Five ways technology enabled our business

Will Biggs & Sean Quail design and handcraft furniture from their London workshop. Combining hand-selected timbers and traditional carpentry to create beautifully simple pieces, designed to last a lifetime. Selling exclusively online, they talk us through how they got started and some challenges they have overcome...

Sean and I met at school, and have been designing and making things together since then. We started Biggs & Quail a little over three years ago, when I needed a new desk. I spent a long time researching and looking, but what I found was that the market was polarised. At the bottom was the big brand, flat-pack, virtually disposable furniture we’re all too familiar with. I wanted something that would last and that I would be proud of. The upper end of the market was unbelievably expensive, and much of it still veneer - not solid wood. I decided to have a go at designing and making something, to see what Sean and I could come up with ourselves. In a dingy London pub, we drew up some quick ‘serviette’ sketches and hashed out some initial ideas…

A couple of weeks passed, we were incredibly excited. Designing & prototyping, trying out a range of timbers, creating models of different legs and meeting loads of suppliers. It was a huge learning curve for both of us, but within a month we’d made our first prototype desk. We were really chuffed and had proved that it was possible to produce quality, solid wood furniture that’s built to last and at an affordable price. We posted some photos on Facebook and soon enough we had a few enquiries from friends asking if we could make them something too. Before long we were selling on Etsy and eventually launched our own e-commerce website.

Here's five ways that technology has enabled our business to come into its own...

1. We were born on social media

We wouldn’t exist without the internet. Not only did social media help us validate our design and demonstrate the value of what we had created, but it allowed us to grow naturally, without any funding or investment. 

It’s interesting reflecting on how we got started, because now I can see that it massively shaped our approach to designing and creating new products and ultimately our business strategy. We got into the habit of prototyping and learning quickly. Creating ‘test products’ and getting this in front of real people to get feedback, at first friends & family, and later potential customers.

2. The Internet is our marketplace

Eventually we were getting emails asking if we could create bespoke pieces. A chest of drawers or a TV Stand for example. These enquiries gave us the opportunity to expand our product range in a cost effective way, with some of the R&D costs offset by the order for the first unit we were making. Evolving our range in this way allowed us to be we confident there was a market for the pieces we were creating.

3. Digital tools allow real collaboration

Technology enables us to collaborate with our customers. When we’re making something bespoke Sean and I sketch out ideas, create Pinterest boards of inspiration and share everything with our customers. 

They add their own ideas and suggestions, feeding back on what they like or dislike. Digital tools like Google Drive make it so easy, our customers really enjoy the whole process because they’re so involved, almost part of our team. We work with them to create the piece they imagine, but might be unable to design themselves, or even describe verbally. This process teases it out of them and we love how democratic it feels. In this way, we’re offering both products - furniture and a service - bespoke design.

4. Small means personal

Because we’re a small business, we’re able to deal personally with all our customers and get to know many of them. In the early days Sean and I would deliver orders in and around London ourselves. We learnt so much about our customers doing this, by meeting them and sometimes seeing inside their homes. We learnt what kind furniture they liked, where they lived, and a little bit about them personally.

Many of our customers were couples, 25-35 who had just bought their first home. Many were tired, as we were, with the mass-market furniture that’s so pervasive today. We learnt they’re happy to pay a little more, for a quality piece of furniture that is original and will last them a lifetime. We also discovered people were buying into us, not only as a small business trying to make its mark, but as people.

5. From hi-tech to handmade

I find it interesting that as business we’re enabled by digital technology, but we also know the value of traditional processes and carpentry. I think its a fusion that works really well for us, I just wish there was a technology that allowed people to touch and feel our products in their own homes

If you’ve got an idea or discover a need that isn’t serviced currently in the marketplace, go out make it happen! Try, have a go, give it your best shot. Then keep on going. Iterate, fail fast & fail often. Learn by studying others, meet with specialists and refine your ideas. The world is full of people simply "having a go", the successful ones are those who don’t give up and keep on learning.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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