A Tech Solution For Selling Your Furniture: Kalam Dennis On Mogul Watch
Whether you are moving to a new home or just want to declutter, selling your furniture is hard. Two friends set out to solve this common problem using tech. They’ve created a company in New York city that has raised more than $3 million in capital.
Kalam Dennis and Reham Fagiri are the co-founders of AptDeco, an online platform where people can buy and sell pre-owned furniture from others looking to have a safe selling experience, or buy new furniture from stores.
“We’ve been able to outlast a lot of competition that raised a lot more money than we were able to, and they’re already closed.” — Kalam Dennis, co-founder of AptDeco
AptDeco says on its website it has created a community of furniture buyers and sellers “without the scams, hassles, and creepy people going into your apartment”.
With technology and logistical planning, the AptDeco team uses its online platform to display items for sale by users and help organize pickup and delivery or connect sellers and buyers to do so on their own. The service is available in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. AptDeco typically charges 19-percent-to-29-percent of the selling price. The buyer can expect to pay a minimum $35 delivery fee if they do not pick up the item themselves.
“The goal is to take something that’s typically hyper-local and make it, at the very least, regional.” — Kalam Dennis, co-founder of AptDeco
Dennis is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University and a former VP of sales business development at L’Oréal USA.
He spoke to Moguldom about starting AptDeco to solve a common problem, and how the tech company works in the furniture industry.
Moguldom: Why did you start AptDeco?
Kalam Dennis: We started AptDeco out of our frustrations. My co-founder, Reham, was in grad school in Pennsylvania. She was trying to sell her furniture and move back to New York. She was telling me how awkward it was to be in an apartment, alone, and as a single female with guys coming by, and haggling over price. It was a very uncomfortable experience for her. At the same time, I was selling a couch. I had people that wanted the couch, but they didn’t have a way to get it from my home to theirs. The logistics were a big challenge. Reham and I talked about how crappy of an experience it was to try and sell your furniture. We said to ourselves, “We could build a trusted community and platform where the money could move easily between the seller and the buyer. We could handle the logistics of getting the items from the seller’s home and into the buyer’s home.” We saw this as an opportunity. It wasn’t like we had this significant passion for furniture or interior design. Sure, we like furniture, but we weren’t seeking out how to get into this space. We saw an opportunity to solve a problem.
“One of the amazing things about being a startup is that everyone has a tremendous amount of responsibility. It makes for the type of environment where the history of how to do it does not exist. Having the type of people for a startup who can work without a roadmap is crucial.” — Kalam Dennis, co-founder of AptDeco
Moguldom: You’re currently in New York and New Jersey, and planning on launching in Boston and Philly soon. Why these cities, and how is expansion working for you?
Kalam Dennis: We’re in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Right now, anybody can buy or sell from one another between those three states. The goal is to take something that’s typically hyper-local and make it, at the very least, regional. For example, from Philly to Boston or from Long Island to Philly, in a very efficient and affordable way. New York City is our current hub, and then we’re looking to stretch out, from there. As a startup, we’re very financially focused. I think most businesses started with founders that are people of color or women are more focused on bottom-line financials versus top line. Reham and I want to be profitable here in New York City, to be able to fund our expansion into other cities. I think that’s kind of the process and methodology that’s important for founders of color and women founders. (It’s) typically a different approach as opposed to being solely revenue driven like our white male counterparts.
“We’re hiring people I think maybe wouldn’t have had the best opportunity elsewhere. We’re providing our team members with a stable, strong and well-paying job. I’m proud of that.” — Kalam Dennis, co-founder of AptDeco
Moguldom: What are some notable wins for your company?
Kalam Dennis: First and foremost, being able to deliver on a promise of what customers are looking for when they use our service. We have overwhelmingly high-starred reviews on Google and Yelp, and we have completed thousands and thousands of transactions. People are identifying with the issue we’re trying to solve and can see we are resolving their problem. Quite frankly it is very gratifying to be able to have an idea, see it through and find people have a real need for it. For me, that’s a significant accomplishment. I would also say a win for us is that we’ve been able to outlast a lot of competition that raised a lot more money than we were able to, and they’re already closed. I’m proud of how we’ve been able to be very financially prudent and still be able to grow. Plus, I’m excited about the team we’ve been able to build, and the camaraderie we have with our internal office and delivery team employees. We’re hiring people I think maybe wouldn’t have had the best opportunity elsewhere. We’re providing our team members with a stable, strong and well-paying the job. I’m proud of that, as well.
“Partnerships do not always work. Your partners’ priorities may not always align with yours. This was the case for us with the moving companies. We quickly realized we could do this quicker, faster, and better for our customers.” — Kalam Dennis, co-founder of AptDeco
Moguldom: Do you have any partnerships with any other companies?
Kalam Dennis: Yeah, we have lots of different types of partnerships. For example, on our website today we have aligned ourselves with traditional furniture retailers who’ll utilize us a secondary channel for their overstock, or floor model items. We provide a significant added value for them. They have access to a customer base I think they wouldn’t usually see. Another partnership that’s been amazing is with Hearst (media company with ownership interests in A&E, Lifetime, ESPN and global financial services leader Fitch Group).
Hearst is a recent investor, and along with their investment, they’re a strategic partner. They have been extremely helpful by providing guidance and connecting us with potential influencers and magazines. It’s a wonderful partnership. I’ll also say, partnerships sound like a good idea, but there are times it just doesn’t work out. When we first began AptDeco, our idea was to be a platform, and for the delivery component we were going to utilize moving companies to facilitate the pickups and deliveries to customers. Our theory was, “Hey, we’ll take their downtime, and we can fit our pickups and deliveries within their jobs. We don’t want to touch the furniture, we can get them to do it for us.”
We quickly realized within the first six to seven months this was not going to work. We could do this quicker, faster, and better for our customers. I think that’s an example of where partnerships do not work. Your partners’ priorities may not always align with yours. This was the case for us with the moving companies.
Moguldom: How much have you raised and who are other investors besides Hearst?
Kalam Dennis: We’ve got a lot of investors. I couldn’t name them all, it would be too many. But I’ll say, we’ve raised a few million dollars as of this time. Y Combinator was one of our first investors and that was like a big deal to be a part of that program because so many amazing companies have come through Y Combinator like Airbnb, Reddit, DoorDash and others. More than just the money, the Y Combinator helped us to figure out how to do a startup. When we first started, I thought since my co-founder Reham worked at Goldman, and I worked at L’Oréal we’d be able to apply our professional work experience and that we had a good understanding of business.
We were talking apples and oranges. It was so different. The Y Combinator helped us get something from zero to 150. I mean we learned how to really get something off the ground with them. Comcast is an investor. They’ve been helpful as well as SV Angel. We have around 30 different investors so to name them all, we would be talking for a while. Our investors are all different types of check sizes which I think is a consistent thing with founders of color and women. Some companies raise large amounts from a small group of people. Where I think many times, founders of color are only able to raise small amounts from lots of different people which makes the fundraising process a little more complicated.
Moguldom: How do you feel about answering to that many different people?
Kalam Dennis: Well, we don’t really have to answer individually to each of them. We have a board, which is made up of a few of our investors. We have conversations with them and our other investors are provided with a quarterly update. You have a fiduciary responsibility to share with the people that have invested in your company, so you want to let them know what’s going on, but we work more intimately with our board.
Moguldom: You have internal office employees and some external office delivery employees. How do you handle building a good team?
Kalam Dennis: Building a good team is a combination of hiring those with experience, and those with potential. I think finding a balance between the two of those is very important. We try to be very transparent and candid with one another. We don’t have a lot of hierarchy, meaning I’m not one of those founders that say, “things can only go my way.” That’s not what we want. We can disagree with one another and doing so often helps us to select the best outcome for our customers when we have a thorough dialogue around what we feel is best. I’ll say one of the amazing things about being a startup is that everyone here has a tremendous amount of responsibility. It’s one of the exciting things about startups. It is also a challenging part about it because you have so much responsibility. It makes for the type of environment where the history of how to do it does not exist. Having the type of people for a startup who can work without a roadmap is crucial.
Moguldom: What does success look like for your company?
Kalam Dennis: Success looks like making something people love and building a foundation to expand all over the world.
Moguldom: How do you keep the creativity flowing to make the best products and services for your clients?
Kalam Dennis: Listening to your customers is the best way to keep creativity flowing. We have at least one or two days a month where our internal office team is answering customer questions and some of the best ideas come from that. Your customers are going to tell you what you need to do.
Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for your company?
Kalam Dennis: Over the next year, the goal is to be a household name in New York City. Within the next five years, we want to expand to be a nationwide operation. Our product is best suited for the large cities here in the U.S. and around the world. So, I think over the next five years the ultimate goal is to be a nationwide operation and provide something useful for people.
Moguldom: What would people say about your leadership in the organization in years from now.
Kalam Dennis: I think they would say I’m passionate, fair, transparent and down to earth. That would be my hope. That is my goal. I think it’s always important to have a reality check and to get feedback as you go along to ensure that you’re still meeting your personal leadership goals.