Starting a business under the watchful eye of your father might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but Priyanka Rao has made it work.
Rao is the force behind Sydney-based business Evolvex, the consumer arm of Luxmy Furniture, an Australian manufacturer established by Rao’s father in 1997.
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Evolvex, which was founded in November last year, is a system of furniture which the consumer can design themselves online. The idea came about after a nightmarish shopping trip.
Rao talks to StartupSmart about what it’s like to work with your parent, and why traditional marketing tools are proving more useful than social media.
What prompted you to launch Evolvex? What niche did you identify?
Evolvex was born out of a frustrating shopping trip at a certain giant Swedish furniture store.
My sister was moving out and she bought a few things she thought were “okay” and on the way home a few of the panels in the flat pack boxes smashed.
Thankfully, because our family is in the furniture business, we took the furniture back to my Dad’s factory and we re-enforced it.
In the process of fixing things up, my sister made a few customisations and when we chatted about it after we asked ourselves, wouldn’t it be cool if we could just design our own furniture?
Having a factory meant we could easily fulfil each order and give the customer what they truly wanted.
How did you fund the business and what were your start-up costs?
Luxmy Furniture, our family business, is the primary investor in Evolvex.
As well as providing expertise and office space, Luxmy funded the application and website build, the legal fees, staff costs and marketing expenses.
We estimate our start-up costs to be in the region of $50,000.
How many staff do you have?
I am the sole full-time headcount on the Evolvex project, but I get lots of support from the Luxmy Furniture production department when it comes to fulfilment.
We are definitely reaching the stage where we’re looking to hire but to run things as lean as possible we outsource all non-core tasks.
How do you promote the business?
We generate leads from search advertising, SEO, PR, an email newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and events such as tradeshows. PR, newsletters and tradeshows have worked the best.
We’ve recently been featured on big international design blogs such as TrendHunter, PSFK and Apartment Therapy, which has given us a huge traffic boost.
Our “Super Cool Design Ideas” newsletter has gotten excellent feedback, and we’ve received really good sales and project opportunities from it.
We absolutely killed it at the Sydney Home Show with a very busy stand that received lots of compliments.
How do you stand out in the market? What’s your point/s of difference?
We offer something nobody in the world is offering right now – the ability to design your own flat pack furniture at a price that the market tells us is “affordable”.
Our furniture is locally made from eco-friendly sustainable materials and we ship it to the customer’s door flat packed with personalised instructions.
We called our business Evolvex because it is furniture that evolves.
The modular parts the furniture is made from can be reconfigured so in theory your flat pack coffee table can be converted to a bookcase. Because we recognised the uniqueness of our idea, we’ve filed for a patent.
What are your revenue projections for 2012/13?
We’re in the midst of confirming this as we’ve had a few great opportunities come our way that could significantly shift our projections if they all impact in this coming financial year.
A father-daughter team is quite rare. What are the pros and cons?
Dad and I have a great relationship that extends to mutual respect and trust. We don’t always agree, but I know where he is coming from so the conclusion is always positive.
Dad has fantastic business knowledge and experience, so is a great mentor to me. He gives me full reign on Evolvex, which, as a boss, is not always easy.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
IT failure is our biggest risk – if our website is down we don’t make sales.
We experienced this issue recently despite using a very high level plan on Amazon Web Services. We’re now looking to mitigate this risk by using another provider.
What’s the hardest part about starting up?
The hardest part is making the decision to start up. It took us two-and-a-half years from the time we had the idea to the time we decided to forge ahead.
Sure, there have been challenges getting our heads around technology and ecommerce, but those can be overcome with knowledge.
You need to still have the motivation to start up in the first place and, believe me, it takes a lot of motivation to “just keep swimming” through the constant stream of difficulties.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I would have most likely hired a dedicated software developer to take tech in-house, just because that would allow us to iterate a lot faster.
Right now, we’ve got good developers but they are agency-based so getting their time is not always easy and certainly not always cost-effective.
There are certain marketing activities I would not have spent time on, too.
I’d spend less time on social media and more time on newsletters, and physical events like tradeshows as they have shown us the best ROI.