How a failed 'Shark Tank' deal and Tinder's Sean Rad helped launch this interior design startup

LOS ANGELES—Millennials shop differently. For cab rides. For hotel rooms. For furniture. And like Uber and Airbnb before it, Homee aims to disrupt the latter retail space with an app that helps users furnish their homes.

The West Hollywood startup has raised a $5 million Series A led by Peter Thiel's Founders Fund and launched out of beta this week with a furniture and home design iOS app that leverages conversational commerce and artificial intelligence.

Here's how it works: Users log on and take a survey with a chat bot about what they're looking for, sharing pictures of their space as well as inspiration photos. Then a designer comes on — a real, live human being — to design the room and select furniture that fits the client's style and budget. Users can revise the personalized design board as much as they want, with a chat bot coming back online to receive feedback because sometimes it can be awkward to tell someone you don't like what they've created. Users always know whether they're talking to a bot or a person.

Once they've settled on a design, users can buy the whole room or one piece of furniture with one click through the app. The items ship for free and covered by a price-match guarantee. The design service itself is free — Homee makes money by buying furniture from wholesalers and reselling it at markup prices as any retailer would.

Homee offers a homey environment created by a homey — "your stylish friend who's always there to help you," co-founder and CEO Beatrice Fischel-Bock explained to me.

The company didn't always have such a homey name — the business used to go by Zoom Interiors, and offered online interior design services for an upfront price. Fischel-Bock and her co-founders Madeline Fraser and Lizzie Grover started the firm in college at George Washington University, where they were studying interior architecture and design.


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