The Houzz/Ivy Saga continues and + why I hate the word "empower"

Last time, we were talking about Houzz acquiring IvyMark. Today the story continues with this ridiculous soap opera of needless drama, seemingly sketchy companies and watching them backtrack like Michael Jackson doing the Moonwalk. Sadly, I think Michael's cadaver has better moves at this point.

In case you missed it, spin is in full effect... 

There's been a letter published by the Ivy chicks along with a note from Alon "Designers Are Not Business People" Cohen here

Let's dig in, shall we? 

I was quoted in an article this week saying that designers are not business people. I want to first apologize to all designers out there, and also share some context to what was said. The point I was trying to make, obviously not with the best choice of words, was that we want to help designers spend more time being creative and doing what they love, and less time on administrative tasks. -A. Cohen

So there's his apology. Take it or leave it. I tend to believe that usually, the first thing out of someone's mouth is what they actually believe until they have realized that they have inserted their entire fucking foot into their mouth and try to smooth things over. More foot insertion to happen later...

Are they for you or against you?

Now here's where we are back to that issue that's been bugging me. Let's go back to what Joeseph Haecker said last week:

"Houzz was never meant to be a platform for interior designers to find clients" and he said it again today.

Now, Alon Cohen from Houzz is saying: 

Since my wife Adi and I started Houzz in 2009, our focus has been on connecting home professionals with potential clients and to make the process of working with current clients more productive.

Which the fuck is it? Tell me. Seriously. 

If we are to believe Houzz they sure haven't acted in our best interest and if we are to believe Haecker at this point then why are we even having this discussion? 

Empower this...

Houzz and Ivy really want to empower you. EMPOWER! Aren't you getting all of the feels from that word? Are you ready to burn your bra or tighty-whities in the name of design empowerment?

"The Houzz team shares our vision of empowering the design trade, and we're excited about what we will be able to do together for our members." source

"Ivy empowers the nodes in this marketplace by automating mission-critical tasks of this billion-dollar supply chain." source

"Since starting Houzz, I’ve spent every day admiring the amazing designs and creations of this industry, and wanted nothing more than to empower the trade and help it be rewarded for its talent." source

"We want to empower the trade and to use technology to make things better for this industry." source

"We share a common vision with IvyMark of empowering the design trade and are excited to bring the power of IvyMark’s software and community to more professionals on Houzz." source

It seems like it was just last week when they wanted to disrupt the industry and now they want to empower it. 

They are not gods and their use of the word "empower" makes me want to vomit.


  • give (someone) the authority or power to do something.

  • make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.

You need to hear me right now: Nobody gives you power.

Like you really needed Houzz and Ivy to empower you. The Houzz/Ivy gang can take their "Disrupt" and "Empower" words that they found on the fucking Goop site and shove it up their digital ass.

You know what all of this tells us? These companies are not on your side. They do not give a single shit about designers no matter what they say.

They do not know what a designer's business is about.

NOW they want to answer your questions...

I'm not exactly sure when this letter from Ivy came out on their website, but they have now decided after the shit storm has calmed slightly to answer your questions. I'm sure they have been snooping in various Facebook groups to figure out how to come up with their PC responses. Responses they should have had prepared when the announcement was made.   

Q: Will Houzz use my confidential client data/information on Ivy to sell products to my clients or remarket to them?

A: Houzz will not use the designer’s client information in Ivy proposals/invoices/POs to market similar products to their clients. Houzz’s goal with this partnership is to help you grow your business and become more profitable by streamlining your operations.

Oh, really? I wonder then why does Ivy's Terms of Service currently say this: 

4. Intellectual Property Rights

a.  Content. You may submit or transmit content (including data, text, information, screen names, graphics, photos, profiles, audio and other media, links) through the Platform (“Your Content”), for example, as part of registration, the listing process (which may include items, item descriptions, messaging text, newsletters, photographs, audio, video and descriptions), the messaging service, any public message area (including forums or feedbacks) or any email feature. The Platform allows messaging and sharing of information in many ways. Your Content that you share or post may be seen by other users. You are solely responsible for Your Content.

b.  Rights Granted by You. As between you and us, you own Your Content, and you grant to us and our affiliates, without compensation or further consent or notice to you or others, a non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, fully paid-up, worldwide, sublicensable license: (a) to use, reproduce, process, adapt, publicly perform, publicly display, modify, prepare derivative works, publish, transmit and distribute Your Content, or any portion thereof; (b) to use your trademark and logo; and (c) if you identify yourself by name or provide a picture or audio or video recording of yourself, to reproduce, print, publish and disseminate your name, voice and likeness; in each case, in any format, media or distribution method (whether now known or hereafter created), including in promotional campaigns, marketing materials and to identify you as a customer. Further, to the extent permitted under applicable law, you waive and release and covenant not to assert any moral rights that you may have in Your Content. By submitting suggestions or other feedback to Ivy, you agree that Ivy and its affiliates can (but are not required to) use and share such feedback for any purpose without compensation to you.

So you own your content, but you don't? 

Previously, their Terms of Service, as of December 12, 2018, read as:

Service Content, Software and Trademarks: You acknowledge and agree that the Service may contain content or features (“Service Content”) that are protected by copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret or other proprietary rights and laws. Except as expressly authorized by Ivy, you agree not to modify, copy, frame, scrape, rent, lease, loan, sell, distribute or create derivative works based on the Service or the Service Content, in whole or in part, except that the foregoing does not apply to your own Content that you legally upload to the Service.

You can read the previous TOS here.

Houzz is saying that they will not use your client information in your Ivy platform to market similar products to your clients. And is there an expiration date on that? Like, oh Sally didn't buy that lamp yet and it's been 2 months. Now they'll market to her? 

Show me all of that beautiful bean footage in writing.

Q: Why did Ivy think Houzz was the best partnership for them?

A:  Houzz is the best technological partner in the industry. Houzz also provides the financial and recruiting capabilities for Ivy to more quickly grow its team and functionalities.

What? I thought this was empowering us? Now it's about helping Ivy to grow its team? Gosh darn it. Fooled again.

And yes, I get that these tech companies need money like a meth head needs more meth to survive. However, when these companies seemingly choose the dollar over the designer community's concerns? I guffaw.

Q: Why did Houzz want to acquire Ivy?

A: Houzz knows it needs to do more to support designers. Providing a tool like Ivy and making it even more powerful for designers is important to Houzz because it wants designers to truly see Houzz as a source of support and growth, which has always been part of their mission. There is work still to do for Houzz on that front.

Maybe you should have thought about fixing things on your own platform with the designers you so want to empower before you bought another company. 

Q: What if I’d like a refund on my Ivy Membership?

A: Any existing Ivy Member’s refund policy remains the same.

They probably didn't want to say it but, "All amounts paid are not refundable unless otherwise expressly provided by Ivy."

Which is similar to Ivy's TOS from 12/12/2016: You can remove your profile at any time by deleting your Account. You will not be entitled to a refund of any payment as a consequence of the termination of your membership.

Let's move on to today's sanitized Design Talk Live "interview" With Ivy + Houzz Representatives

Joseph was broadcasting and prepared us viewers by letting us know that the panelist got the questions ahead of time and didn't request any changes be made to his questions. He thought that was pretty 'stand up' of the folks from Houzz and Ivy.

I thought, "well here we go with the responses that have been rehearsed like a shitty presidential debate."

Alexandra Schinasi from Ivy was on first. I did my best to write down the important stuff and summarize it for you - no, these are not verbatim, I'm not a transcriptionist wizard over here. You want to hear exact words, watch the replay.

The gist of what she said was they partnered with Houzz to grow their platform and add more features. She said that a lot of their community was already using Houzz. She also said that their community's response to the acquisition was overwhelmingly positive. 

She answered the questions and concerns about data and client information being sold/shared to which she replied Houzz addressed this (in a post on their website, remember?). She also said that they take users data very seriously and Houzz will not use the Ivy users data to market. 

Basically - kumbaya responses of how this acquisition is full of unicorns and jelly beans.

Someone else popped on to the panel, for I don't know what and then the Houzz chick popped on, Liza Hausman.

She said that Houzz is a platform for both homeowners and design professionals. And it has been that way from Day One. (Wha-wha-what? I'm so confused.)

She also reiterated the fact that Houzz will not contact your clients or source out cheaper solutions to your clients - and yes they will guarantee they will not try to compete with you or go around you in that way.  ("In that way?!" Mmmmkay. Put whatever you're not going to do and what you are going to do in writing.)

She went on to talk about other stuff like how Houzz educates homeowners on the importance of designers (just like ASID was supposed to do?) and they want to gain the trust of the design community. If you want to hear the rest, go watch the video.  

Let's be honest though. The real tea was being served in the comments of that video and in the Reaction video. 

Design Talk Live's Audience Reaction Video

Here's one video. Here's another video. Facebook was being a dick with technology today. Or the Illuminati was trying to shut shit down. Kidding.

This is when the truth showed up. Lots of us piped in hoping that Houzz and Ivy are seriously listening. Lip service is one thing, but we want the companies to listen to the concerns, directly address those concerns, and put it in writing. Until this happens many of us we still not trust this.

Then, the Ivy chicks came into the live stream comment feed and invited concerned designers to speak to them one-on-one. Why didn't/don't they have a live forum with their paying members? From what I've heard they have been scrubbing critical comments from their Facebook group.

If they want to truly calm fears then they will host an open forum for all of their paying clients who have real concerns about data, their changing terms of service that members were not notified about and how can they be absolutely sure that their data will be protected. 

How do we move forward?

I'll tell ya one thing. I turned off the last FB Live video when Joseph said something to the effect of 'be solutions oriented, don't be bitchy. Be a part of the solution, not the problem.'

What the fuck? Were we just sitting on that live stream bitching? No, the community wants shit fixed and we offered ideas on how some of this can be fixed. It doesn't need to be done behind closed doors individually with designers. It needs to be in public and in writing.

Arghhhh, that shit makes me so mad. Because you know us designers... just a bunch of bitches who aren't good at business who get pissy with companies that could fuck with our livelihoods.

How to move forward 

Be vigilant, wary and vocal

There will be more apps/technology/shady-ass people coming down the pike. You need to do your due diligence.

Hold their feet to the fire when you have your concerns. Don't let them give you the safe/PC responses. 

Julia Malloy had a great point in that the community should figure out what they would like to see in terms of a list of demands. Will that happen? Doubt it because trying to pull this community together is tougher than trying to zip up Kim Kardashian's dress. But I'd encourage you that if you have concerns, put them in writing to the companies and the societies. 

Like I've said before, this design community is fractured and I think the societies/ institutions have had a big hand in doing that. 

It will be up to you to decide if you want to continue with Houzz and/or Ivy. You've got the power in all of this. And like I said, they didn't give it to you.

Choose Wisely

Spend money with companies that you trust. Take the time to do the research and determine what software you really need to support your business. 

If you're just starting out bootstrap it by getting yourself a drawing program, Google spreadsheets, Canva and Trello.

If you're ready to grow, you'll need to figure out where you're losing time and what can help you be more profitable. That should always be your focus. You need an ROI for everything that you invest your TIME and MONEY into. 

Don't buy an annual subscription to any software subscription service until you've had time to really see how it works for your business. You may not get a refund. 

Invest in your Business

I'm not talking just money here. Your time is valuable and not to be wasted.

  • Become the #1 salesperson for your own business, no one can do this for you.

  • KNOW who your client is and focus on being their ally.

  • Stick to your message and why you started this business.

Passion got you here, a strategy will keep you going and faith will help you weather the storms.

You get the opportunity to choose every day. Whether it is who you work with, who you do business with and who you show up as in the world. Choose wisely.

I'll close with Alex Schinasi's parent's advice to her that she shared in a 2014 interview when they were working on ArtSetters. I think it brings everything full circle.

To Choose is to Renounce

Alycia Wicker

Alycia Wicker is an interior design business coach specializing in helping soulful interior designers attract clients with clever marketing strategies. Celebrity gossip whore.