Caroline Olah was in an enviable position. After ten years of hard work she had risen the ranks as a senior interior architect – a job which had taken her from Australia to Dubai – and was now working for one of the largest architectural firms in New York. But instead of feeling as though she had arrived, Caroline felt increasingly restless.
“I worked my way up to my so called dream job in New York, flying between New York and Europe leading large scale projects in London and Geneva. Despite appearances, and loving the actual work, deep down I was frustrated,” admits Caroline. The turning point came when she confessed to a friend how she was feeling.
“She told me that it sounds like I need to start my own business, and I would never be happy unless I built my own company from scratch,” recalls Caroline. “It was from then my business brain ticked over.”
Relocating to Hong Kong through her husband’s job provided the perfect opportunity for Caroline to take the plunge and start her own business – especially when she discovered she was pregnant.
“This forced me to not take the next corporate job,” says Caroline. “I was so exhausted from the treadmill of New York that I wanted to just enjoy the creative process without being tied to deadlines.”
With the freedom to brainstorm, Caroline took inspiration from her previous frustrations at the limited choice of furniture while working on interior projects.
“I was tired of trawling through clunky furniture catalogues and websites. The pieces were either not in the right size or colour. Customising was always ridiculously time consuming and expensive. I just wanted a simple piece I could tailor to suit each projects style,” explains Caroline. “I then thought if I as a designer had this issue, then a general consumer would too.”
The idea for Reddie was subsequently born – Caroline would create a minimalist, customisable furniture collection that could be adapted to suit personal taste. But although concept was solid, the execution was fraught with challenges.
“It took me two years from concept to launch,” says Caroline, who said that the slow process was intentional. “I didn’t want to build an empire overnight, nor take funding and spend much money. So over the course of two years I researched and developed each component of my business, from web development, logistics, furniture production and furniture design.”
During that time Caroline called and visited over 100 factories, met with numerous web developers, and designed hundreds of pieces in pursuit of the right place to produce her product. This, says Caroline, proved to be her biggest hurdle. “I wanted to create custom solid wood pieces at attainable prices, but nearly all large commercial factories said no because they are volume driven, and if they said yes they wanted to charge more than I wanted to sell the products for,” explains Caroline. “I had to think laterally, and move away from big slick, machine heavy factories.”
The solution eventually presented itself in an unexpected location – Caroline’s place of heritage. “Central Java, Indonesia, is a furniture making hub, and is known for the best craftsmen who make all products by hand and use the best quality solid woods,” explains Caroline. “I flew to Indonesia from Hong Kong, and 16 hours later I was in this rural town, where I went from factory to factory only speaking Indonesian, until I met the team I work with now.”
Despite her broken Indonesian and the cultural barriers, Caroline and her team understood each other professionally from the get-go. “We spent that week developing designs and building pieces on the spot. Two years later we are designing together everyday and we have a strong relationship, and I love visiting the team each month.”
Reddie has resonated with customers to such an extent that Caroline’s husband recently left his position at Google to help take the company to the next level.
“This all may seem crazy to most, but our guts were stronger than our heads and pursuing Reddie has been the best decision we ever made as a family,” says Caroline, whose advice to anyone about to embark on this journey is simple. “There is no good time in life to start something new or scary,” she concludes. “So don’t overthink it, just do it.”