For over 100 years, McGettrick’s, a drapery shop near Sligo, Ireland, was run by three family generations of the same name. Two autumns ago it closed its doors for the final time. “It was lovely growing up in a small area and they would know the family name because of the shop,” says Deirdre McGettrick.
Now, the London-based businesswoman is carrying on the family's interiors' connection in the digital age with ufurnish.com, the rapidly-growing online furniture aggregator launched in 2020 after the now husband and wife co-founders quit their jobs just before COVID hit.
“I’ve always liked interior designs. I used to cut out the Argos catalogue as a child and plan my room,” says McGettrick. “My dad sold curtains and blinds and I would go out after work and have a look at everyone’s house.”
Later, after eight months working at JP Morgan (JPM) as part of her degree and completing a graduate programme with BNP Paribas (BNP.PA), she became vice president of leveraged and acquisition finance at HSBC (HSBA.L) in 2015.
Looking for a flat in London as her banking career took off, her interior upbringing ultimately came back to the fore. “I saved so many screenshots from Pinterest and Instagram as I couldn’t find any of the furniture I wanted,” she recalls. “I thought ‘why isn’t there an aggregator?’
“I was using Rightmove when I was looking for a flat. It didn’t matter whether it was Foxtons or a one-man band estate agent, you want to see all the choices of all the apartments for sale and decide which one is for you. It was that vision we had for ufurnish.com but for furniture to create it.”
McGettrick sat on the idea for around nine months but had no idea how to start it, realising pretty quickly that she needed a partner. She didn’t look very far as her now husband, Ray – they became Ireland's first couple to tie the knot under the country’s pandemic rule in 2020 – had experience with previous start-ups. “I could cover the product fundraise, and Ray could build the product,” she adds.
“We were all in. There was probably a bit more risk and a bit more pressure with both of us giving up work for the dream. We had to have the really awkward question of living together and what would happen if we split up and how do we manage the business.
“We’ve never had to go back to that document but it’s very detailed in how we put the business first and make decisions. That kind of planning serves you well if you have those conversations up front.”
The vision of the business, she adds, has also never wavered. McGettrick admits the company’s first minimum viable product (MVP) wasn’t great. But doing the bare bones and getting the basics out was one of her early business mantras.
“I did try to perfect it and we could have done an easier beta version,” she notes, “but it wasn’t scalable. For most first-time founders, you will probably end up scrapping it and rebuilding it.”
The original name for the business was called Kuldea, based on ‘cool idea’. “Lesson No 1? Check your brand name out,” McGettrick smiles. “It was the worst name in history but a lesson learned. Once you get feedback, make the change and move on. Try not to dwell on things for too long.”
Yet ufurnish.com still needed two to three retailers to come on board, sign up, and receive their data to import products in a bid to fill out the early platform. There are now more than 110, including John Lewis, Nkuku, Industville and Cocoon, with over two million products.
“It’s an evolution but some of those conversations took months for them to join,” she says. “If you are a retailer you want to get in front of customers, those who are actively searching in the market. That’s ultimately what we are providing to the retailer and coming closer to that trigger point of purchase.”
McGettrick says that when it comes to furniture, the industry has been “a bit of a laggard” in terms of digitalisation and tech implementation to aid visuals and search criteria. Feel and touch has also been turned on its head since COVID and the boost in sales online.
Having turned from banking to being an entrepreneur, McGettrick admits it has been more difficult psychologically to sell the business in front of investors as opposed to her previous finance career.
“It’s not harder from my side,” she says. “It’s harder from the person I’m speaking to. Say I’m going out and doing a £500m bond and talking to a pension fund who will be an investor. It’s not their money, versus someone who is putting in their own money to invest in my company.”
McGettrick says she would be lost without the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), a tax incentive the government gives to high network individuals who are looking to invest, with a downside protection. And when it comes to pitching the business, McGettrick believes that giving off energy is also the crux to success.
“One hundred percent it is the energy and the person they [investors] back,” she adds. “At the beginning it’s all about the person as there is nothing else to back. It’s important to have an eco system of entrepreneurs, people who have been there. There is an element that they see something of themselves in you.”
This month, ufurnish.com announced total funding (pre seed and seed) had reached over £5.2m. McGettrick says: "I am particularly proud that 30% of my investors are females and includes experienced businesswomen who have a strong record in building and growing businesses from whom I can draw down on advice when required.”
Three years since launch and the husband-and-wife business — which now has 18 staff — is in a solid position given the cost of living crisis, coupled with consumers spending more research time to find the best price. Comparison is also a key driver.
“We have a big opportunity to help the customer. I am the first customer so how do I help them to find the products?” says McGettrick.
“It’s value to the consumer. You have to do more with less with other bills, so how do you stretch the rest of the budget further? It's all pretty compelling.”