The question is why did Laurel & Wolf close their virtual doors in March 2019? While just a few weeks ago, the website was live and now it has gone dark once more. Their Home Depot website is still live as of today... not sure what the details on that are.
This was a company taking eDesign to the masses and had lots of Silicon Valley money back it. Everything seemed to be humming along until online reviews from customers and past designers who worked with them started to turn from positive to negative. At that point, the ship was already on its way down and here we are wondering what the real story is on why Laurel & Wolf closed.
If the reviews from former designers are to be believed then the people at the top were doing a shitty job at running the company. If the reviews from customers are to be believed then they lost their money through online furniture orders placed. Whatever the story is when a company that had so much backing closes it doors you know that something was majorly fucked up.
Back in 2015, I spoke with a dude there (who left at some point), not the CEO chick, about Laurel & Wolf. He wanted to talk to me about getting my community of designers on board with their platform. I didn't feel that it was the right fit for my community. The idea that designers would be doing a lot of work hoping to get a chance at a job just rubbed me the wrong way and then to get peanuts for the work? Nahhhh.
Four years later, some in the industry are still debating whether eDesign will last the test of time. What I said in this 2015 post still holds true. eDesign is not going anywhere and yes it can be profitable... if you run your business right.
Business Full of Fairy Farts
I think that if there is smoke there's fire and when you read any of the Glassdoor reviews on Laurel & Wolf you start to see something unsettling going on. It looks like the leadership is (as of Oct 2018) living on another planet called Countdown to Laurel & Wolf Closing.
October 2018 just 6 months before their doors closed and the CEO is responding to negative employee reviews like everything is just fine, a few growing pains, but still talking like everything is hunky fucking dory.
"Laurel & Wolf is 14x larger in revenue today than when it launched."
"I haven't had the luxury of making popular decisions but they were the right ones for the business."
"It's not fun to make the hard decisions but the company would not exist today if I hadn't stepped up and made certain changes."
Obviously, revenue was an issue. The decisions made for the business couldn't have been right since the company does not exist as far as anyone can tell. So did the CEO see the writing on the wall and chose to live in la-la land while her company was going under? I'm sure we won't ever hear the truth about what really happened since there isn't any design firm paparazzi to get us the real tea.*
*Scratch that - Update: After I wrote this post but before it was published, this excellent article with allll the tea was posted by the Business of Home. Grab some popcorn and read that. And continue to read this post I wrote with my thoughts before that juicy article came out.
Why Businesses Fail
20% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% of small business fail in their second year, and 50% of small businesses fail after five years in business. Finally, 70% of small business owners fail in their 10th year in business.
Laurel & Wolf made it about 5 years and we don't know how profitable it really was but it has to tell you something that when a company raises 25+ million in funding and still fails.
When we go back to an article Fortune.com, the interview with the CEO in April of 2016 tells us a story of the first-time entrepreneur (although I believe she had another eDesign business before L&W) learning as she goes.
While any interior design firm would love to have all the press and so many resources at their disposal... it obviously doesn't equal success. A bad business plan and inadequate management seem to be why Laurel & Wolf closed.
Laurel & Wolf Closed Because They Couldn't Master The Basics Of Business
How Not To Fail Running an eDesign Business
No matter if you've got millions of dollars and resources behind you or you're bootstrapping your business every step of the way, here's how to avoid having your eDesign business go down the entrepreneurial toilet and close like Laurel & Wolf.
Does anyone want what you're selling?
I think Laurel & Wolf proved that people like eDesign. People enjoy the process and while it isn't for every client, there is a good portion of prospects out there that are interested in it.
Running a profitable eDesign business means you need to run the numbers. How much does it cost you to provide the service and then charge accordingly? Stop looking at what other people are charging as a benchmark for your fees. They don't have your overhead and your skills are different.
With many of the same deliverables out there for eDesign packages, you need to think of how to stand out... whether it is the style in which you design or the niche you serve. How you can be different and show that to your prospects makes the difference?
Be the boss
From the Glassdoor reviews, it appears that the CEO liked to micromanage everything which pisses off employees to no end instead of being the leader. Leaders don't micromanage and they see the big picture vision for the future.
What is the vision for your company? Paint your plan in broad strokes and then STICK TO THE PLAN. If you don't see results of your efforts within a week it doesn't mean that it is now time to throw in the towel.
Have the patience to work your plan and tweak as needed. Ditching everything and choosing to do something else for no other reason other than you didn't make a bazillion dollars in a couple of weeks isn't a strategy.
Treat People Right
We've got some former L&W designers in the Society that have shared their stories about working on that platform and some of the other eDesign platforms. L & W isn't alone in apparently acting like a bag of dicks to the designers that make their platforms possible.
Whoever you're working with (employee, contractor or another small business), pay them on time, don't dick them around on their fees and treat them with respect. Your web designer, your copywriter, your social media manager, your whoever is usually a fellow small business owner. If you don't like it when your client's shop you online, don't pull that same shitty move on your fellow small business owners.
Can You Scale It?
Doing one-of-a-kind eDesign projects for the masses isn't scalable without hiring help like any other traditional design firm. However, if you put your thinking cap on there are other ways to grow your revenue without hiring a large crew.
And depending on who your ideal interior design client is, you may be in the perfect position to offer digital design solutions that rock their world... like subscriptions and digital courses. Just don't assume that because you see one eDesigner offering something that it is profitable or even something that you should offer.
Just because Betty is offering group coaching for housewives doesn't mean that you should, too. Maybe you're not the best teacher and you'd be wise to try offering something else. Know your strengths and your client to create offerings that will be amazing for both you and your clients.
Marketing your business is crucial - like you have no business is you do not market it. Before you groan, marketing doesn't have to be a huge pain in the ass, especially when you know who your ideal client is. Then it becomes having a conversation not a slimy sales pitch. If you want to learn more about how that can happen, check out my new course Astro Brand Alchemy.
Are You Sure You Want To Do This?
Within the past two years, there's been a large shift in the number of designers who either poo-pooed eDesign in the first place or those who were still living off referrals now wanting to dip their toe into eDesign as a last ditch effort to stay in business.
Here's my advice, which may sound harsh, so brace yourself.
If you're saying that you want to get into eDesign but you don't know how to do a video call, how to update your website, how to market online or use design software you have two choices. Learn or forget it.
Look, I'm not saying you have to be super techy like L&W, because obviously they had all the tech shit going for them and Laurel & Wolf still closed.
I am saying that the techy side is equivalent to trying to launch a rocket if you've only driven a bike. It's not impossible UNLESS you're unwilling to take the time to learn how to do the things you have to do to find success.
Business is still business. Relationships matter but how you develop those relationships and then deliver the design is a different kind of game that you must be willing to embrace. And having a couple of bottles of wine by your side doesn't hurt.
Don't Buy eDesign Power Players Lies
When I had that convo back in 2015 with that L&W dude, he was under the impression that they thought that their compensation was fair to designers. He was also under the impression designers would fall over themselves for the opportunity to have L&W promote their individual businesses.
They will not promote your business. They have no interest in promoting your work unless they are promoting themselves using your hard work. They are not a PR firm and you matter very little to them.
Know your true value. Most of the platforms are still paying peanuts and if you don't know what you can get out in the market on your own, figure it out. 9 times out of 10 they will not pay you a fair wage for your design work. And if you do get paid, it may not be on time.
They benefit from your resources. Did you ever think about how much it really takes to deliver eDesign services to these platforms? You're working from home, paying for rent, utilities, an internet connection, software, and whatever else. When you take into account all of that money that comes into the equation before you even waste your time to bid on a project or wait for one of their minions to approve it... how much did you really make?
If you want to get some experience under your belt doing eDesign work, great! Try out one of the platforms but READ the details , the reviews and all the legal mumbo jumbo. And put yourself on a time limit marking it on your calendar exactly how long you’re going to be doing this.
If your goal is to run your own eDesign business, start today. Build the website, learn all the things and put in the hard work. And if you need my help, just holler.
Grow Your eDesign Business
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