Last week when Houzz acquired IvyMark for $30+ million, there was a jolt felt in the interior design community. If you weren't one of the 2400 or so Ivy interior designers using the business management tool nor a close friend of such, nor a passionate advocate for protecting the design trade, then you could have easily slept right through it.
Since the news broke last Wednesday (or maybe it was Tuesday….case in point: If it was Tuesday, I missed it and no one at the New York show or an IDS event was talking about it), I tuned into 3 public forums on the subject (thank you Joseph Haecker, Julia Molloy, and Chaise Lounge Podcaster Nick May for your hosting work and ability to rally the community lickety split), spoke with interior designer and Ivy user Laura Thurman of Thurman Design Studio, and had a brief email exchange with Alex (above right) and Lee (above left) from Ivy. As a Libran editor, I needed to listen from all sides.
There are a number of reasons that this tech tremor caused a heated reaction among some designers. The biggest issue, as I understood, is that they felt a trust had been broken, that all the secrets and data they had poured into their Ivy was now fuel for Houzz, a humongous consumer-driven website that preyed on designer projects for its own profit, tagging them inaccurately, and offering similar contents for sale from the Houzz marketplace. To twist the knife, many designers heard the news through Editor at Large before being told by IVY. The trade news outlet had mistakenly leaked the story earlier than agreed upon and they have since apologized. As designer Rebecca Tenbrink, who appeared on Julia Molloy’s webinar put it, “It felt like a jab.”
Oh, and there was one more thing. When Alon Cohen, Houzz CEO, was interviewed about the purchase he said, “Designers are not really business people.” While what he said and what he said he meant (that Houzz wants to help designers spend more time being creative and doing what they love) are different, designers took offense. My favorite reaction to his blunder was Alycia Wicker’s blog “Houzz, IvyMark - WTF is Happening to our Industry?” Her frustrated tone comes across not just in words but from the hilarious GIFs she chose.
By Friday, Ivy and Houzz both issued formal statements of encouragement to the Ivy designer community. The communication gave Alon Cohen the opportunity to apologize and gave Lee Rotenberg and Alex Schinasi from Ivy the chance to assure the community that they had built. Amidst all the hubbub, Lee and Alex shared a brief email exchange. Here’s an excerpt:
Q: What is it about Israel? I know it is a very tech savvy country. I’ve always admired the creativity I see coming out of there too in fashion/home. What do you see as Israel’s best assets for your business?.
A: The engineering talent in Israel is topnotch and the start-up community there is extremely vibrant and excited about this intersection of technology and design.
Q: From the time you started IVY till now, what have you learned about interior designers? How has your appreciation for the work they do evolved?
A: There’s even more sweat & tears that go into managing a project as an interior designer than I could have imagined.
Q: Do you understand why many designers were in an uproar and felt betrayed?
A: This is a loud minority. We definitely understand and have been talking to our community nonstop to reassure them about our continued commitment to them and to supporting their businesses. We’ve received countless emails from designers super excited about the partnership. We’re confident we’ll continue to deserve their trust in the months and years ahead.
Q: Did you predict the reaction? Do you feel that the storm is settling?
A: People are always apprehensive about change! But yes our community is still super passionate about the value Ivy brings and we are excited about being able to make the product even better.
Q: How much have you slept since Tuesday?
A: The same as we slept before Tuesday! We love every minute of building this business.
Laura Thurman, a Nashville-based designer, Ivy member, and Houzz client, and I have spoken a bit over the last week. Thurman dedicates a piece of her marketing budget for Houzz. (Leslie Carothers who was on Molloy’s webinar says “Houzz has never been my personal favorite but I always recommend that my clients do Houzz because they own SEO for every single location.") “It’s not perfect but it works for me,” she says. Though the news made her take pause, nothing has changed in the way she runs her business and she continues to use Ivy daily. Level-headed and busier than ever, Thurman says, “I’m gonna wait this out. I’ve switched and bumped around to so many design software platforms. I’ve got work to do.”
The storm seems to have quelled a bit. Designers voiced their opinion and will continue to do so. Time will continue to tell this story. But for now let's return the focus to the important work that interior designers do every day.
Interior designers will continue servicing their clients with the dedication, expertise, and solution-finding abilities that they bring to each project, not to mention the friendship, hand-holding, and humor. They make your clients feel special, helping out at special parties, giving opinions on fashion, and setting up for the holidays. Interior designers do so much more than buying stuff. They also design products and share their name and reputation with other companies. They write books and host Facebook Live happy hours. Must I go on?
Designers Today 💓 you.