Interior design has been a long, drawn-out process that involves collaborating with your selected designer to envision and plan the look and feel of your space, then ensure that not only is it aesthetically pleasing but also functional.
The interior designer has to focus on understanding your lifestyle and aesthetic to be able to fully deliver a design that you want, before reaching out to the right suppliers and contractors to help execute the design.
But before actually getting to the meat of the interior designing process, you would have to find an interior designer first.
The problem is that the interior design industry had been a little late to the party in terms of utilising innovation. Unlike other industries, interior design is somewhat slow in the uptake of digital transformation.
Case in point, when you ask people to look for a good and credible interior designer, they would mostly rely on word of mouth. Those who would turn to the internet to search would mostly find a pool of interior designers limited to those who have the resources to create and maintain an online presence – mostly large global companies and expensive firms.
Not a bad pool of interior designers, especially if you have a hefty budget, but you also have to consider talented local interior designers who cater to a wide variety of tastes and budgets and who cannot be found online.
Shen Maosheng and Seow Yao Han sought to change that. They founded and launched Atap.co in August 2016 with the aim of providing a platform for property owners and interior designers to find each other, and even the playing field for interior design firms without the necessary tech know-how.
The founders are no strangers to building online platforms. Prior to Atap.co, they built Live Life, Drive, a car review platform that recorded 400 per cent growth and racked up over 200,000 monthly users within four months of launch. Live Life Drive was later acquired by iCarAsia for RM6.5 million (~US$1.7M).
With this success under their belt, they turned to the interior design industry. According to Seow Yao Han, “the interior design space was an obvious market gap that no one was catering to, certainly not to the level that we are now.”
But Atap.co is more than just a marketplace. It is fast becoming the go-to online platform for high quality content on interior design trends, news, tips, and DIY lessons, as well as a total lead management system for interior designers.
A useful platform for interior designers and property owners
As of February 2018, Atap.co has already amassed 481 thousand monthly users on their platform, browsing through the portfolios of over 1,200 interior designers in Malaysia.
This means that property owners no longer have to rely on the limitations of word-of-mouth recommendations, and can instead get in touch with interior designers of their choice via the user-friendly platform.
Through Atap.co, property owners are presented with several methods of finding the interior designer that fits their needs. One is by searching for interior design ideas and filtering them according to location, style, color, and room. Another method is by browsing photos of the designers’ completed projects and filtering them by property type, work type, location, and more.
Once ready, property owners can request for free quotations from specific interior designers through the platform, or send a general request to receive free quotations from several interior designers that match their requirements.
Importantly, Atap.co adds a layer of security for property owners who are concerned about coming across scammers and irresponsible interior designers, and interior designers who are concerned about false requests and unreasonable expectations.
Interior designers who purchase credits to unlock quotation requests are verified by Atap.co’s team beforehand. This ensures that property owners only receive quotes from legitimate firms.
On the other side of the process, the support team calls every property owner who sends in a quotation request to discuss their renovation work and budget expectations. This ensures that interior designers get the most accurate information possible.
Answering to interior designers’ needs
Atap.co provides interior designers a place to showcase and advertise their work through an online portfolio – all at no cost. Getting listed on Atap.co is free, and for interior designers without the tech know-how, it’s a cost-free way of expanding to the online world while improving visibility and reach.
“IDs don’t have to pay hefty subscription fees to earn big leads; they get to shop for leads on the Lead Marketplace and spend credits only on leads that interest them or which suit their renovation requirements like budget, location, and types of work,” Seow said.
Prior to Atap.co, the interior designers’ options are either a subscription-based service on another platform where they are charged a fixed price for leads they may not find suitable, or general service online platforms that aren’t dedicated to interior designers and so lack the specialised features that Atap.co provides.
But more than just giving interior designers access to quality leads, Atap.co also provides them with a tool to manage the said leads. The Lead Management Tool is a user-friendly feature that lets interior designers sort leads into various stages such as opened, contacted, responded, lost, and won – helping them manage resources.
Filling the gaps
Atap.co’s numbers show that there is a great need for a platform like it. Within a year of launching its interior designer-sourcing feature, Atap.co posted RM 922,500 (~US$235,000) in revenue. It has also received 1,572 quote requests from property owners worth RM 229 million (~US$58 million).
“We looked at our competitors and analysed the areas in which they lacked. So when we planned Atap.co, the product features were designed with interior designers and their feedback in mind. Even so, the traction and the revenue it generated in the first year of operation pleasantly surprised us,” Seow said.
And it is not just the business that is growing. Atap.co has also grown their team of four into fourteen to be able to keep up. They are backed by serial entrepreneur Tan Swee Yeong, an adviser and investor who has invested and supported multiple successful early-stage startups like UnrealMind, Hermo, and Delivereat.
Also read: E-commerce in Malaysia, 2017 in review
Atap.co is in the works of adding more features. “We are constantly fine-tuning our product according to feedback from interior designers and homeowners. That will ensure Atap.co has the best product on market. We are also expanding into the major cities of Malaysia with the sole purpose of dominating the country’s interior design industry,” Seow said.
The platform just launched their referral programme that rewards users whenever their friends send in a valid renovation quote request through their sharing link. The program offers up to RM 250 for every successful referral.
Later this year (2018), the platform will be introducing Atap Pay, a secure escrow payment service that will collect staged payments for projects to ensure that interior designers are paid when a project is completed while making sure property owners’ requirements are delivered before final payments are made. For peace of mind, they will also include insurance of up to RM 300,000 (~US$76,000) for third-party injury claims or property damage liabilities.
“Within this year, we will be pushing out products catered to property developers and home retail brands. It’s part of our vision for Atap.co to service all stakeholders in the renovation journey: property developers, interior designers, home retail brands, and the property owner – tying all the pieces together”, Seow said.
Atap.co is also planning to add property developer profiles that will include project details and descriptions along with 3D renderings of fully designed units by select Atap.co interior designers, as well as begin offering renovation packages for smaller budgets and simpler projects, all within 2018.
An e-commerce marketplace for home retail merchants and custom websites with 3D visualiser is also in the works for 2019, which will allow customers to view marketplace items in virtual reality. They are also setting their sights on expansion to Thailand and Indonesia in the year 2020.
The number one challenge, according to Seow, is creating a product that interior designers will find useful and pay for in the long term. He believes that they have succeeded in doing that and the company is in the midst of securing funding to realise their vision. And taking a look at their plans, Atap.co is set to become a major player in the home improvement arena.
Disclosure: This article is produced by the e27 content marketing team, sponsored by Atap.co