Under 30 Noa Santos Raises $20 Million For Homepolish
January 21, 2016
Three years ago Noa Santos, then 24, was a recent Stanford grad with a B.S. in architecture and business, working for a high-end New York residential interior design firm on projects like a $25 million Southampton mansion.
He had a different vision: “I wanted to work with young, upwardly mobile professionals,” who didn’t all have six figure design budgets, he says. One of his first clients was Will Nathan, an ex-investment banker-turned-Buzzfeed-coder looking to get a toe into the world of New York startups. Nathan was spending $30,000 to spruce up his 450-square-foot apartment in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
When he confided in Santos about how hard it had been to find a designer willing to take on his small project, the two hatched an idea. They would start a business that matched interior designers with clients like Nathan, and charge $130 an hour, instead of the standard decorator’s flat fee plus 30% commission on furniture purchases. “We wanted to make our service accessible,” says Santos. Homepolish would get a cut of the designer’s fee, depending on how seasoned the professional (Santos won’t disclose the range).
Santos and Nathan have also negotiated 10% discounts for their clients who buy pieces from 250 vendors including West Elm and Restoration Hardware.
Nathan did the programming for Homepolish’s website and Santos vetted designers. They put their plans into action in late 2012, self-funding their $1,000 startup costs. By the end of 2013 they already had revenues of $1 million. We picked Santos for Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list this fall as his 2015 revenues were heading toward $10 million. The company now has 450 designers across the country. Where it has no designers available to meet in person, it offers video walk-throughs and a relationship with a single designer and Homepolish rep from start to project’s completion.
Though it has much in common with other e-decorating startups like Havenly, Santos insists that Homepolish makes every effort to offer clients the full service of traditional designers, including buying furniture and making sure it gets delivered.
Projects have included mid-sized designs like the 2,000-square-foot Chinatown loft of salad restaurant chain Sweetgreen founders Jon Neman and Nathan Rue, and designs for more than 750 commercial spaces, including digital payments startup Venmo, whose office is close to Homepolish’s Flatiron district headquarters in Manhattan.
Now Homepolish has attracted its first outside investment of $20 million, which values the company at $100 million, according to Santos. The round is led by a new venture capital fund called Elephant Partners, cofounded by Warby Parker cofounder Andy Hunt, which is putting in $12.5 million. Hunt says he discovered the company when he bought $1,300 worth of Homepolish design time last year. “The team was fantastic,” he says. “These guys have been growing 100% year over year, they’re profitable, their growth has been nearly 100% organic, and customers love them.” Hunt says he is investing for the long term and will sit on Homepolish’s board.
Santos plans to use the money to double Homepolish’s design team to 900 by year’s end and to enhance the tools he offers designers, like billing and administrative services. He’ll also double his employee head count to 100.
Given that he owns some 40% of the company, how does it feel to suddenly be worth $40 million? No different, he insists, though he grew up working class, son of a city worker and member of the military on the north shore of Oahu. “Ultimately I’m completely invested in Homepolish and I feel the company is worth a lot more.” He pays himself in the low six figures and doesn’t plan on a raise. “We just want to keep as much money pumping into the company as possible,” he says.