Her first job in California was as the personal assistant to celebrity burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese.
She was never guarded about her lack of tech experience—sometimes she presented it as a kind of strength: As an outsider, maybe she could see things more clearly than someone immersed in industry bias and jargon. Her primary professional experience in the field was working for British-born, L. Fine showed ambition and drive, earning a promotion to the role of design assistant. She had a glancing brush with celebrity, appearing in an episode of the Bravo reality show Million Dollar Decorators , where she helped Bullard attempt to track down a missing fireplace.
According to Bullard, Fine never advanced further, and left the firm as an assistant after three years. Then do what we all do best and get on the Internet! For a small amount of work on your part, you can receive complete room designs. The concept of conducting interior design online was not new.
Designers have long used digital tools, and by , emailing with vendors or sharing a Pinterest board with a client was commonplace. But what if you could move the process completely online, creating a single platform for design, sourcing, purchasing, accounting—everything?
A company that could perfect the experience could scale rapidly. Instead of taking on a handful of local clients, it could offer services nationally, even globally. Armed with this concept, Fine began looking for people who could help develop it.
Through her network, she connected with Brandon Kleinman , a young L. Together, they agreed to take on co-founding roles and hired a small team.
In , they launched a prototype. In its earliest incarnations, the platform was simple. Visitors to the site would take a style quiz, which purported to calculate their design sensibility and match them with a suggested designer. It was a lightly deceptive but brilliantly inexpensive strategy for testing the market. It worked like this: Clients submitted pictures of the rooms they wanted designed, along with descriptions of their personal style and practical needs.
The chosen designer worked remotely with the client to finalize a shopping list and furniture plan tailored to their space—all without a single in-person visit. It was a stripped-down version of the classic design experience, for a stripped-down price. In exchange, designers were paid a cut of the fee. Fine considered Huntley Row as an alternative a reference to a street in L. Fine and Kleinman had the beginnings of a great idea—it would take money to turn it into a great business. Interior design is an archaic industry.
With its opaque pricing and old-school inefficiencies, the business has long seemed ripe for tech-driven disruption. If a startup was able to swoop in, cut out the middlemen and bring design to the masses, it could make a tidy profit.
Products Unraveled: How to Start and Manage Your Own Product Based Small Business is the second book in the Business Unraveled series. Following the. Products Unraveled: How to Start and Manage Your Own Product Based Small Business is the second book in the Business Unraveled series. Products.
If an innovator could scale interior design, it could charge significant markups on product and push retailers out of the game. The two made an excellent team. Kleinman brought digital product know-how and connections to L. Fine was passionate about design and made a strong ambassador for the brand.
A savvy media operator who interviewed well, she even dressed the part—seemingly always in heels and a cocktail dress, her hair and red lipstick photoshoot-ready, Fine was quick with jokes and talking points. Behind the scenes, she was a charismatic salesperson, capable of closing a multimillion-dollar deal with a Silicon Valley veteran on a minute phone call.
However, her enthusiasm in hyping the company sometimes boiled over into potentially risky territory. But while Bullard maintains that Fine started as an intern and left as an assistant, the discrepancy went unchallenged—at least for a while.
Proven by Science. Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Selective and strategic licensing agreements with luxury brands bring in fashion designers such as Ermenegildo Zegna, world-renowned for its contemporary sophistication, Italian elegance and quality. Part of it is location and part is price. Establish the IT infrastructure.
Fine and Kleinman rented out a cramped office in West Hollywood and put their small team to work building out a more sophisticated version of their prototype. Kleinman and Fine butted heads, often at high volume.
At first, the direction of the product was unclear. Should the company focus on developing an iPhone app? Or what about focusing on a referral component? Fine came across as upbeat in interviews, but behind closed doors, many employees came to fear her. She would excessively and publicly berate those who disagreed with her ideas, reducing some to tears.
Kleinman and Fine were now overseeing a staff of more than But though the company had hype and was bringing in clients, early employees characterize the business as something of a mess. A crucial aspect of monetizing the site was to bring shopping in-house. If the company could control the buying process, it could start earning a margin on product—the key to turning a real profit. A cobbled-together buying process also created its own problems, chief among them an accounting nightmare, with endless receipts, shipping costs and sales tax figures to track.
It was time to level up and find a new home. Fine picked out a stand-alone building off of Melrose Place in West Hollywood, around the corner from L. And as it turned out, though the office boasted a glamorous address, it was something of a lemon. The front door had issues, so the building was often left unlocked.
Parking was tight.
More worryingly, sewage kept seeping up into the ground floor. For some, it was their first significant professional experience, a chance to build a portfolio and get their feet wet. For others, it was a handy side hustle, a way to bring in extra income during slow periods. Interior designer Julian Porcino recalls his early experience with the company as an exciting and lucrative period.
I would work with people all across the country with all different styles. I found it exciting and it helped me grow. For digitally nimble and decisive designers like Porcino, making a bid could take as little as 45 minutes. It would take many three to five hours to make a bid—some as long as After investing so much time in their bids, if designers failed to win a project early on, they often quit the platform in frustration.
So the company attempted to simplify the bidding process. These were easier, but still often took hours to complete, and more designers quit. The new system also had the unintended consequence of driving away designers like Porcino, who suddenly had much more competition for each project.
What seemed simple in the beginning—connecting eager clients to talented designers—was proving to be a constant struggle. Her participation, former employees say, was often stress-inducing. As a boss, she blew hot and cold; when she liked an idea, she loved it. Fine would make demands, former employees say, that felt unmoored from practicality, and she changed her mind quickly.
One described a week in which the pricing for design packages changed almost daily. To the surprise of many, this was not to be a low-key affair. During the second-to-last rehearsal for the show, an argument erupted between Fine and the choreographer, who felt Fine was interfering with the routine. The conversation came to a boil, and the practice ended on a sour note. The next time the group gathered to rehearse, the choreographer was nowhere to be found.
As it turned out, Fine had fired the choreographer. She led the rehearsal herself.