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MY BESPOKE ROOM: FEMALE-run firm beat gender-funding bias, making luxury design affordable

Just nine per cent of UK start-up funding goes to women-run firms and their gender did them no favours when it came to pitching at first, say former L’Oreal executives marketing expert Diana Greenhalgh and engineer Laura Simpson. “We’re a tech business, most investors are men and interior decor is not familiar ground for them either,” they explain. “Presenting in that situation was a skill we had to learn. We took advice from mentors, did masses of role play before each meeting and had responses ready around likely key topics such as stress testing and the resilience of our finances should demand drop.”

It worked. Four years and three rounds of investment worth £800,000 later the pair are now preparing for another raise of over £1million or more. 

With a mission to shake up and broaden the “archaic” world of domestic interior design beyond high net worth clients, working mothers Greenhalgh and Simpson saw space for a “convenient, inspirational and professional service that’s not snooty or requires customers to have a degree in design to put the ideas in place.”

Customers are mainly families, professionals and ex-pats – recent movers, improvers and those bamboozled in their search for inspiration by all the design choices from paints to lighting now available. 

Peace of mind and concern about avoiding mistakes are big drivers for many clients. “And time is also so precious these days it makes sense to make the world of interiors more accessible by bringing it online,” says Greenhalgh.

A flat-fee pricing structure and contact with an assigned designer is at the core of the services which start at £95 for a room mini makeover and £195 for a full-room package. The company also offers home visit consultancies for those planning to engage an architect and a commercial one for young businesses on a budget.

Clients begin by completing a simple questionnaire based on their individual styles and preferences before being teamed with the selected professional.

Using the business’s own software they create a proposed layout, digital moodboard and if desired curate a range of products from the site’s price-matched furniture and accessories section.

After they started the company with £18,000 from family and friends, Simpson and Greenhalgh expect a £500,000 plus turnover this year. 

£400,000 of seed funding made a critical difference in 2017 enabling them to develop My Bespoke Room’s work flow technology – the most technically demanding part, expand its UK network of designers to more than 30 and strike partnerships with 100 interiors brands.

This year it plans to launch a tool helping interior designers to start-up, grow and be part of a community.

Women investors, still a rare species in the UK, make up 30 per cent of the company’s backers and include one tech expert who came on board after being a customer and supplied valuable mentoring advice too. 

The business is not only breaking down design barriers, but operational ones too. “Our team is what we are most proud of and we’re pioneering an entirely flexible way of working that suits them and our designer community so they both feel supported and connected,” explains Simpson.   

“We can exceed what people can conjure alone,” adds Greenhalgh. “We treat every design as if it were our own home.”

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