As the founder and webmaster of both 1stdibs.com and shopAD.net, two of the most important design-related websites on the Internet, Michael Bruno is a very busy man. Luckily he is also a generous one. When Kravet caught up with him, he was kind enough to respond to our questions about the trials and tribulations of being one of the design-industry pioneers on the world wide web.
Kravet: What was your inspiration to start 1stdibs.com? When and how did you first sense that there was a need for such a site?
Michael Bruno: I was living and working as a realtor in San Francisco during the dot com boom. Most of my clients were first-time buyers with newly minted fortunes. They were moving from one-bedroom apartments with hardly a stick of furniture into mansions in the best parts of the city. These tech-savvy kids hired designers to transform their houses into homes, but they were frustrated to realize there were no online resources for their designers and them to use.
KK: How did you go about creating the site?
MB: Selling real estate in a high-end market can be very lucrative. I knew if I wanted to start a new business that I would have to give up my real estate career and the only way to do that would be to move; it would always be way too tempting to sell just one more house. So I sold my home and moved to Paris to take a time-out – to figure it out. The first week I was there, I went to the Paris Flea Market and instantly knew that I would start by putting that online. The Puce is so famous and all of the best designers shopped there already, so I knew they would be interested and that the press would love to write about it… and they did. Before we even launched 1stdibs, the word got around and the New York Times wanted to write about it. I had an interview with a Times reporter but was jolted to learn that their story would run in two weeks! The site was not anywhere near ready, but we worked day and night to get it done in time for their story. Once the Times piece hit, the press kept coming: more attention from the Times as well as from W, Elle Décor, House Beautiful…all within a few months.
KK: What was your biggest challenge in launching the site?
MB: Without question, the biggest challenge was getting the French to believe in our concept. Most Parisian dealers at that time didn’t even own a fax machine. The idea of us taking pictures of their inventory and uploading it to the Internet for people a continent away to buy seemed too far out for most dealers to comprehend let alone participate in. In September, the horror of 9/11 occurred, just a few months after we launched, and the first week after the disaster struck the site was dead silent. One week later, the floodgates opened and every dealer and designer that had seen the press started buying and filling containers to ship back home. Nobody knew how long it would be until they could travel again – and as a consequence, sales went nuts. For the next three months, we had so many sales that we had to hire an extra person just to pass out checks to the dealers at the Flea Market!
KK: How has the site altered or grown since its inception?
MB: Two years after launching in Paris, we decided that it was time to bring our service back to the U.S. We experimented one summer by launching in the Hamptons to see what would happen. It seemed to me that if we could generate a lot of buzz over the summer, we would take the company to New York City in the fall. It worked and we never looked back. Today, we service every major metropolitan market within the U.S., plus London, Toronto, Montreal, and of course Paris.
KK: How many active users are there on 1stdibs.com? How have the suggestions of users helped to shape your vision for the site?
MB: Currently we have around a million visits a month. We love to hear comments, both positive and negative. Fortunately we mostly hear positive, but when users present us with comments or suggestions – we listen. Of course, we do not implement every suggestion, but there have been a few really good ones.
KK: What have been the most pleasing or surprising responses that you have received from users?
MB: We’ve had designers tell us to come visit their new beach houses, saying we indirectly bought it for them because they were able to get so much more work done due to using our service.
KK: How did you come up with the idea to launch shopAD.net?
MB: 1stdibs is all about antiques and vintage design. I wanted to create a source for the latest and best new products. The process is so different for purchasing so I realized that this new concept must be offered on a separate site to keep it from confusing the users.
KK: What is it like partnering with AD and how did the partnership come about?
MB: I chose to work with Architectural Digest because it is the most influential design magazine. They have an amazing team and have been a dream to work with, exceeding all expectations.
KK: What inspires you?
MB: Turning a thought into a thing. Once I make up my mind to do something, there’s no turning back.