Exciting times for Deirdre McGettrick co-Founder of ufurnish.com just launched. In an interview with IIBN, London based Deirdre reveals that unfurnish.com is a search and comparison website, which helps connect people with amazing furniture from over 100 retailers. I designed it to solve the problem that I and 1000’s like me faced, furnishing our homes – and now I am really excited that everyone can search, discover, compare and shop for their home all in one place.
If you “subscribe to the newsletter today on the ufurnish.com website for a chance to win a £100 voucher of your choice”
How did you get the idea/ concept for your business?
I struggled to find the furniture I was seeing in real life and online (Instagram, Pinterest). Searching was time consuming and frustrating as I kept finding the same subsection of retailers which have big brand awareness. Where were the rest of the retailers to give me full choice? “Why wasn’t there an aggregator?” was the question I was constantly asking Ray (my co-founder and other half).
Give a brief account of your education background.
I studied Law & Accounting in the University of Limerick and have a MSc. in Finance from Trinity College Dublin.
Did you always know/ever think you would become an entrepreneur when you were younger?
I always imaged I would be a leader of a company, I assumed that would be working up to CEO of a large listed business but when I had the business idea, I realised this was my opportunity to not only lead a big business in time, but to build it from scratch.
Is entrepreneurship a common trait in your family? My dad owned his own business (Drapery shop, auctioneer and insurance broker) in a small town in Sligo. Our house was attached to the shop so I spent most of my childhood helping him. I do think I absorbed a lot of business acumen from that.
Did you have prior knowledge of the industry before setting up your company?
I had never worked in the industry, but I have the most passion for all things interiors and types of architecture of all my interests. I have often thought I should have been an architect. As a child I used to draw out various home layouts. Then I would cut up and arrange the images into the furniture I would place in the different rooms of my house. When I was furnishing our first home, I used Pinterest to build boards of all the designs I wanted in each room and this is a core feature that we are building into ufurnish.com.
What was your previous work experience (if any)? Do you think this gave you an advantage when setting up your business?
Previously I was a Leveraged & Acquisition Finance banker with HSBC. I worked on large acquisition facilities ($20bn+ for Reckitt Benckiser buying Mead Johnson) and general corporate debt borrowings via the high yield market (for companies such as Ceva Logistics, Ocado, House of Fraser, Titan Cement). Part of the skills I learned were extremely helpful such as researching businesses and business models, similar to ours in different sectors but also studying the furniture sector in detail. Preparing all of our investment materials was also considerably easier based on my experience of so many financing deals.
How did you initially fund your business? (self-funded, government funding, etc)
Originally the business was self-funded by myself and Ray as the co-founders. We wanted to go as far as we could with our funds to develop the product to show to investors. We briefly looked into grants available in the UK but these aren’t focused on commercial businesses unless you are solving a critical key area of focus such as clean transport, food production etc. After our funds ran out, we secured private investment from angel and high net worth individuals. Our strategy was to get entrepreneur investors who have been on the journey and built successful businesses, that way we could share in the lessons and knowledge of their journeys and we are fortunate that many of them now mentor us.
Looking back, would you have changed the method of funding you chose?
I wouldn’t have spent any time looking at government grants available for businesses. Otherwise I would continue to self-fund for as long as possible and then get private investment thereafter.
What difficulties, if any, did you encounter when securing funding?
The only lesson is that it took longer than I expected. It was in total 6 months from starting to meet people to when the final money arrived in the bank account.
What characteristics do you feel benefited you most when starting your business?
Confidence, if you believe you can do something, you will keep fighting for it. Confidence is the one thing I would tell my brother to give my little niece as the most valuable life skill. Determination and resilience also follow on from confidence. Being able to roll your sleeves up and get involved, no job is beneath you. Lastly, having courage and curiosity means I continually challenge myself and others, thus ensuring a culture of learning
To what do you attribute your company’s success/growth to?
Hard work, smart thinking and resilience. Confidence is also super important as you need to be able to put yourself out there in so many ways, most people haven’t done in their lives. I remember being at a networking event and the person I wanted to speak with was surrounded by people, I stood back to wait till later. Before I knew it, they had left the event and I missed my opportunity. That wouldn’t happen today, I make sure I am first in line, even walking people to the car if needed to get my 2 minutes.
What is your opinion on the importance of a professional network for an entrepreneur?
This should not be underestimated; it is the biggest part of my role. Through networking, I have been introduced into 1) key investors in the business, 2) key hires the business made and 3) so many people in different sectors with different knowledge skills who have given their time, insights and opinion on issues I have faced along the way. These people are always a phone call away whenever I have an issue. The IIBN network has been particularly helpful and last year at the IIBN conference I was able to meet a person who has gone on to invest in ufurnish.com.
Would you ever consider starting another company or involving yourself in new start-ups again?
Right now, I am all about getting ufurnish.com into the success I know it can be, but you know the saying “never say never”.
If you had one piece of advice for a new entrepreneur, what would it be?
Research, research, research – do your homework at the start. Meet people within the industry to get their view, listen to the critics (they aren’t always right but their viewpoint is most important as not everyone wants to tell you to your face your idea might not work). By not making assumptions but getting data and evidence to re-enforce your business idea, you can proceed with more confidence in your business idea and hopefully reduce the need to pivot in the future.