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Thursday, Jun 1, 2023

Furniture Startup Goes for Kickstarter Fame

“There’s an old rule in furniture design that you can never have all three: good design, good materials and a good price,” said David Chippendale.

Chippendale, the chief executive of Woodsy Co., a Burbank-based furniture manufacturer, said it was a lesson imparted to him by his father-in-law, Peter Schlebecker.

“That was one of the first things he told me,” said the 31-year-old Chippendale. “I said we were going to make beautiful, affordable solid-wood furniture, and he said to me ‘David, you cannot do that. You can’t have all three.’ So I have been trying to prove him wrong this whole time.”

That conversation took place back in 2019, and since then, Woodsy has gained traction in a crowded furniture retail market dominated by the likes of Ikea and Wayfair Inc.

The company raised $100,000 from local angel investors, Chippendale said, and has been growing and plans to move into a larger space in the coming months. In addition, Chippendale is investing $33,000 into three new machines that will speed up the manufacturing process.

Woodsy has also raised about $23,000 so far in a Kickstarter campaign for its first product release, the Woodsy desk, he added.

Chippendale has a goal of raising $75,000 to $80,000 in the campaign.

“It is a big, exciting moment for us because it allows us to fund our movement forward and validates that there really is interest in the product,” Chippendale said.

The company is offering the product in several versions and price points via Kickstarter, starting at $319 and topping out at $1,099 for four maple desks. Add-ons include four cable hooks for $19 and a standing desk kit for $179. The desk can also be purchased on the company’s website.

The Woodsy desk is in its second generation; sales for the first iteration of the desk began in 2021. Mass production on the new model is expected to begin in June, with deliveries taking place over the summer and into the fall.

The company changed quite a few things about the desk between the two generations, starting with the wood. It was using Baltic birch, a plywood product sourced from Europe. It is now using cherry, walnut and maple from the U.S.

Chippendale is eager to stress the customization of the product.

“You can add a keyboard tray, or you can connect another desk next to it if you and your partner work in the same office,” he said. “You can make it a standing desk or make it an 8-foot-wide desk. We tried to really embrace how people can customize the desk, and it can be assembled in two minutes or less.”

Global market

Desk: The Woodsy desk is made in the United States.

According to a study conducted in 2022 by San Franciso-based Grand View Research, the global furniture market is projected to reach $718 billion in 2025. 

“The market is driven by various factors such as rising disposable incomes, growth of real estate and hospitality industries, and demand for luxury and premium furniture from certain consumer sections,” the report said. “Additionally, increasing government investments in infrastructural development is contributing towards demand for the residential and commercial sector can propel product demand in the near future.”

Wood furniture purchases in particular showed an increase, with a projected annual growth rate of 6% through 2025.

“This growth is expected to accelerate as wood is one of the raw materials naturally available in abundance and can be used in production of almost all types of furniture products,” the report said.

Tech background

Chippendale had a lot to learn about furniture design and manufacturing, as he came to Woodsy with a background in tech.

In 2016 he founded Chip Studio with his brother. The tech company is based in North Hollywood and builds apps used by Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions and the federal government.

He stepped down as chief executive of that company in June of last year, after leading it for six years, to concentrate on Woodsy.

Chippendale said he had come to a point in his life, just prior to the start of the pandemic, where he found himself needing a change.

And then when the pandemic happened, he began to see that he needed a physical product on which he could work, he added.

“It started this process of moving me towards Woodsy, moving towards robotics, moving toward a more physical manifestation of the products I wanted to work on,” Chippendale said.

Ultimately, he sees Woodsy as a technology product, albeit a simple technology, he said.

“It’s allowed me to get my hands dirty and learn about manufacturing and getting all of that under my belt, but also leveraging all the business experience I’ve had in the past few years actually working with major enterprise customers,” Chippendale continued.

He still stays involved with tech through his position as interim chief technology officer of Nexcom A/S, a publicly traded company based in Denmark that is developing artificial intelligence for the customer-experience industry.

He said his days have an interesting balance: he leads a team that builds AI and also, for Woodsy, builds furniture.

“I love it because it keeps me active in all different ways,” Chippendale said. “I end days with sawdust in my hair, but I start them at about 5 a.m. talking with them in Denmark and building artificial intelligence.”

Chippendale really got going with Woodsy in 2019, but the idea had been percolating in his mind for a number of years before that.

He went to his father-in-law, Schlebecker, who has a degree in furniture design from the Rhode Island School of Design and serves as head of design at the Burbank company.

“It has been a real master class,” Chippendale said. “I knew about woodworking, but furniture design and furniture making is a completely different entity. He has been a real guiding force and teacher for me.”

Chippendale has put about $100,000 of his own money into Woodsy, and said he likes having outside investors because they give him valuable feedback about the company.

“I find that as I am going to a larger fundraising strategy it is important to have that accountability just for me as a CEO,” Chippendale said He is also in talks with venture capitalists.

Angel investors

Maple: The Woodsy desk is customizable.

Angel investors are amazing because they get excited by the vision, while venture capitalists are all about the numbers, he continued.

There is a lot of fear and trepidation in the VC world these days about putting money into speculative investments that need to show an element of profitability, he said.

“We want to flush out our product portfolio and really demonstrate that we can acquire customers cheaply so that we can actually show this is a cash flow-positive business,” Chippendale added.

The company’s goal at first was figuring out how to sell beautiful solid-wood furniture at reasonable prices, Chippendale said.

“That has grown from there to us also embracing what we can do on the consumer side to improve that experience as well,” he added.

The key to improving the consumer experience is improving the manufacturing experience, he continued.

To further that goal, the company’s new equipment collects all of the dust produced in the manufacturing process, which improves the workplace conditions for workers. In addition, the new machines are self-lubricating.

“They do a lot of different elements that had been time consuming for us to do in the past,” Chippendale said.

By using solid wood purchased in 4-foot by 2-foot blocks, Woodsy doesn’t have to source other material to make its furniture.

“That reduces the complexity of manufacturing because we don’t have to go to other suppliers,” Chippendale said. “We see that we don’t have to use glue because we designed it in a way that all the joints fit together like Legos.”

Instead of a time-consuming process, Woodsy “slaps down a piece of wood and are done with it,” Chippendale said.

“It is cheaper for us to buy nicer material; it is cheaper for us to make things in America then it is for us to use poor materials and poor labor practices,” he added. “That is why I see ourselves fitting into that larger story, and that’s why we are so bullish on Woodsy.”

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Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk is a managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. She previously covered real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. She has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.

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