoing success of the business.

Now, we only charge a subscription fee to design professionals. More homeowners with interesting projects has led to more interactions on the site and therefore more design professionals have signed up and subscribed.

(5) What was most important when starting out?

The drive to make the project succeed and self-confidence probably. Discussing the idea with friends, family and colleagues made it more real? in my mind. Before long all I wanted to do was start researching and planning, which was a critical first stage in Design for Me’s life.

(6) What’s been your biggest achievement so far?

My main ambition, which affects every aspect of the business, is to make it invaluable to users. Getting positive feedback brings the best sense of achievement, which is happening more and more as time goes on.

(7) Have you had any setbacks along the way?

Technology has failed the business a few times. To some extent I think you get what you pay for when it comes to web development. The first version of the site was built on a budget and as a result, some corners were cut.

From the right angle it was a good-looking, well functioning website but it became clear that it wouldn’t be sustainable and cracks started to appear as the number of users increased. We’ve now got a brilliant web developer who has been working on the site from the foundations up to make sure it holds up well as user demand increases.

(8) In five years? time, I will be?

Taking Design for Me to other countries hopefully! We already get requests through social media to bring it to other countries in Europe or the US. First of all, I want to get Design for Me in the UK working as smoothly as possible. As I’ve learnt so far, it takes time to set up and fine-tune the systems which keep the business growing and prospering.

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Much like a home renovation project, the key to a successful outcome is planning. It’s important to have a vision of where you’d like to be in five years or six months? time, but also on a daily basis.

I have a giant whiteboard in the office with goals over the next three months and I look at it daily to re-focus what we’re doing and why.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

The founders of Airbnb! It’s such a ground-breaking and good idea, and so well executed. I love the website and how user-friendly it is. It’s certainly a platform I’ve looked up to when creating Design for Me.

Find this article interesting? Read on for a look at another disruptive startup. Benefacto is working to engage more professionals in worthwhile volunteering.

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