After taking a break from her interior design career to raise a family, Jennifer Gilbert says she wanted to “get creative” again. But she quickly realized how interior design and luxury home furnishings had stagnated during her years away. She saw the inefficient, fragmented industries as being ripe for change. “I figured if someone was going to change it, why not me?” she says.
Having witnessed what her husband, Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert, had done to bring the mortgage business online, she resolved to bring the same efficiencies to her profession. With Doodle Home, the online “definitive resource for interior designers” that she founded, she says her goal is to “simplify the design industry through integration and technology.”
Techonomy interviewed Gilbert by phone and email about what the platform does for designers, and why Detroit is a great place to launch ideas.
How does Doodle Home work?
Doodle Home is an extensive online resource for interior design. For interior designers, it’s a virtual studio to run their businesses more efficiently and ultimately focus on design. It’s an online platform that handles the back-end office administration associated with interior design such as requesting quotes or submitting orders — a lot of which interrupts the creative process.
Our professional members have access to exclusive tools to collect, store and order products as well as the support of a Designer’s Assistant to manage the ordering process on their behalf. It’s an easy-to-use, start-to-finish solution for what has been a cumbersome process. Using Doodle Home for each of their projects means interior designers can spend the majority of their time being creative.
For the general public, Doodle Home is a community to enjoy design inspiration or find an interior designer. Our Designer Directory allows users to see designers’ work and connect with them for potential projects.
How do you curate the products available to users?
The beauty of Doodle Home is every product from every manufacturer is available to our users. It really is limitless. No matter where their sources are, we can digitally capture the image and information with our Doodle Home Collector — similar to the Pinterest “Pin It” button. Interior Designers can collect products from anywhere on the Web, save them in their Doodle Home Library, request quotes and submit orders all through one convenient online location. So really, our members are their own Doodle Home curator.
Designers browse the Web, upload linked images to Doodle Home, and then your team does the legwork to source those items?
Right now, interior designers usually print out and collect tear sheets in folders for every design project, and each design project may require sourcing 50 different vendors. That’s 50 different contacts, SKUs, showrooms, orders — it’s a lot of follow up. Designers are spending 75-80 percent of their time sourcing the product, following up, quoting and ordering.
Doodle Home tools take a lot of that off their plate. The Manufacturer Directory gives them a place to start, while the Collector lets them browse any site for product and seamlessly save it to their library without interrupting their search. When they’re ready to request quotes and submit orders, everything is already organized for their Doodle Home Designer’s assistant to process and track. It really simplifies everything.
How do you see the platform evolving?
The designers using Doodle Home for their projects, start to finish, are really excited about what we’re building here. They are great about giving us feedback and ideas on how to improve the tools. That open communication gets us inspired to make the user experience even better, and create new tools that will help their business. We hear everything they say and get inspired by their excitement.
Now, it’s really just about getting more and more designers to try it. As it is, the industry is antiquated, fragmented and hurting. But this is the new way to do business. This is the way to make the future of interior design stronger.
Are the designers on a monthly subscription plan?
We’re in the early stages of monetizing, so we’re testing different possibilities. We know that there are different revenue streams that we can capture, and we just have to test and see what is the best fit for our community of interior designers.
What has your biggest challenge been as an entrepreneur?
Focus, individually and as a team. It requires constant communication and making sure everybody’s on the same page. You could have every single team member working really hard, but if they’re not working in the same direction with the same common goal, you’re going to end up with a hot mess. We’ve been very conscientious about that.
What it’s like running a startup in Detroit?
The energy here is so exciting and there is such a positive force. No one is jaded. Everything is new. You have all of these people working not only towards their goal but a common goal — a successful Detroit. There are a lot of people saying, “Listen, I’m doing something you can benefit from… I’d like to help.” It’s very much an open community with a shared vision of building something great.
What sets Detroit apart from other cities in the U.S.?
It’s that Midwest work ethic – that Midwest mentality. If you have a vision and the resources, Detroiters are going to roll up their sleeves and dive right in. They’re not waiting for somebody else to do it for them. It’s a city of builders, makers and doers.
The actual infrastructure gives you a lot to work with. The city has amazing architecture; it’s right on the river. There’s a fantastic urban and creative culture. It used to be that people came down when they had to, but now Detroit itself is a destination.
You can live in another city and have a great time; you can have that urban experience. But you can’t have the same sense of ownership anywhere else. In Detroit every individual — every professional going to work, every student heading to class, every person dining out or enjoying the city — makes a difference. Every person makes an impact.
What does Detroit have to do to regain positive momentum?
Positive momentum is here, we just have to maintain it and grow it. Ignore the noise and keep going forward. “The more the merrier” is what I say. It can’t just be a handful of individuals; it really has to be a movement. And it’s already happening with the next generation. Detroit is happening, right now… everywhere you look.