This Female Founder Wants To Make Custom Home Decor Accessible To And Affordable For Everyone
Mondays can be rough—sometimes we need a little motivation to get the week started. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from Project Entrepreneur Alumnae—female founders who applied to the Project Entrepreneur Venture Competition to attend our two-day PE Intensive and join a nationwide community of hundreds of women entrepreneurs. Get to know more about the PE Community and #beinspired by how these women motivate themselves each Monday to tackle the week ahead.
Sharree Walls is the Founder of SOLĀCE, a company that allows individuals to create their own custom home decor. We sat down with Sharree to discuss the story behind how she started her company, the challenges that come with being a solo founder, and why she thinks it’s so important to make a beautiful home accessible to all.
Sharee Walls, Founder of SOLĀCE (photo courtesy Sharee Walls)
What inspired you to start your business?
A few years ago I looked around my studio apartment and felt uninspired by all of the beige furniture I’d picked up on Craigslist. I thought to myself, I may not be able to afford new furniture, but at least I can find a cool comforter to brighten things up. Surprisingly, the search took weeks. Most options were pretty boring, and I wanted an exciting color like emerald, boysenberry, or royal blue.
I started Solace to expand home decor design options in an affordable way. Our first products, custom throw pillows, allow people to experiment with color, and they can go everywhere—your couch, bed, chair or office. Custom products can seem intimidating because people don’t realize they know what they want until they see it. That’s why we create drafts for every customer and make edits until they are happy. Our customers enjoy influencing the design without starting from scratch.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
As a solo founder, it gets pretty hard to balance everything that needs to get done. As soon as I finish something, it feels like my list doubles! Right now, I focus on whatever activities will gain customers and automate as much of it as possible (Zapier is a life saver).
What’s been the greatest reward?
I never thought about starting a business before I had the idea for Solace, so it’s been awesome to see an idea to come to life and evolve. Also, almost half of my customers are repeat customers; it feels good to provide value for people.
Can you describe a problem you’ve experienced in your business that is common to other early-stage founders and share details of how you were able to solve it?
Generating e-commerce sales is tough. It requires a significant funnel of website visitors to get even one sale (which translates to a lot of marketing dollars). My company is bootstrapped, so to compensate for not having a large budget, I systematically run $5-$10 experiments on Facebook and Google Adwords to learn specifics about my customer segments and what value propositions generate the highest response. These quick experiments reduce ad cost and increase my reach to potential customers. I can also better define the problem my customers are experiencing. My customers love to buy unique gifts.
What changes would you most like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
Home is a creative space; often people don’t get to exercise their creative muscle in their everyday lives. The home and furnishings industry is beginning to use 3D modeling to allow people to visualize the possibilities for their space, but we should go one step further and help people discover their personal decor style, so they have confidence when purchasing items, especially style elements that are outside of their comfort zone.
Right now, I’m creating products for customers that already know what colors they want to use in decor but just can’t find pieces to match their desired color palette. As we grow, we’re looking for ways to automatically identify patterns in what our customers like while shopping online, this will help them articulate the look they want for their space. Additionally, a longer-term goal is to create a retail experience that makes shopping in-person fun and personalized. I interviewed over 100 random people about where they buy their home goods, and I learned most people have more confidence when purchasing home items in person.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
I love looking at my to-do list at the end of the week and seeing the progress I’ve made. Gains, no matter how small, add up week over week. I’m often surprised by how much I’ve accomplished. I don’t always see results from my efforts—that’s the hardest part. I just tell myself that eventually, it will pay off—just keep going! For me, the most interesting and motivating part of starting a business is the process of figuring out what will get the “revenue” wheel spinning; if I wanted to grow something that was already working, I’d work at a scaling startup.
Can you provide a few updates on what’s new with your business or what you’ve accomplished since you attended the PE Intensive in April 2017?
I participated in the first module with the Digitalundivided (DID) Big Incubator. The program focused on customer development and encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and talk to potential customers. I can’t describe how valuable it is to hear people explain the problem you think you’re solving in their own words. When trends emerge, you know you’re onto something. I’ve also personally benefitted from the strong relationships with my fellow women of color founders. Their energy still keeps me going!
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out?
Find a peer and/or mentor who is building a business with a similar product or software and the same target customer. I received the most practical advice from a founder of an e-commerce makeup company; we’re both selling products online directly to customers.
What do you do every Monday morning to prepare and motivate yourself for the coming week?
I love Mondays because it’s my day to accomplish anything that I can easily cross off of a list like following up with interested partners, reviewing analytics, updating a mentor, and brainstorming ways to reach new customers. Starting the week off strong is a great source of motivation. I also enjoy scrolling through my Twitter feed, Carla Harris and Paulo Coelho are my favs for quick doses of inspiration.
For more #MondayMotivation, check out our interview with Romy Raad and Natalie Neumann, the “Meta Mavens” behind Metabrew, a beverage company that’s working to disrupt the $80 billion soft drink industry with its clean, healthy energy drinks. We caught up with Romy and Natalie to discuss what motivated them to start their company, the values that motivate them to push against industry norms, and why they believe every founder needs community to thrive.