London start-up HouseOf is an online lighting retailer challenging the norms of running a business.
Many start-ups are out to help build the next generation of retail with digital solutions, but a few unique brands have set out to become the next-generation retailers. This has worked out for the likes of eyewear brand Warby Parker, luggage-maker Away and unicorn beauty brand Glossier. And it’s companies such as these that have inspired HouseOf, a dedicated online retailer for lighting products.
In the homewares space, one of the major names in online retail is Made.com, and HouseOf co-founder Helen White brings experience working for this brand to her own company. Together with Michael Jones, she has built a team with 30 years’ experience in retail between them.
“Myself and my co-founder Michael have a long history within retail and our roles are split quite nicely down the middle,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.
“Michael works on the technical and marketing side of the business and I work with product and after sales. Previously, we have worked in department stores, designer brands and also online start-ups, which has given us the confidence to start our own business.”
‘We found the best way to survive and thrive was to be adaptable and take on new challenges’
– HELEN WHITE
Founded in April 2019, HouseOf has weathered a tough start thanks to 2020’s trials and tribulations.
“We entered into the global pandemic with a lot less stock than we would have normally as it coincided with Chinese New Year,” White said. “We didn’t let this stop us though and during the lockdown we fundraised further investment, introduced two new drop shipping partners and launched our second range. We found the best way to survive and thrive was to be adaptable and take on new challenges.”
HouseOf also pivoted to a hybrid model of working when Covid-19 restrictions led the company to reconsider office space entirely. This was a natural move to make for a company that has committed to finding new and innovative ways of working.
“Our business model is to remain lean with lower-than-average staffing levels. To be able to keep lean we rely heavily on automation,” explained White.
“We aren’t keeping staff levels low due to cost, but because we believe that this is the right thing to do. It means that as a team we have aligned business values and all move in the same direction. It also means that we don’t introduce any bureaucracy or complicated processes. This in turn keeps us nimble and thriving.”
Into the light
HouseOf differentiates itself as a lighting retailer with unique, playful designs within a signature colour palette. It also seeks to make lighting design for interiors accessible for online users.
“[Lighting is] perceived as complex by the customer and we wanted to break this barrier down. We have a wealth of experience in the field and, instead of using complex terminology, we try to educate the customer and help them on their decision-making process,” said White.
These days, conscious consumers put demands on brand values, too, and HouseOf aims to meet these. “We want our brand to be seen as responsible, ethical and also respected by our customers. Every decision we make contributes towards the value of the brand and the most important stakeholder in this is the customer. We want them to know that they are contributing towards a bigger cause when they buy from us, from either supporting a start-up or being aligned with their values and ideologies,” said White.
Looking on the bright side
Based in London, White finds the vibrant ecosystem helps to grow a start-up. “I think it helps to be based in a city where start-ups are encouraged and there are others going through the same thing as you,” she said.
“Having said that, social media and also the recent pandemic have brought people together and you can now share your experience and make friends with other founders from anywhere in the world.”
This year, White’s aim is to grow the business and the team knows that funding is needed to do this. “As a start-up we are always talking about our next funding round,” she said. “We quickly noticed that as a founder finding new investment is 50pc of the job and it will never subside – it is the only way we will grow.”
But after a challenging start, White sees the silver lining of building strength in adversity. “We have had Brexit, elections, recessions and a global pandemic to contend with. We always say that if we can survive , we can survive anything,” she said.
“The challenges we have encountered have been learning experiences and have shown us that remaining nimble, agile and forward-thinking is the most important thing in our industry.”
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