Beatrice Fischel-Bock of Hutch
Meet Beatrice Fischel-Bock, co-founder and CEO of Hutch, an interior design app that allows users to virtually decorate spaces with the help of technology. Beatrice helped to start the company while still in college, and while she didn’t set out to start a tech company when she began her Interior Architecture and Design degree, she’s taken every opportunity in stride, reaching new heights and making room for herself in the industry.
Proving that good ideas and innovation make a solid foundation for success in tech and beyond, Beatrice and her team have ran with the concept, dreaming up endless possibilities and applications for their technology, seamlessly integrating new features and demonstrating their ability to innovate and grow.
Prior to Hutch’s re-branding in 2017, the company was called Zoom Interiors and appeared on Shark Tank in 2015, piquing the interest of venture capitalists. During the company’s Seed Round, Hutch secured funding from well known investors, including Tinder’s Sean Rad and Zillow’s Spencer Rascoff, among others.
I chatted with Beatrice and asked her about everything from being on Shark Tank, securing venture capital, and building a team that aligns with her company’s values. Keep reading the learn more about the incredible story behind Hutch.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR BREVITY AND CLARITY.
So going back to the beginning...what led you to start Hutch?
“So we started in college almost six years ago. We were Interior Architecture and Design students and all our friends kept asking us for help with their first apartments because no one knew where to get what they needed, so we were the token design friends and they would reach out to us. And we were abroad in London, and people would send us photos and we realized from our training that we could virtually scale the room to understand what would fit, for example, outlets are always 16 inches above the floor, door knobs normally are 32 inches from the floor, etc., so you can kind of take these markers and start deciphering the layout of the room and what will fit where and then we would send them links of everything to buy and they would buy them and be very happy with us as friends and we were like, “well, we should be charging people for this!” In college our senior year coming back, we started the business, we would just charge $150 for [our services]—it would take hours of time but it was just a flat rate—and then we would send links over email and you would fill out a survey on a Word doc, and then we would have everything shipped to our dorm room actually and then we would rent a Zipvan on the weekends and go and install the space for free to really prove that we could virtually design. So now, six years on, everyone trusts that you can virtually design and there are a bunch of virtual design companies out there. We all buy furniture online now without thinking about it, but it’s crazy that when we started, people were still uncertain that you would buy a chair online without having seen it in person. Now West Elm doesn’t even hold inventory, Wayfair went public, Amazon has a huge home section that they’re pouring money into…so the landscape has really changed. Along that journey, we ended up realizing that this is an area that people want help with, but we felt like we could push it further with technology. One of our first steps was applying for Shark Tank, but we didn’t know about raising money, we didn’t have any business backgrounds, but obviously we had heard of Shark Tank and we said “okay, why not? Let’s try that” and so that was really learning business because I had never learned anything about running a business or even what a financial statement looks like and so preparing for that really got us in line. It was almost like getting a mini MBA, and that was the jumping off point for us meeting some investors, angel investors in LA, the founder of Tinder reached out, we started working with him, and that was the beginning of moving our company from being this bootstrapped interior design to becoming more of a technology company. So today, what we’ve been working on over the years is this technology that allows you to take a picture of your space, clears out the room automatically, and allows you to play with pieces of furniture. You can do it for fun, just like a pastime, there’s no way to interact with interior design these days, unless you’re doing it yourself with your home, which isn’t actually fun if you’re doing it. It takes months at a time, it’s nothing that enjoyable, or you’re statically looking on Pinterest or Instagram. There’s no way to actually be a part of it and so our technology allows you to actually be an interior designer without all the headache of the furniture and timelines and that kind of thing. With fashion it’s much easier to get involved because you can go to Forever 21 and get whatever was on the runway, copy, and mix it up and you can have much more of a handle on it. So our tool that we’ve built can be applied in a lot of different ways, for example, one of our investors is Zillow so there’s this whole leg of saying instead of having to spend money staging homes, you could virtually stage them with our tool, then another leg is obviously buying the furniture itself without having to use interior designers. [As an] Interior designer, what I can do in my head not everyone can do. I know how things are gonna come together, I can see it, I have a vision for it, but a lot of people can’t do that and so having a tool that actually allows them to pull in the sofa from West Elm with the chair from CB2 and make sure it all looks good together at scale in your space is really helpful. We’ve also discovered in the last seven months or so, there was actually an article that came out in Nylon right before the holidays and the journalist was saying that Hutch is her new form of meditation and that every night, she’s designing for half an hour at a time and it just gets her creative juices going and it calms her down, so we really love that and we’re leaning into that more and more and trying to provide an experience where it’s not necessarily about buying the furniture, but what about just the idea of being able to be an interior designer on your phone?”
Hutch is an investor-backed startup. what advice do you have for female founders who are looking to secure funding?
“So my advice has always been not to overthink, not to wait for perfection, not to wait for what you think you’re supposed to be waiting for. You just have to really dive in and the advice I give a lot to entrepreneurs who come and get some advice, I tell them to get a domain, it’s five bucks on GoDaddy, and print a business card, because already mentally then you’re feeling like you’ve done something. There’s this idea where you have this idea and you wanna do it but you’re dipping your toes in the water and it’s a little too cold and you’re a little too scared, but you just have to really dive head first and then let it all happen. So it’s about taking that first dive in; it’s super important. And as women, we have less sense of entitlement than men and our egos are a little different and we don’t just think we’re the best in the world and so I think we have a harder time saying “okay, I’m gonna go do this.” We listen too much to everyone’s criticisms and to anyone who has any issue or anything that they can poke holes in and then maybe we get a little bit concerned...maybe this is not the right move, but we really have to just do it and see what happens. What’s the worst that can happen?”
what’s the hardest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in terms of growing and building Hutch?
“I mean, the hardest thing is that there’s a constant stream of hard things and it never ends and you think you take care of one thing and another thing comes up. I mean there’s so many [obstacles], and it depends on the time, right? Like the first time something happens it feels like the end of the world and then you realize it happens another ten times and you’re over it and then you have a new thing that seems like the hardest thing in the world, so it’s building up calluses for everything that you have to do. You can’t circumvent the fear, you have to just go straight through it, and that in itself was an obstacle to overcome. Accepting that it’s fear, it’s scary and that it’s uncomfortable, but that going around that is not the right answer.”
what does the hutch team look like?
“We’re 18 in the office. We’re half and half, women and men. We’re about 60% engineering and 40% operations, design, etc.”
and how was building that team in terms of finding people who were aligned with the brand and its values?
“So the team piece is probably one of the bigger ongoing obstacles and also what you get most return from. Finding the right team, the right people, working on the right things, it’s like a dance, and it takes a lot of moving parts and it takes a lot of chance and luck that you’re bringing the right people together. It’s a lot of work and it’s hard, but it’s the thing that you get the most return out of because if you put the right team together, you’re gonna get results. But you kind of have to iterate through that because you don’t know in the beginning what the right team looks like. You don’t know what the right person looks like for a job you don’t even know how to do, right? So it’s tough to build a team but it’s so rewarding. If you get the right members at the table, you can tell the difference. They say you hire slow, fire fast. Easier said than done, but the right team at the table is everything.”
what does a typical day look like for you as ceo?
“There’s no such thing as typical day. It also depends on the stage and what we’re doing so, when we’re launching a product, my day will be a lot more public and outside the office, I’ll be doing a lot more meetings. When we’re in building mode, I’ll be in the office doing meetings on meetings with all the different types of teams. My job as CEO, it took a while to understand this because I think a lot of us who start companies are very type A people who execute and get things done. It was interesting to learn that my job is not to actually do anything; it’s to make decisions and to delegate and to make sure other people are doing things. That was a learning curve for me in the beginning because I’m used to being like “Nevermind, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna get it done and I’ll be great”, but that’s not conducive to the bigger picture. Learning that actually my job is not actually executing, it’s putting the strategy together, making sure we’re all swimming in the same direction, that’s where I have to put my time. So I went from doing everything myself to only doing meetings and telling other people what they should be doing.”
your background is in interior design rather than in business. How did you make that transition and step into your role as CEO and Co-Founder?
“I think Shark Tank definitely helped me feel more comfortable doing that because I was forced to, in such a public way. You’re not gonna take a chance not to know your business when there are millions of viewers, right? So, getting up to par on just traditional business knowledge, that was something. And then it’s the same thing that I was talking about before about fear...it’s scary, but you’ve gotta dive in and do it and “you fake it ‘til you make it”, we used to say that all the time. So in all senses, anything we were doing, if we didn’t really know, it doesn’t matter, you just pretend you do, and you keep going. I did a TEDx talk, and is my big theme that I’ve kept now for five years called, I say, “Fail fast, fix fast, and learn fast.” It’s not that you’re trying to not make mistakes—you’re gonna make them. If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not actually putting yourself out there and trying to innovate, but the trick is to do it quickly, fail quickly, learn what happened, what went wrong, and then fix it right away. That’s the mantra we have in the office that I stuck to as a first-time CEO. I failed at a lot of things, fixed a lot of what I failed at, learned from it, and didn’t make those mistakes again.”
how do you stay organized in terms of getting things done and staying on track?
“So I’m a big paper person which is funny for a tech CEO. I’m always got my notebook and my water bottle. I love my to-do lists of checkboxes and checking them off. For me personally, as someone constantly in meetings, I find that you need to block out time so I’ll block out in my calendar an hour or two where I can answer emails, and I like to power through something and then keep going rather than going in between two [tasks], The other thing that’s been huge for me is working out in the morning and meditating and making sure that I’m training. Because the more that I can come to the table with energy and clear-headedness, the more I can make better decisions and I know self-care is an annoying word these days, but it’s a big part of how you get things done.”
what big projects do you have planned for 2019?
Well we have a big new launch coming out in 2019, which is the new Hutch product that I can’t say too much about but is very exciting.