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This VC-backed furniture startup crowdsourced the perfect couch

When it came to its first attempt at a sofa, the furniture startup Floyd appealed to its users for input through Instagram Stories.

This VC-backed furniture startup crowdsourced the perfect couch
[Photo: Floyd]

Sofas are among the trickiest products to design and sell, when it comes to the world of furniture design. There are physical and logistic constraints to consider (especially for city and apartment dwellers), and they are often the most-used piece in a home, requiring flexibility, comfort, and durability. Buying a sofa is a significant financial and aesthetic investment, and marks the first major “adult” purchase for many young professionals. All of that makes it a tough sell for manufacturers–one that undergoes more scrutiny than a simple bed frame or side table.

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Those were all issues faced by the Detroit-based direct-to-consumer furniture startup Floyd, which is adding a sofa to its small but ambitious product line. What’s more, the company had the added pressure of upholding its brand promise of providing an affordable, flat-packed design made for young urban dwellers frequently on the move. For the internet-spawned startup, which launched in 2014 with a Kickstarter campaign but today has aspirations to beat Ikea at its own game, that’s been an easier promise to fulfill on a smaller scale, with its spare, easy-to-assemble items, made purely from birch and steel components. Its first product offering, a Jean Prouvé-inspired set of steel table legs made to pair with any surface, was flexible and economical to produce, and has since been joined by similar designs: a bed frame, a dining table, and a side table, all of which now come with finished wooden parts.

Now, backed with a $5.6 million series A funding round that was announced this January, the team is boldly expanding its product line–not to mention its simplistic material palette–in a big way. And for Floyd, that means a sofa, something its customers had been demanding for years. Unveiled this week, “The World’s First Floyd Sofa,” as it’s cheekily touted on Floyd’s website, will be available for preorder starting September 17, with the first units to ship the following month. Floyd cofounders Alex O’Dell and Kyle Hoff are betting that the sofa will be exactly what its customers are looking for, because, in fact, it was developed in direct collaboration with them.

[Photo: Floyd]
As Floyd’s team navigates new territory, production needs, and more complex product specifications, it’s leaned on the brand loyalty and honest feedback of its healthy social media following for even further insight to help ensure the sofa will be a success. So, to begin the daunting task of designing a sofa that’d be up to snuff, Floyd turned to its social media followers. Rather than simply using Instagram as a marketing tool, or to help customers find more of what they want–the grand benevolent lie of advertising–they set out to actually ask what they were actually looking for in a sofa.

“Pretty much as soon as we committed to making the product, we turned to our users for insights,” O’Dell says.

[Photo: Floyd]
Using Instagram as its survey platform, the company polled hundreds of followers on everything from tactile preferences to personality-driven questions: their age and household size, size and color preference, how they plan to use the sofa, what position they’re more likely to sit in, whether they have a pet, and what show they’re most likely to binge-watch (The Handmaid’s Tale, for the record, was a close second to “none”).

Armed with this focused and completely cost-free, crowdsourced data, the Floyd team took it straight into R&D to translate into distinct design decisions: A vast 87% majority of respondents shared that they ate on their sofas, and 62% reported owning pets, making a stain-resistant upholstery a priority move. With many respondents noting that laying down lengthwise as their most common position, the design team made sure the frame was built with super-stable armrests, adding side pillows for added comfort. All of the seat and back cushions, free of the “bulky coils that break down over time,” O’Dell notes, look just like pillows, and are simply placed atop the wooden frame for easy assembly, right out of the box. All in all, the sofa is made of just 13 parts, and, like Floyd’s other offerings, requires no special tools or parts.

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Based on what’s been shown so far, the much-hyped sofa is styled much in the way of the company’s other offerings, and constructed using the same, stripped-down material palette of birch planks and spare steel components. Made to scale for spaces of different sizes, Floyd’s sofa also comes available in three modular configurations: Users can choose a two-seater loveseat (60 inches wide), a three-seater standard sofa (87 inches wide), or a sectional, which adds a chaise extension to the three-seater. All three options share the same height and seat depth, and could feasibly be used for further mixing and matching. Priced from $1,200 with free one-day delivery in major urban markets, it’s a compelling alternative to Ikea, as well as to the slightly higher-end but still affordable options from modern furniture brands like Hem and Hay.

[Photo: Floyd]
Since its inception, Floyd’s online following–and particularly its Instagram account, @floyddetroit, with a healthy following of 49,000–has been the backbone of the direct-to-consumer company’s success and ability to steadily and nimbly disrupt product development for the masses. When Instagram users began to plead with the company to offer a headboard for its popular bed frame, the startup retrofitted its own design and introduced one the following year. When users requested a small side table shortly after the launch of their round dining table, the design went from drawing table to online store in two months flat.

The startup’s sofa, by contrast, has been more than two years in the making–a substantial length of time for the fast-paced startup world, and half of the company’s own lifespan to date.”It’s a much bigger R&D challenge,” says O’Dell. “There’s the hardwood, but also there’s feel, comfort, there’s textile involved. We want to be sure that if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right.”

[Photo: Floyd]
Now, weeks away from shipping its first sofa units, Floyd’s Instagram is serving up demos in its Stories, boasting, for one, the stain-resistant upholstery that can easily withstand a spill from even the brightest red scoop of ice cream, with a simple swipe of a damp cloth.

Unlike its popular bed frame, however, which outsources most of its comfort quotient to the user’s choice of mattress, Floyd’s sofa will require a bigger leap of faith for online shoppers pressing buy, sight unseen. Can a sofa that looks good on screen, and promises to directly address user needs and wants, deliver and exceed in its promise of comfort and function IRL? And can it best the big players who’ve been at it for years?

It’s a risk Floyd’s founders are willing to take–and, worst-case scenario, it’s safe to assume that Floyd’s burgeoning online following will speak up to help refine the product where it fails.

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About the author

Aileen Kwun is a writer based in New York City. She is the author of Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations On a Lifetime in Architecture and Design (Princeton Architectural Press), and was previously a senior editor at Dwell and Surface.

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