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E2Exchange Dinner Series with Julien Callede, Co-founder of MADE.com

Our inaugural E2E Ambassador Dinner was in conversation with Julien Callede, co-founder of MADE.com, an e-commerce platform providing designer furniture without third party involvement. In February 2010 Julien arrived in London, and together with his three co-founders, launched MADE. Since then, the business has grown rapidly, and now operates successfully in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands alongside its London home. MADE’s vision is to become Europe’s number one online destination for home design.

As part of our Dinner Series we’re conducting a series of interviews to find out what it really takes to succeed. Simon Gentry from Newgate Communications caught up with Julien, who was kind enough to share his entrepreneurial insight.

What made you start MADE.com? I think we were our first customers. The issue in the furniture industry seven years ago was that if you were a customer there was no way find something nice, good quality, original and at a good price. The other thing is at the same time factories were struggling to get volumes, designers had no access to market because big brands could only bet on the big famous designers due to the way the industry was designed. We just tried and found a way of redesigning the way we design furniture and redesigning the way we supply them to make affordable products of good quality available to everybody.

Often the idea is the core of what success is about, what are the other elements that contribute to the success?

I think the idea is the reason that you do it. You need to have a good idea to start a business, meaning that it needs to solve a problem or to create a new service that’s going to sell a product that people don’t even think they have. So it has to have a meaning, but then what makes it, I’ll say two things, are the way you do it, the way you make it happen. So the idea of MADE.com hasn’t changed since the beginning. We make original good quality stuff, affordable to everybody. The way we do it has changed, so it’s your business model and then your execution that makes the difference.

When you’re starting up a business lots of people want to give you advice how do you distinguish the good advice from the bad advice?

It’s really tough. There are two key things you need to do well when you’re starting your company. The first thing is you need to hear and listen to what people are saying and be able to make turns in your business the right way, so don’t be blind. At the same time, you have to follow your gut. If you take the example of made.com you can’t imagine how many people at the beginning told us that this was a fairly stupid idea, not because the idea wasn’t good but because the execution was impossible, if it was possible then a lot of people would have done it before. I even had a guy who came to us and he was an old experienced person, an amazing person, he had worked in the furniture industry for twenty years. We had a meeting on how to source suppliers, a whole day meeting and then he stops after thirty minutes and he’s staring at us. He’s like ‘btw, stepping back, why the hell do you want to do that, I tried to deliver furniture online or a mail order for like twenty years and it’s an ass hole, I lost all my hair!’ And he had no hair. If we had listened to him, we wouldn’t have done it. So it’s a mix.

And if you spelled out the first few days of online trading how did you get the brand out there? How did people know to go to your website?

At the very beginning, PR. We thought we had an amazing story and amazing investors and a great network and we would have a lot of sales with PR, we had a good PR but it’s never enough. At the very beginning we were getting nothing… After two weeks I was sharing a flat with my co-founder, we were in two different rooms and we knew that everyone was waking up and checking the sales all I could see was we were getting sales every ten minutes for two hours, and I’m like what the hell is happening… and we were on a blog. Just a blog... And that lasted half a day and then it goes down.

London has attracted a number of companies and feeds off itself, is that important to you?

I don’t know how much help it brought us what I know is it’s very motivating, people around, people motivated, people you can talk to, that’s helpful. We’ve not been using the free help out there, from the government, from the network.