E.J. Lawless, who formerly worked as senior director of online marketing at indeed.com, has launched a vertical search engine called FurnitureNear.Me focused on helping consumers find furniture near their houses to save people time from going to store to store and searching on multiple Internet sites. The site is currently available for consumers to search in Austin, San Antonio and Houston.
The industry is large and highly fragmented and Lawless saw an opportunity to bring some order to the chaos with his startup. Lawless recently answered some questions, via email, about FurnitureNear.Me.
Q. Can you explain your product in the simplest language possible?
A. FurnitureNear.Me provides one site to search all the available products and store locations of top furniture retailers near you. Eventually it will include not just top retail chains but every furniture store.
Instead of driving store-to-store, shoppers can go to FurnitureNear.Me to see what stores have styles and prices they’d like, and then plan where to shop–saving time and frustration.
Q. What’s your secret sauce? What differentiates you from the competition?
A. FurnitureNear.Me focuses on having the most complete index of furniture items from retailers both big and small. It will also focus solely on furniture in order to have the best furniture search results.
Q. Who are your competitors?
A. There are a limited number of competitors. Google Product Shopping Engine has a small number of furniture retailers because furniture stores have to pay to be part of the index. There are a few other price comparison engines with limited selection as well.
Q. Are you Bootstrapped, or do you have Venture Capital or Angel Investment?
Q. Who makes up your team?
A. Currently, I’m the only founder, though I’ve been able to reach out to people I know for help on a variety of areas.
Q. Who are your customers?
A. People looking for furniture, whether that’s consumers looking to buy a new piece for their home or professionals like interior decorators searching for unique finds.
Q. What is your business model?
A. Right now the focus is on just building the product, but there are a few business model options for a vertical search engine like FurnitureNear.Me.
Q. What is the biggest win you’ve had to date?
A. I’ve taken a fairly lean approach to this idea working on validating key pieces in small steps. Each validated step, from whether it was possible to do the idea or if users would like it, has been a meaningful win.
Q. What are the most helpful Austin startup resources that you’ve used?
A. The network of people I’ve met over the past few years working at various startups in Austin.
Q. What are the advantages of being in Austin for launching your startup?
A. Austin is great for FurnitureNear.Me because of the local talent with experience in vertical search engines.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
A. Continue to focus on building and improving the product; specifically, including more furniture retailers in the search and improving the quality of results.
Q. Anything else you would like to add or say that I haven’t asked you about?
A. Furniture is a great market for disruption right now. It’s a large market at approximately $60 billion in sales in the U.S.; ecommerce is the fastest growing segment of the furniture businesses; and there have been new entrants recently, like One King’s Lane, that have gained significant traction.
The basic shopping process has been the same for decades, though. People get a catalog in the mail or see an ad and then drive to the store, and hope for the best. If they don’t see what they like, they drive to the next store, and so on.
FurnitureNear.Me is trying to make the buying process simpler and faster by providing one site to search across all of the furniture inventory in an area to let shoppers know what stores they like and where to go.