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Grooming Your Startup | Erinn Valencich at StyleRow

In part one of my conversation with Erinn Valencich, the founder and CEO of StyleRow, she discussed the platform she developed that’s targeted to bridge the needs of product management and sales for luxury designers.

In this second part of our conversation, she tells about her early years as a horse trainer, then running the business for a lifestyle expert before starting her own interior design company at the age of 24. She also discusses how she struggled launching a new startup—but eventually managed to succeed once finally connecting with the right people.

More information: https://www.stylerow.com/


Erinn Valencich is an entrepreneur, who started her entrepreneurial career at an early age.  Graduating from high school early, she skipped college and went straight to work, garnering an incredible professional resume in the lifestyle design space with brands such as eBay, Maxwell House, Oprah, The Today Show, The View, HGTV and Simon & Schuster all before the age of 24.  She then founded her eponymous design firm, ERINN V. Design Group, later a furniture brand, ERINN V., and most recently turned software visionary, building an operating platform to power the luxury furnishings industry, StyleRow. 

As an interior designer and real estate developer, Erinn has a keen understanding of the classic California lifestyle. The granddaughter of a fine cabinetmaker and daughter of an architect, Valencich’s approach to design underscores the importance of craftsmanship and celebrates luxe, livable furnishings.  Her real estate projects include a record-breaking estate in the Sunset Strip with Belzberg Architects, featured in Architectural Digest, and a Cadillac Commercial, which The New York Times touted “Home As a Scene-stealer” and The Hollywood Reporter.  Her designs have garnered a ‘Best of Houzz’ award for design five years in a row. 

As the lead designer of her firm, Valencich has spent the last 15 years designing for a discerning international roster of clients. Her portfolio boasts a number of high-end designs, from New York lofts and ocean front estates in Mexico, to Las Vegas hotels and chic Los Angeles restaurants.  Her work has been featured in Architectural Digest Mexico, Elle Décor, Veranda, Traditional Home, Town & Country, House Beautiful, Luxe, Interiors, CA Home + Design, Robb Report, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and on the covers of Architectural Digest, Modern Luxury Interiors, Interiors California, OBJEKT, Spaces and Florida Design.  

Her custom furniture line, ERINN V, is handcrafted in California and has evolved into a 90-piece collection available at fine to-the-trade showrooms around the country.  In addition to designing her namesake brand, she has several signature collaborations including a collection of hardware with Baldwin, Hollywood Hills by Erinn V., along with collections with Fine Art Lamps, rugs with Mehraban and Creative Touch, Accessories with A&B Home and two new furniture collections in the works which will be available at retail in 2020.

Valencich was one of 12 designers chosen to compete on NBC’s American Dream Builders, hosted by Nate Berkus, and has appeared on a variety of shows, including The View, HGTV among others. She is the 2016 and 2018 recipient of the ARTS award for Interior Designer Of The Year and a contributor to GIO Journal, a luxury digital publication with over 5MM impressions.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Erinn Valencich 0:00
You’ve got to practice your pitch over and over and over again, right? You’ve got to get really, really clear with selling yourself and the ability to set that up and make sure that who you’re talking to understand your problem and has some interest in it.

Alexander Ferguson 0:21
In part one of my conversation with Erinn Valencich, the founder and CEO of Stylerow, she discussed the platform she developed that’s targeted to bridge the needs of product management and sales for luxury designers. In the second part of our conversation, she tells about her early years as a horse trainer than running the business for lifestyle expert before starting your own interior design company at the age of 24. She also discusses how she struggled launching a new startup, but eventually managed to succeed once finally connecting with the right people. And I’m excited to continue our conversation now, talking about the journey of starting business. This is not the first business that you’ve run. But this is the first technology business that you’ve run. Is that correct? Correct. Yes. So from the initial Where did the did you start and begin as far as location wise and time wise.

Erinn Valencich 1:13
I grew up in Northern California, on a farm had a pony plum trees played the mud. It was a great childhood. And then when I was nine, my mom moved us to Los Angeles and was quite a culture shock. So I miss my horses. And so when I was 13, I started training horses at a show barn in Burbank. I went up to the trainer and said, I can’t afford lessons. What can I groom for you and work here in exchange for lessons and she hired me on the spot. So I trained show horses for six years, you know, I ride my bike after Junior High in high school until I got a car from school down to the barn and Monday was my day off. So I’ve always been a very industrious person. When I was 18, I started working for a lifestyle expert. So this is when Martha Stewart was exploding on the scene, and HGTV was taking over the world. So we had worked for her for six years and helped her run her business. So we had a regular contributor ship on the Today Show doing lifestyle segments, wrote and produced two books on home decor and style with Simon and Schuster, big publisher in New York, had two shows on HGTV spokesperson gigs, you know, you name it, product line licensing deals, all of that. So I helped her kind of start and run that business for six years, and then decided when I was 24, that I would quit my job, I had $3,000 in my pocket, and I opened up an interior design firm. So for probably about 10 years, I had been kind of the back of my mind thinking like, how am I going to take this very physical, personal involvement, you know, I have to show for the client, like we ship furniture and shipping furniture is a terrible business to be in because it always gets damaged. And it’s just so painful. How can I take this industry that I love and turn it into a tech company, you know, like what can I do to make my business scalable and have a bigger reach and provide more impact than designing one home at a time or selling one table at a time. And so in the back of my mind that was kind of always there. And I was trying to concept ideas. And four years ago is when I ran into this just head on problem with tech in both businesses. And I was like, That’s it, I’m going to get our business streamline, we’re going to use new software, I’m sick of how paper heavy and so much with so many mistakes when you’re invoicing out of Excel and just it’s a nightmare. And we had the same problem for the furniture brand. At the same time we needed a lightweight CRM, we were in five different solutions to run basic, really basic workflows. And we were in five solutions for the design firm between you know, Pinterest and Keynote and PDFs and email and excel and texting. And now clients are what’s happening and they’re Instagramming you and you’ve got photos over here, you’ve got dropbox folders over there. It’s a disaster and you’re constantly trying to share data in your office with your client and with other professionals that you’re working on the job. And both businesses we’re having that same struggle at the same time. So after a year of pounding the pavement, if you will, and trying everything out there from the base camps in the saunas to ODU and different invoicing platforms. It all came down to it that none of that connected none of it was built for our business and we were still cobbling data together across platforms even if there were marginal improvements in each vertical like communication or task lists but they didn’t connect what we needed them to connect to. So that’s when I started style row and I was like okay, well here we go.

Alexander Ferguson 4:27
You had to find someone right there to understood your marketplace before you could really be able to hone in Yeah, journey this entire time though. It’s been like an incremental growth both learning what you enjoy, but also then discovering the challenges in that industry and your desire to scale out of it if possible, which I think a lot of people appreciate. Any thoughts on on others other than knowing Okay, I need someone that knows and under Is my industry that you can share with another one another entrepreneur that’s wanting to fundraise any tips or tricks that you found that worked over the sounds like one two years it took to fundraise. I could help someone else on that journey.

Erinn Valencich 5:12
Yeah, absolutely, um, I think you’ve got to practice your pitch over and over and over again, right, you’ve got to get really, really clear with selling yourself and the ability to set that up and make sure that who you’re talking to understand your problem and has some interest in it, before you even go try to raise money from them. Because if they’re not interested in your space, or they don’t really understand your space, they’re not going to write a check. So I ended up probably overall talking to 100 plus individuals throughout this process, and you realize it’s very much like speed dating, you know, again, if like, if you don’t want to get married at the end of this conversation, they’re not going to give you money. So just know that going into it, you don’t end up marrying 100 people in your lifetime, right? Maybe one or two. So it’s very much like that, finding that match first. Being willing to paint the biggest vision possible, and and saying, Yeah, I can do this. And I’m awesome. And I’m gonna crush it. A friend of mine years ago joke that I had steroid confidence. And I just thought that was so funny. And it’s one of those things that, you know, someone says about you 10 years ago that you always remember. And I think that that’s true, you know, you have to be the one that says why not me? If they can do it, why not me? I know I’m capable. I know, I’m smart enough to pull the right team together, I know I can make good decisions, and you have to sell that to investors. And you have to ask for the check. I also wasn’t sharing, you know, the right type of financial projections. In the beginning, either I was very nervous and shy about you know, feeling like, oh, maybe I can hit those numbers, is that too high? Are they gonna think it’s too high? blown out of water with how big you think this is gonna get, you know, don’t be shy there. And that’s what I mean about like going in with your biggest vision possible. Because if it’s not venture scale potential, then you shouldn’t be raising venture capital, you should be going after different types of capital. So figuring out kind of really what you’re comfortable with, and what is the biggest vision you really think you can get to, and then 10 fixing that and going for the 10x hoping that you’re going to get where you thought you were gonna go.

Alexander Ferguson 7:18
Thank you for that. That powerful insight. Now, you you’ve you’ve done that journey, the first two years, and now you’re into the growth you’ve built it. It’s live. It’s out there in the last two years now that it’s it’s been in promoted. So how has that journey been of, of scaling up being able to acquire your first couple clients or customers on the platform? What’s that journey been? Like? Yeah, so

Erinn Valencich 7:39
we actually had because of my industry experience and connections on not only the designer side, who will be our users, but our brand side and showroom side. I was getting yeses very early on from both and from the biggest players on both sides saying, Oh, my God, if you’re going to build that, like, you’re going to change my life, I Yes, Sign us up. Right. So we actually started creating a waitlist. And I had the opposite problem, I think that maybe some companies do, which is, I didn’t have a problem finding our first customers, our first customers, were going to be a plus players, so I couldn’t mess it up. We didn’t want to let them in too early. So we actually created a waitlist and had over 1000 design firms signed up on our waitlist, and kept them out purposely let a few people in early like alpha, and knew that we needed to build, build, build, build, you know, I’ve I’ve built homes for a living, I’m a problem solver. And I can think in 3d. So I haven’t had any problem transitioning that know how into building software in terms of what it needs to do and how it needs to work and what needs to be the experience for certain users coming in. So we actually kept a very, very long kind of closed alpha and then went into beta just last fall, and then opened it up in March, we opened up sign up for design professionals where we weren’t doing this very closed hand holding, you know, high touch process. And so timing has been pretty great for us there. You know, we’ve seen great growth month over month, our charts are up into the right and we’re just now making our marketplace public.

Alexander Ferguson 9:12
What’s what’s kind of the some of the tricks or maybe not tricks, but things that you found have worked as the waitlist is one idea what are the things you found at work to to get the word out there and the growth and to overcome some of the initial challenges anything maybe you do differently, too.

Erinn Valencich 9:28
So I’ve always been really good at marketing and self promotion and business promotion. You know, from an early age from the woman that I worked for, for six years, the lifestyle expert the beginning of my career, she was incredible at the same PR marketing and promoting what she was doing and getting the word out there. So I very organically and naturally do that. I had a database built already about 12,000 design firms for my furniture brand and my database of all of my press contacts, my business associates like I’ve been running businesses for years. So I already had is foundational kind of understanding and knowledge to market on Instagram and email newsletters and signups and all this kind of stuff. But I’ve never scaled it for, you know, a tech company. And I’ve never sold software before. So my CEO, who’s member of our founding team that came over from prexy, he was the co founder, correct. See, when that company started getting really big, he came over and I was able to snag him full time for style route once we closed our seed round last year. So he brought on an incredible gentleman who has is our CRO, so he’s over sales and marketing. So I started with a good foundation, I’d say, but he’s really been able to take what we’ve done and just Tenex it. And so through, you know, email through an SDR layer, we’ve got all these different channels of acquisition going, we’re now starting to do you know, paid advertising on Instagram, and LinkedIn and Pinterest. And just, you know, growing it, I mean, in terms of like, grassroots, getting the word out, I speak at design center events all over the country, you know, I put myself out there to them and say, Hey, you want me to come and talk about this stuff? And they’re like, yes, please, oh, my god, workflow, solutions, digital presentations, changing your business through, you know, software, please. So I speak at, you know, five to six events in the spring and five, six events in the fall. And so together, we really kind of complement each other quite well, in terms of blasting the word out there.

Alexander Ferguson 11:25
During this interesting time, this talk about interesting time to launch, he said, March was it March that you said that you add? So how has COVID changed or not changed anything?

Erinn Valencich 11:37
Yeah, it’s actually been a benefit to us in terms of timing, because suddenly, all of the design offices were working remotely. And what we have we’ve been building for two years, but team collaboration tools, right, and allowing every everyone in that design office to collaborate on the project to share a central database of items that they want to sell to their clients to communicate, and get out of email. So suddenly, there was a focus on Oh, my gosh, I need better work tools in our industry. And, uh, wow, I can’t, I can’t present to my client in person. So I need a digital way to present and collaborate and track client feedback. And it’s like, oh, we just happen to have already built that for you. So that’s been good. And in terms of the marketplace, you know, it’s really put that same kind of lens and focus for those brands of like, wow, we need other ways to sell our product, we need better ways than expecting foot traffic, to generate sales and to share our products and our pricing in a way where they can scale their teams, right? I mean, if you it’s furnishings, industry, sales is very much like a door to door salesman, still, you know, they someone comes to your office, they open up their little bag with all their samples, and they show you the catalog in person, and they flip through a book and they’re like, do you like this one. And then they go back to their office, and they type up a quote, and they email it to you and you mail them a check. I mean, it’s ridiculous. So not only didn’t many people in the industry, obviously know that our industry is behind the times when it comes to just processing orders in a faster way. But then with COVID, it’s made it like painfully clear that there has to be new workflow, I think there’s still always going to be showrooms, there’s always gonna be beautiful places to go and see this gorgeous physical product that we sell. But I think that model is going to, you know, change and evolve. But I think it’ll end up being a very positive thing for for the entire industry, because again, we’re focused on making designers more productive, so they can sell more product. And that means showrooms are gonna sell more product, and brands are going to sell more product, when we have better tools for our sales team, who’s really those designers to get out there and share that product in a better way with their clients.

Alexander Ferguson 13:48
What kind of technology innovations do you predict we will see in the near term, the next year or so. And in the longer term, 510 years,

Erinn Valencich 13:55
I think just to probably an increase in what we’ve already got going. I don’t know that I’m the type to forecast, honestly, new technologies. But I’m always looking for those shortest way to get between two points. I don’t want to go like this. And my one of my best friends calls me the president of the Make It Better committee. So if something can be made better, I’m like, This is dumb. Why do I have to click four times? You know, like, that’s just who I am. So I think shortening that line, taking out the extra vias to do anything that we do, we’re just going to keep seeing a straighter line being drawn between what you want to do and getting there. And I think that’s happening in all industries, right? I mean, you don’t have to go into person in person meetings as much anymore because they were a waste of time. And everyone’s now realizing that so there’s going to be better innovation there and you know, more innovation to sharing your end customer which is really what we’re doing right from the brand that makes it through the showroom through the designer to that client. We’re drawing a straight line instead of this very tangled web. So I think we’re just gonna see more of that.

Alexander Ferguson 15:04
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more, visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you could subscribe to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.

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