Online furniture retailer Brosa sells designer furniture directly to customers without the retail mark-up. This means consumers are getting up to 60 percent off on unique, high quality pieces that are not always readily available in stores. Since launching in 2014, the company has grown from a staff of five to 25 and now sell thousands of pieces a month.
Co-founder Ivan Lim, one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 Asia in the Retail & Ecommerce category, shares his best start-up learnings.
Be focused but still evolve. Brosa (which means smile in Icelandic) started off with a Scandinavian minimalist style, but the founders soon decided the narrow focus wasn’t necessary.
“We realised that Brosa didn’t have to be about a particular style,” says Ivan. “It’s like food – people don’t only eat one type, they are more adventurous than that. Australians have a great appetite for a variety of different styles. [At its core] Brosa is about the makers and being able to bring that to the customers.”
It’s never easy, but it’s never been easier to branch out. Once Brosa was well established, the team started spin-off online mattress brand Greywing, which they felt had enough personality to sit under its own umbrella. “We started Greywing because we needed mattresses for Brosa. We realised there was a great model around, being able to compress a premium mattress into a box and deliver it anywhere in Australia, so we brought in the right machinery to compress the mattresses [ourselves]. But we built up this sub-brand because we thought it was a unique proposition and we felt that it had a different audience or marketing angles.”
Keep control with vertical integration. Brosa is a vertically integrated business so they handle everything across the supply chain.
“If you want to get involved in anything supply chain related, you need to be a stickler for detail. Some people assume that when somebody says something, that’s how it’s going to be, but most of the time that’s not the case. You need to be able to go into details and understand it. It requires having a good depth and breadth of knowledge, but also it’s definitely not a one-man job. I’m very blessed by a great team who love what they do and bring passion and expertise.
“The problem with elongated supply chains is that not everyone is aligned on [the] same goal. If you have somebody who only looks after one element of the supply chain it’s like ‘all I care about is getting this part done and then I just pass it on to somebody else. I just need to get it in and out.’
“[Vertical integration means] not leaving it up to chance and the number one priority is the customer.”
Don’t take anything for granted. Although Brosa’s rise has been quick, Lim says it certainly hasn’t been easy.
“Things are always harder than you think they are, it’s true. I say it not to dampen enthusiasm or start up opportunity but it’s always good to remember that things that you think will take six months will probably end up taking nine months. Different things come up. Things sometimes are not as simple as they seem.”
Know your greatest asset. Lim now dedicates a lot of his time hiring and looking after his team.
“Never underestimate the power of great team. I’m learning it more and more every day as we’ve gone from a team of five to 25. Every business needs a great team. Every entrepreneur needs to learn how to manage better and invest better into their team.
“It’s really important that you want to create a culture where your team thrives. You only have one chance at building a culture. You should never take that for granted.”
Seek advice wisely. Ivan has sought advice and opportunities throughout his career – he was a founder’s apprentice with Ned Dwyer at Tweaky, went through the accelerator program AngelCube (since acquired by Slingshot Accelerator) and partnered with investors AirTree (to the tune of $2 million) as they not only provided funds, but solid advice.
“Never be afraid to seek advice. You need people who have been there and done that.
“Fortunately for us we’ve had some good mentors. You want mentors who are not going to be just cheerleaders saying ‘you’re doing a great job!’ You want mentors to say ‘this is not that great. You should be concerned.’ They should really push and develop you.
“That’s something a lot of start-ups should spend more time trying to have because that is invaluable. Developing as entrepreneurs and business owners is super important.”
Start young. Ivan started his first business (online tailoring company Vinspi) at age 25, encouraged by his business-minded family.
“I come from a family of entrepreneurs. When I was 15 we would have dinner conversations [where] everyone could talk about their business ideas. From a very early age we talked and thought about business a lot. That framed a lot of things for me.”