Furniture start-up Swoon Editions just raised $4m - can it beat Made.com?

We chat to CEO Brian Harrison

Furniture bigwig Made.com should watch out for Swoon Editions, the London-based online furniture marketplace that just raised £4m Series A funding from Octopus and Index Ventures.

Founded in 2012 by Brian Harrison and Debbie Williamson, the Southwark-based business offers its website subscribers the chance to buy hand-made furniture at a cheaper price than the mainstream market. With the middleman eliminated, Swoon Editions offers furniture at competitive prices.

We ask Harrison about Swoon Editions’ plans to grow the business:

Q. How did you come up with the idea of launching Swoon Editions?

Brian: Whilst I was CEO of The Number [better known as 118, 118], we launched a daily deals business called KGB Deals that quickly scaled to tens of millions of revenue in 12 months. One of the daily offers we had back in 2011 was mattresses. We saw that Groupon was also offering the same products and calculated that between our two sites, we did £1.5m worth of business in a day on these products alone, which opened my eyes to the category.

I was also moving house at the time and it was the combination of this business experience and my own personal realisation of the high cost of the furniture that I wanted that grabbed my attention.

Debbie [Harrison’s business partner] has always been obsessed by interiors. We worked together at Telegraph Media Group where I was Group Digital Director and she was Head of the Digital Product Development team, focusing on e-commerce and subscription revenue. 

The Eureka moment for Swoon came when she was on holiday in India. She met the furniture manufacturers behind one of the upmarket UK high street interiors brands, and realised the extent of the mark-up. We decided to combine our respective expertise to launch a business with a specific focus on getting the product mix right. We knew from our backgrounds, that if we could pick stuff that people want to buy, we could really strip a lot of the cost out of the supply chain and pass the savings on to our customers. Buying online is already an efficient model in comparison with the high street, but we knew we could hone the business model further if we got the product mix right.

Q. Where did you get funding from?

Our £1.2m angel round of funding came from the same investors who have just followed on with a £4m investment; Octopus Investments and Index Ventures. We knew that life would be easier if we could attract funding from respected VCs, so that’s what we set out to do, using our experience in digital media to get in front of the right people. Thankfully it worked!

Q. What do you plan to do with the new investment?

The investment will be used to grow the community of Swoon ‘insiders’ - interior-savvy people signed up to our email list - as well as increasing the number of designs we can launch each week. In the past 12 months the team has grown from three to 36 and an additional 20 roles will be created across a range of disciplines, primarily in the London head office, and also in Vietnam, India and China where we do most of our product sourcing. 

Q. What’s your stake in the business?

Debbie and I are founding shareholders. We also have two institutions (Octopus and Index) as well as three respected angel investors. As part of raising money we carved out a significant shareholding for every full time employee too.

Q. Can you list 3 big milestones/achievements for Swoon Editions so far?

Selling our first product – a leather pouffe from Morocco

Selling our first complete container - A grey French armchair

Closing this round of funding - it gives us great scope for the business and the team involved in growing it

Q. What are your future plans?

We are focused on hitting our growth targets for now, and winning a share of the furniture market which we’ll achieve by investing in every part of the operation. This means launching more products that people want to buy every day, attracting a great team who are on board because they are passionate about the products and share our vision, and creating a wider reach for the business through all of the relevant channels - advertising, editorial coverage and, of course, online marketing. 

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