Spotlight on Feathr
If you follow me on Instagram this wall paper is instantly recognisable as the paper in my guest bedroom. When I was searching for paper to decorate with, I stumbled upon this picture and it literally stopped me in my tracks, so beautiful were the colours; it reminded me of a piece of art. Turns out it is a piece of art, since this wallpaper is based on a picture by Reeta Ek and this is the design ethos of the fantastic collections that are sold by Feathr, all of which are based on artist's work.
Tom and co-founders deliberately set up to revolutionise wallpaper having struggled to find something unique in the market place, when decorating their own home. Following the "lean start up" model they launched from their own home having given up their jobs to start Feathr.
"The a-ha moment for FEATHR came when Anne & I were out buying wallpaper for our own home. In shop after shop, we’d be shown the same designs, by the same limited range of ‘designer’ brands. One sales assistant even said to us – ‘don’t buy this, everyone has it now.’ This seemed a little odd to us – whether it’s fashion, furniture or food, the world is now full of (online) ways to buy from independent, artisan makers. So we went online expecting to find a brand like FEATHR and found…nothing. "
So if you want to find something truly original, then you should head straight over to www.feathr.com, where you will not only find wallpapers but cushions fabrics and chairs.
Finnish design collective FEATHR are on a mission to fill the world with more art and less decoration. FEATHR roam the world collaborating with contemporary artists to create original wallpaper and fabrics.
Founded in 2015 by husband and wife team, Anne & Tom Puukko, along with Creative Director, Oliver Green, FEATHR is found in Helsinki, London, Berlin and Bali. FEATHR has been named as Elle Decor's "new favorite wallpaper", been picked as Helsinki's Hottest Start-Up and awarded no.2 spot at the H&G Wallpaper of the Year Awards 2016.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
As ex-advertising people, we’ve done our fair share of ruining modern culture. So we jumped from advertising to fix this in some small way by focusing on the things we actually care about – art, big ideas, design, craft, having our socks knocked-off, originality and art (again).
The a-ha moment for FEATHR came when Anne & I were out buying wallpaper for our own home. In shop after shop, we’d be shown the same designs, by the same limited range of ‘designer’ brands. One sales assistant even said to us – ‘don’t buy this, everyone has it now.’ This seemed a little odd to us – whether it’s fashion, furniture or food, the world is now full of (online) ways to buy from independent, artisan makers. So we went online expecting to find a brand like FEATHR and found…nothing.
That’s when it all fell into place. We saw the opportunity to do something we loved – working with artists – in a way that hadn’t been done before.
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
We started with the classic 2nd bedroom set-up – the garage start-up for people who live in apartments. It was a bit of a squeeze – especially as our second kid had just been born. He not only demanded a bed, but refused to use wallpaper as a pillow.
3. How did you fund your business?
We self-funded – so it’s been a real take-a-breath and dive in. We gave up our jobs – simply because we believed in the idea and saw a chance to create a life we’d both deeply enjoy living. It was a risk, but it seemed small compared to the risk of not doing it. We’re the kind of people who don’t want to look back and regret a life not lived.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
Decisions – and the making of. We wanted to start FEATHR with a really wide roster of artists (we had over 100 designs ready for launch), but this brought with it an incredible volume of decisions to be made. Which artists to say yes to? Which artworks from that artist? Which colourways to develop? What photography to use? What copy to write? Gaining the confidence to make these decisions at speed was a big challenge for us.
5. What help was missing for you?
All of the FEATHR founders are outsiders to the interior design industry, so we would have loved to have some wise old (and not so old) ears to bend about the ins and outs of the industry. And childcare. Anne and me have lived in three different countries since starting FEATHR and would have loved some kind of magical teleporting grandparents.
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
Our big mistake in the first year was dedicating too much time to tasks and projects that didn’t have enough relevance to growing the business. Polishing the paintwork before getting the engine running properly, if you like. We’ve been very conscious building a brand and experience worthy of representing the artists that we work with – but in year one, I think we could left some rougher edges and spent more time in growing our audience. We’ve created the company around the lean start-up idea (see later question), but we could have been more ruthless in applying this for sure.
7. What have you learnt?
Oh wow – so much. It would probably be quicker to list what we knew before than what we’ve learnt. But the most important thing is – dance like nobody’s watching. It’s so easy to let doubt or fear stop you doing something. So don’t prevaricate, dwell on it, or umm and ahh: just go for it.
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
Assume nothing. Try everything. Move fast. Don’t fear failure. It’s all things taken from the lean start-up model, which has a big influence on how we’ve worked. It means making no assumptions based on your own experience (or even research), but trying everything out on a small scale, learning (through failure or success) fast, then building incrementally on those learnings.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
It was the opportunity to work with artists that most excited us about starting FEATHR. And it’s what we still enjoy the most: there’s no greater pleasure than discovering a new artist, then working with them to take their work to a new place and audience.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
If 1 is easy and 10 hard, then the answer is...
1 – because doing something love is the easiest thing there is. Oh, apart from those times when it feels like nothing is quite working right and you have no one to turn to and you wonder why you gave up that cozy monthly salary. At those times, it’s an 11.
Tom brings out the one thing that small business owners really need to have; drive, passion, a belief in what you do. The willingness to take a risk.
Decision making is critical in the early days and some of the things I see quite a lot is "when am I ready to launch?" a lot of entrepreneurs spend days trying to get the perfect business, the "just right" and sometimes it's about launching and seeing where the market is going to take you. Getting a minimal viable product (MNP) and getting it out to customers for feedback from early adopters, means you don't waste time perfecting something that nobody wants.
"It means making no assumptions based on your own experience (or even research), but trying everything out on a small scale, learning (through failure or success) fast, then building incrementally on those learnings."
Tom mentions the Lean Start Up model which is a big movement in business at the moment
Lean startup is a method for developing businesses and products, which aims to shorten product development cycles by adopting a combination of idea driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning, based off the information you get back from the market. The central hypothesis of the lean startup method is that if start up companies invest their time into iteratively building products or services to meet the needs of early customers, they can reduce the market risks and sidestep the need for large amounts of initial project funding and expensive product launches and failures. In other words, make a few products (MVPs), sell them early, see who buys and who does not, test out pricing, and ditch failing products fast, replacing them with others. Invest in the ones that are doing well.
Thanks To Tom, Anne and Oliver for letting me share their story
The Girl with The Green Sofa