It’s fair to say that the last two decades have brought plenty of disruption to the design industry. As everything has gone online, the old ways—from pricing models to ordering samples—have been called into question. But just as technology has taken much away, it’s given plenty to designers in return, including a wide variety of ways to tackle that most fundamental of challenges: How do you snag new clients?
The simplest and probably oldest way that the internet connected homeowners to designers has been through online directories. Houzz is one. The Franklin Report is another. Homepolish was basically a designer directory. Though each has a slightly different business model, they all share a basic concept: Collect designer portfolios on one site so clients don’t have to go wandering through the wilds of Google to find a good fit.
Online directories have created plenty of work for designers, but the model has taken a few knocks over the years. Houzz has had an occasionally testy relationship with the trade. Homepolish crashed and burned. You can sense a wariness among designers around the concept.
Despite that history, a new crop of directories has emerged in recent years—this time, with a focus on community, shared resources and a sense of solidarity among designers. Though these directories are at least partially set up to attract project leads, it’s worth asking if new business is necessarily the main expectation, or even the draw?
In some ways, it’s easier to define what these directories are by outlining what they are not. They are not online interior design services like Havenly, Decorist or The Expert, nor are they Houzz-like behemoths offering everything from products to plumbers. Instead, they are more like modern-day guilds—support networks that foster opportunities, education and collaboration for their members. While each provides the matchmaking aspect of linking designers to homeowners, none tiptoe into the backend of a designer’s business once the connection has been made. That’s intentional.
The shadow of Homepolish looms large for this generation of directories. The platform, founded in 2012 by entrepreneur Noa Santos, was successful in generating leads for hundreds of young designers. But the company went beyond matchmaking, also providing the project management and product fulfillment for jobs booked through the platform—a service that many designers found clunky and intrusive. Worst of all, the company’s 2019 collapse left many designers (and clients) high and dry. A foundational prerogative for burgeoning platforms has been to take the best of what worked about Homepolish, and to learn from what didn’t.
That’s especially true for Freddie, which is built around a database and an …….