biz ladiesLife & Business

Biz Ladies Profile: Anna Brockway of Chairish

by Stephanie

Biz Ladies Profile Anna Brockway photo by Charlie Nucci

Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from Co-Founder and Chief Curator of Chairish, Anna Brockway. Inspired by a family move, Anna thought it would be a great idea to have a site where people could sell used furniture in a more curated fashion. And then, in a quick turn from idea to reality, she created the now-popular marketplace for the public to buy and sell pre-owned furniture and decor items, Chairish. Today, she shares a bit about her creative journey and the lessons she learned along the way. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Anna! —Stephanie

Read the full interview after the jump…

Biz Ladies Profile Anna Brockway photo by Marc Olivier LeBlanc


Why did you decide to start your own business?

Our family moved into a new home and I couldn’t figure out how to easily sell an amazing pair of 1968 Adrian Pearsall chaises that didn’t fit into our new nest. They were in pristine condition, and I wanted to recoup at least something for them.

I said to my husband Gregg, “Someone should start a website that makes it easy for real people to buy and sell great furniture to one another – like a curated Craigslist with a style editor, a delivery van and a cash register!”

And he said, “Congratulations! You just started a company!”  That was a year ago in our kitchen, and now we’re a team of 25 people.

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?

From the beginning, I wanted Chairish to be built around two simple ideas:

Design Obsessives Unite! I wanted Chairish to be a cool, full-service, online swap meet for home design aficionados. A marketplace by and for design lovers who know great style but also love good value.

Easy. Open. Fun. Fast. I have an open-minded attitude and am deeply turned off by pretension. It was essential to me that Chairish’s visual space and experience NOT feel intimidating. So we are hyper-focused on offering a wide range of great, eclectic inventory that is easy to shop. We’re also committed to first-rate customer service and love talking directly to our customers. If you send in a question, I am the likely the one you will hear back from.

Biz Ladies Profile Anna Brockway Eric Grosse, Chairish President and Anna Brockway, Chief Curator, photo by Marc Olivier LeBlanc

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”  – Reid Hoffman

Our first really big decision at Chairish was deciding when we were going to launch. My experience is rooted in the fashion world so my instinct was to hold the launch until the site was airbrushed perfect. My Chairish co-founders were dead set against waiting. They felt we needed to get the first version of our site up to get some user feedback. This would allow us to answer the first and most important question: Does anyone need this service?

I trusted their advice and we launched Chairish with clunky-looking visuals and limited inventory. I felt like I did when my mom got me a Dorothy Hamill wedge haircut in 4th grade – totally mortified. Despite that, in our first week, people started to buy from us and in the second week, we scored our first single sale for $10,000. Quickly we saw that –  YES! – there was a market for Chairish. Had we waited to launch, we would have wasted resources perfecting something that was only bound to change.

Moral of the story: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of learning. Or as my hero/handyman Merle says, “Just put some paint on the wall and see what it looks like.”

Biz Ladies Profile Anna Brockway photo by Marc Olivier LeBlanc

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Turning my passion into a profession. On the plus side, I get to look at amazing vintage pieces and work with super creative folks all day. But I also spend LOTS of time on spreadsheets, analytics, negotiating costs and more. It’s important to find that balance between the “want to’s” and the “have to’s”. It keeps my work both joyous and challenging.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

Learn to say no. If you hear even the tiniest voice internally questioning whether or not your head should be nodding, stop nodding.

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?

The many times I have not followed the lesson mentioned above!

Biz Ladies Profile Anna Brockway On set with design blogger Emily Henderson [NOTE:  Charisih worked with Emily Henderson who held a sale of her personal items found here.] photo by Cal Bingham

Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

We worked on a project where a family with small children was going through a divorce that required an immediate move to a new, totally empty and honestly, somewhat depressing house. The family’s designer shopped our local inventory and he was able to get the project done super affordably and in a matter of days. The entire house was furnished by Chairish.

The space turned out so beautifully that it was photographed by a major design magazine. The project’s designer hugged me and said, “I don’t feel I compromised a thing. Out of good, fast, and cheap I got all three. And the kids are so happy in their new home.”

As a mom, I seriously love that this family has a happy place to call home as they go through a turbulent time.

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

My greatest resource is the wisdom and experience of our world-class team. We work really hard to find the very best people in every way – experience, talent, personalities, taste level, speed and ethics. That takes time but I am never sorry I waited. When you have super smart people around you, everything gets a lot easier and a lot faster.

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. Who can make this idea better? It takes a village to raise a business!  Think about what you are good at and what you are not. Then find people you respect to jump in.

2. Are you ready to do this full stop? Being your own boss is often glamorously portrayed as leisurely working in your slippers, taking meetings in quaint coffee shops and setting your own hours. But just as my Junior Prom was far from the magical evening advertised, neither is being self-employed. The truth is the reason I might work in my slippers is because I work all the time, even when I am in my PJs at 5 am AND 2 am. It’s not a job; it’s a calling. You gotta really know that it’s work and not that glamorous.

3. Is there a small start you can try? Part of getting started is just getting over the paralysis of what to do first and finding out swiftly and cheaply if there is a there there. So start with something small and see how it feels. If you wait to have all the answers and resources, you will never get started.

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