This interview is part of a series featuring the presenters participating in this year's Core77 Conference, "Now What? Launching & Growing Your Creative Business" , a one-day event aimed to equip attendees with tangible skills and toolkits to help produce and promote their products or services.
Detroit-based furniture company Floyd gained momentum almost instantly through their initial Kickstarter campaign, but what they were pitching to the world wasn't a full piece of furniture. Instead, founders Kyle Hoff and Alex O'Dell focused on developing legs that could be fixed to any flat surface. After raising a quarter of a million dollars for the Floyd Legs, Kyle and Alex understood they were onto something. The furniture industry has been around for centuries but hasn't quite adapted to our fast-paced lives where we tend to rent instead of own and change living situations frequently. Following their Kickstarter success, Floyd has launched a bed frame, a table, a desk, a side table and most recently a sofa—all making use of an easily understandable modular system that allows each piece to be taken apart and brought along as their owners move through life.
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What steps did Floyd take to innovate within the tough-to-crack furniture industry? What sets Floyd's business model apart from other furniture companies? Following the launch of the Floyd Sofa and in anticipation for their presentation at the 2018 Core77 Conference, we sat down with Kyle and Alex to learn just that (and then some).
Core77: How did the idea behind Floyd start?
Kyle: Alex and I started the company about 5 years ago now. I think the big emphasis for launching Floyd was this common frustration we had for moving furniture and throwing furniture away during the move-in process. I think it's a pretty common feeling. I've lived in a number cities, and Alex had moved quite a bit. We both had our fair share of IKEA LACK tables that hit the dumpster. We really wanted to investigate how we could change how people are consuming furniture, how they buy it, and how they experience it. The first product we launched was a product that had an early prototype that I brought with me to Detroit. We started to concept this idea of launching it on Kickstarter—the goal was to really see if there was a market out there and if these pain points existed for other people. Could we create something that's adaptable and lasting and find a market opportunity there?
Alex: It was about getting a product out there that we were super excited about. It was a little bit of a different way of looking at your furniture where you would just get four table legs that you would clamp to any surface. Furniture can often be taken seriously, but that this was a fun, creative product that we wanted people to have fun with. When we launched the campaign, our goal was $18,000, 100 sets of legs, and we ended up hitting that goal in the first few days and raised a quarter of million dollars. That was the initial capital to help us get started, and we re-invested that back into the business and began to grow from there.
Kyle: What we're after with Floyd today is really nailing one of each product in the home, and doing each very well. You come to Floyd for the bed frame, the table, the sofa, and you're confident that we're making a great product, a great experience, and something you can take apart and keep for a really long time versus eight months until your next move.
When designing furniture that's made to last longer than, say, IKEA, how do you get people interested and willing to pay the price?
Alex: I think we're not the only people that had that frustration and know that's not how you should consume furniture. We want to make really great pieces that are well designed and that are quality for a mass market. Some people get it, but with some people it takes a little bit of time to understand the value proposition of assembling, disassembling it and keeping it. IKEA sees almost a billion people in their stores each year, and a lot of that furniture ends up in a landfill. I think people are starting to realize that more. We hear from our customers all the time, and they really do care about the products they own, the clothing they buy etc. They want to appreciate it. I think that is a transition happening in furniture as well. People in New York pay $3,000, $4,000 per month for an apartment—why are you putting in $20 LACK table in your living room?
Kyle: We're also really transparent as to where our materials come from. I think that kind of transparency really resonates with people. I think that is something that has also struck a chord.
Along those same lines as transparency, you are very open and honest with the research you put into your products. Why have you chosen to illuminate this process, and what has the overall response been?
Alex: We're making products for how people live today, and to really believe that, it's important to ask people how they're living today by putting out surveys and really engaging our audience by asking, "What do you like about your couch today? What don't you like about it?" or "How do you sit on your sofa?" That gives us use cases and gives us a better sense of what we need to be designing for. Just an example of something that came up was, we really felt like people would care a lot about how their sofa looked, like the aesthetics. But as we surveyed people, we learned they cared equally about comfort as well as aesthetic, so that meant that we needed to double down not only on making this a great looking product but also a super cozy one. We're constantly adjusting based on what kind of feedback we're getting from people as we're designing the product.
New Floyd Sofa
Kyle: In a way, we're our own customer. We feel the pain points, and then I think it's really having our customers who are involved in our community, really understand what's there, their needs are and feeling about products. That allows the product to really resonate. Kickstarter is a very open forum where you get feedback from customers whether you want it or not. Starting out that way taught us to really appreciate our customers' insights, which have led us to launch different and new products and continue to evaluate how we can improve products.
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Alex: One of the first images we showed of the sofa on our Instagram was actually the first prototype we ever built of it. It was made out of an old ping pong table surface that we had and our side table legs. It was a very rough image, and I think lot of furniture companies would probably be pretty terrified to put out an image just like that. We feel like it's honest to show how you can hack together that early vision as you begin to develop it. People get excited to be able to see where those ideas really start and then be able to see it fully formed—to see how far of a journey that product design has gone.
Since the furniture industry is used to a certain manufacturing process that's been done for hundreds of years now, what kinds of challenges have you faced while explaining your vision to manufacturers?
Kyle: When we were starting it was a lot harder. It took a lot of cold calling, a lot of denial to get our first products filled. I think when we were seeking manufacturers early on, we really wanted to learn from them. You have to go into their space and you have to speak their language and respect what they're working on and what they've built. The best way to learn about producing products are those conversations, and I think that still holds true today. I was at a steel manufacturer in Pennsylvania recently, and we spent the day there working through some design updates and some tweaks based on their production methods. For us, that helps us get to a more efficient, cost effective product, and for them, it helps them really learn what we're looking for. It benefits both parties if the product is easy to produce, and I think that's something they really value too. Going through the process of developing a sofa, we were working with a couple manufacturers we already built relationships with through the bed frames and table, so that really helped quite a bit.
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We also added on some new types of manufacturers like textiles and cushions. It's still the same practice of learning from them about how they do things and understanding their path of knowledge because they've been building things for 9 years where you know, we're four, five years old.
Speaking of your new sofa, how does it differ from the other products you've designed, and what was the idea behind bringing a sofa into the mix?
Alex: I think what's important is what's not different about the sofa because we really think about how we can take the initial DNA of our other products and evolve it. So that means real products and material, and that means being really intuitive. Also, people are buying our products online, so they need to be able to shift easily though a door. There are a lot of other considerations for the sofa that are completely different from the bed frame.
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Kyle: When we started to approach the sofa, we wanted to solve some similar problems, and I think that's kind of how we see ourselves as a company—a problem solving furniture company. We were having the same kind of frustrations we had with bed frames where you couldn't easily move them, if you took them apart they didn't come back together well, and the joints would break down over time. With sofa's there are plenty of ongoing Reddit threads about the coils breaking down, the connections not lasting. What we wanted to build was something that really created a solid, intuitive connection between the legs, surface, and all these other parts, like we did with the bed frame.
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We're also entering the world of comfort here where the bed frame was that hard product, so we had a lot to learn about materials that make for great comfort. That's why it was really important for us to work with a manufacturer who's been building cushions for a really long time. Design wise, as a core of Floyd's DNA, the idea is solving problems, simple materials, very honest and you can look at it and understand that you can disassemble it all then assemble again. We don't want it to be a question when you go to move whether or not you should leave our products behind, but in a way, we're encouraging the moving of the product. It goes to your next apartment with far more ease than the traditional sofa.
The furniture industry has been around for a very long time, so for many people it proves to be a difficult world to innovate and be successful in. Do you have any words of advice for people looking to start their own successful furniture company?
Kyle: The big thing that helped us early on was really building partnerships with manufacturers and thinking about the product at scale. So rather than building one-offs or five to ten of something that are really expensive, we wanted to make sure that we were building and designing products that could be attainable for a large number of people, then we could really think about furniture differently. One of our big advantages was thinking about those partnerships and those relationships. Listening to our customer hasn't always been our forte, but I think it's something we've really refined over the last couple years. We make sure that we're creating a great feedback loop and continuing to build better products. Also, don't try to be everything to all people—really be disciplined with what your materials are or what your design language is. Not everyone will resonate with your vision, and that's fine. If you focus in and really dial things in you can develop a passionate audience.