Serial entrepreneur Kevin Ryan has founded a number of businesses, including Gilt Groupe, Business Insider, database firm MongoDB, and wedding registry startup Zola. That experience has given him more insight than the average CEO as to what goes into designing and setting up a new office space. And today, that insider knowledge is being translated into Ryan’s latest company: a visual search and discovery platform for workplace design he’s calling Kontor.
“For better or worse, I’ve designed more office space than people you know,” explains Ryan. “It wasn’t my goal…but I do like it, and I care about creating a nice space, so I’m probably a little more involved than your average CEO,” he says.
But during the process of designing workspaces for his many companies, Ryan says he saw first-hand the challenges that architectural firms and their clients face. For instance, pulling different examples of furniture and other installed items can take a firm hours to collect and curate.
“Sometimes it takes them six hours just to find lighting examples just to show to their clients, because they need show them 15 different examples…that should not be a six-hour process,” Ryan says.
The problem stems from the fact that most firms don’t have systems – even internal-facing systems – that allow them to organize and search across their portfolio of completed work or inspirational images, including project photos or vendor catalogs, all under one roof. That means when they return to their customer with product examples, they end up pointing those clients to the individual vendor websites, which is also time-consuming for the clients to sort through.
Meanwhile, though many people today collect design-related imagery and ideas on the social service Pinterest, that site itself was not built with the needs of this industry in particular in mind. Items on Pinterest aren’t necessarily tagged the way architectural firms would refer to them – like “swoopy chairs” or “interior glazing,” and it’s not set up in a way to make a firm’s own portfolio of work easy to reference, organize, or search across.
That’s where Kontor comes in.
Described as sort of a “Houzz for office design,” the site, which is launching publicly in the near future, allows firms to upload both public and private photos to its platform. Kontor then identifies the items in the photos and tags them accordingly. Over time, the idea is that the furniture vendors themselves will aid in the tagging process, and hopefully also pay for better placement against various search terms, which will help Kontor monetize.
Meanwhile, for the architectural firms themselves, Kontor gives them a way to more quickly organize and surface products and vendors to show to clients, as well as collaborate on projects. They also have the advantage of advertising their work to prospective clients, who may not know their brand name, but find themselves inspired by photos of their past work.
Kontor is now talking with 50 some top firms, and 30 signed up in a matter of weeks. And the feedback, so far, has been very positive, says Ryan. “I think all of them will be on board by the time we launch,” he says.
The potential for this business is similar to other comparison shopping sites, like Cars.com or Kayak, but one that’s aimed at the $70 billion commercial interiors industry instead.
And though office design is often discussed in the tech industry from which Ryan hails, as it speaks to company culture, a larger trend toward modern, tech industry-inspired offices is something that’s taking root inside other companies today, too. Even “boring” businesses like insurance companies realize that having a “cool” office can help them attract and retain employees, including millennials, notes Ryan.
As with his other companies, Ryan has brought in a CEO to run Kontor day-to-day: in this case, Mia Lewin, a former eBay exec and founder and CEO of design/story.
The company is also backed by $5 million in seed and Series A funding. Venrock committed $4.5 million in Series A funding, with Kevin Ryan and Tom Melcher as seed round angel investors. The now 10-person New York-based team will grow to 15 in a couple of weeks.
Kontor will launch into beta later this summer, but is collecting email sign-ups for its beta now.
Correction: Updated the number of firms now signed up for Kontor; also added investment details.