Problem, solved. That’s how Nidhi Kapur of Maiden Home came up with her business plan, anyway. The former Director of Business Development for Birchbox found herself frustrated with the shopping process when she and her husband were searching for furniture for their New York City apartment — she didn’t love what she found in her price point, and what she did love was prohibitively expensive. Her solution became Maiden Home: Nidhi sourced her furniture directly from manufacturers in North Carolina. She got the style and quality she wanted, without having to spend half her annual salary.
Read on to find out more about the genius of Maiden Home, and how she turned the idea from concept into company.
What is Maiden Home?
Maiden Home is a new concept in custom furniture. We offer high-quality, handcrafted sofas and chairs from the best American craftsmen directly to consumers online–for a fraction of the showroom price, and in six weeks or less.
Through Maiden Home, customers can choose their perfect sofa or chair, have it made to their specifications (fabric, fit and even size can be customized) and delivered directly from our craftsmen to their homes. By eliminating the showrooms and middlemen of traditional furniture retail, we’re able to deliver our pieces at prices and lead times previously unheard of in custom furniture.
What gave you the idea for Maiden Home?
Maiden Home was inspired by my own personal experience shopping for furniture–and all the frustration that came with! It began three years ago, when I was newly married and settling into my first home in NYC. My husband and I were ready to design our first “real” home, and fill it with pieces we’d love living with for years. Quality was more important to us than ever before, but we also wanted pieces that reflected our personal style.
We hit the market and were immediately disappointed by the quality of furniture offered by big box brands, particularly for the price. Designs were generic–it seemed like everyone had the same sofa–materials felt cheap and when I asked, even salespeople couldn’t tell me where or how the products were made. I vented to friends about spending my weekends in showrooms or trying to navigate dizzying assortments online.
I found myself searching for a furniture brand that ‘got’ me–one delivering high quality products with an honest message, modern convenience and great value. I couldn’t find it, so I decided to build it–and that’s how Maiden Home first came to be. From the very beginning, we were on a mission to build a better way in furniture, to rethink the way things had always been done, and set a new higher standard in furniture retail.
How did you realize there was a market for your business?
When initially developing the concept, I spoke with other consumers to learn about their furniture buying experiences. I found that by and large, people were disappointed, frustrated and inconvenienced! Poor quality, generic design, and maddening lead times were all pain points highlighted in these conversations. And most consumers couldn’t name furniture brands they truly loved and enjoyed shopping worth. So the void I identified was something that others felt as well, and the pain points I experienced were shared. These initial conversations helped validate my initial instincts about the market opportunity.
18 months later, I also decided to launch Maiden Home to a private beta before a public launch. We spent six months in our beta, shipping furniture to friends, family and other early supporters across the country. The immediate response from consumers learning about us during that time was amazing to see. We would so often hear, “I have been waiting for something like this!” or “Why hasn’t this existed before?”. Customers even flew into New York from across the country to shop our products, before they could access the site! Any doubts we had about the market opportunity were quickly shattered by the customer response in our beta.
How long did it take the business to go from idea to launch?
It took 18 months to build Maiden Home from initial idea to our private beta launch. The majority of this time was spent in developing our first collection, in partnership with our manufacturers in North Carolina. We created original designs for our sofas and chairs, and considered every detail, from frame construction and cushion fill to the subtlest of design details. Every piece went through 3 rounds of prototypes (sometimes more!) before we deemed it ready. Though it required endless patience, I knew this stage was critical to take our time with and get right. We know our pieces are important purchases for customers, the center of their families’ lives. I didn’t want to offer anything that was short of perfect. Though it was an arduous process, seeing our customers’ satisfaction when we finally launched was more than worth it.
You previously worked at Birchbox. How did that experience prepare you to lead Maiden Home?
At Birchbox, I was the Head of Business Development and in charge of securing the company’s most high-profile strategic partnerships with brands like JetBlue, the Gap, and more. Relationship building and deal-making is what I love best, and these skills were critical as I built our network of suppliers, partners and supporters in the early days.
Birchbox was also a brand committed to customer centricity and I have been trained in this way. Its mission was to reinvent beauty retail, around the needs of the modern consumer–to make it simpler and more convenient than ever before to buy beauty products perfectly suited for your needs. I’m working to bring a similar approach to furniture with Maiden Home, with personalization, a seamless buying experience and top-notch customer service.
Did you have to learn the furniture industry from scratch? If so, how did you do it?
Absolutely–while my experience at Birchbox and Google provided me the skills to develop the business model, my challenge was developing the furniture expertise needed to bring Maiden Home to life. To get up the learning curve as fast as possible, I knew I needed to surround myself with the industry’s foremost experts. That meant sourcing from custom workrooms in North Carolina, where I met craftsmen with decades of experience. They are truly masters in crafting high-quality, comfortable upholstery lasts a lifetime. They taught me so much about construction, engineering, even ergonomics as we developed our line.
I was also lucky to partner with excellent furniture designers in North Carolina, who otherwise work for the most respected designer-only brands. They helped me translate my vision for a clean, transitional aesthetic into beautiful silhouettes and a really well-rounded collection. Every detail was considered, from pitch and “sit” to bespoke finishes, and I can say with confidence that our pieces are absolutely perfect! Maiden Home is truly the sum of all of our efforts–without the enthusiastic support of our partners, the idea would have never come to life.
Did you have to raise capital for your business? If so, what was that experience like?
We raised our initial startup capital from a group of angel and strategic investors, including my former mentors at Birchbox and Google. In our initial supporters I wanted to pull together a group with diverse expertise, from brand, customer experience, PR, and marketing to technology so that we would be able to draw from these talents when building the brand. When I initially approached them, Maiden Home was just an idea, we hadn’t yet built the product or established proof of concept. I had to tell a compelling story about the market need and why I was the best person to solve that need. It was certainly a challenge, but at that stage my biggest asset was that I intimately understood the customer for this brand–because I was her! I was the best person to build the solution to her pain points. This was a powerful message for the investors who trusted me to build the brand and took that first leap of faith with us.
What has been your most powerful marketing tool for your business?
Our biggest source of sales continues to be word of mouth–happy customers sharing Maiden Home with their friends. Our furniture in customers’ homes, and their honest testimonials, will always be the most powerful advertisement for us. To that end, we’re laser focused on making every customer exceptionally happy with their experience. Our customer support, product quality and delivery experience has to be nothing short of perfect–a challenge to maintain as we grow, but a top priority for myself and the team.
What has been your biggest learning experience as an entrepreneur?
I’ve learned to be my own biggest fan! Before founding Maiden Home, I had never worked for myself, and relied on others to measure my success (performance reviews, accolades from my manager, etc). All that disappeared when I began working for myself, which was difficult! I had to learn to pat myself on the back, celebrate my own achievements and let go of perfectionist tendencies. Entrepreneurship is a thrilling but sometimes lonely path and over time I’ve learned to be my own biggest champion.
What skills or personality traits have you called on most in starting your business?
Maiden Home was built on a foundation of strong relationships–with our manufacturing partners, with our customers, with our earliest investors and supporters. So my ability to create and nurture personal relationships was a critical skill in launching Maiden Home, and will continue to be as we serve more customers and become part of their homes. Empathy and compassion are values I strive to bring to business relationships, and I want Maiden Home to be a brand trusted by every one of partners and customers. I’m always thinking about this and working to instill it in our team as we grow.
What advice do you have for other women who are tossing around a startup idea but are unsure of how to proceed?
Get in the market and start learning! Whether it be interviewing potential customers, sending feedback surveys to friends or even launching an initial proof of concept, getting to that starting point where you can start gathering feedback is so critical. Your idea will grow and evolve so much in the early days, or might change into something else entirely, but you’ll never know until you put it out there. Plus, getting initial validation from the market can also help you build the confidence to jump into entrepreneurship with both feet–especially when that means leaving your current job and making a major career change.