Ufurnish: ‘It’s like Skyscanner, but for furniture’

Wild Geese: Deirdre McGettrick, London

Deirdre McGettrick says life in London is good, but advises people looking to launch a start-up to do their homework.

Deirdre McGettrick says life in London is good, but advises people looking to launch a start-up to do their homework.

 

Sligo native Deirdre McGettrick combined her love of design with her experience in finance to create a Skyscanner-type website for home furnishings.

Born in Ballymote, McGettrick studied law and accounting at the University of Limerick after leaving school. As a part of her degree course, she spent eight months in London working at JP Morgan. “I started as an intern in treasury services in February 2008. It was an interesting time to be there – during the global banking crisis.

“I assumed I’d be moving to Dublin after college, so I thought I’d try London first. I fell in love with the fast pace and big-city life.”

She returned to Limerick to finish her degree before completing a master’s degree in finance in Trinity College – achieving first-class honours in both.

After a stint at law firm Matheson in Dublin, McGettrick travelled around South America, before deciding to return to the UK full time in 2011.

“I completed a graduate programme with BNP Paribas with a five-month rotation in Copenhagen raising money for acquisitions.”

Her career was going well.

In 2015, she took on a senior role as vice-president of leveraged and acquisition finance at HSBC. “I was working hard and had a good job, so I started looking at buying an apartment.”

Though she had toyed with Dublin, McGettrick decided on London. But once purchased, she found it difficult to browse for furniture.

“I had all these pictures on my phone from home decor sites and magazines. When I wanted to find various items, I couldn’t. It made me think – if you want a gold-trimmed black coffee table, how do you go about finding that? Surely there must be a simpler way of browsing for furniture?”

So in 2018, Kuldea, the UK’s first online marketplace dedicated solely to home furniture and furnishings. was born. The name was a a take on “cool idea”. “Kuldea is an enabler, which allows you to search and compare products across the entire retail market on one website.

“It’s like Skyscanner, but for furniture. Instead of looking up each individual flight, you go into Skyscanner and it will show you the whole market. The only difference is that people spend a lot more time and are more passionate about furniture, as they will be living with it every single day.”

McGettrick started the company with her now husband Ray Wright, who was the first to quit his job.

“Obviously it was a huge step, but we would always regret not giving it a go.”

She says working and living with your other half can be difficult, but the couple work well together. “Our skill sets are very different. My background is very much the finance, the legal and the love of interior design. His background is more in the marketing and the technology side, so there’s a clear split on who does what.”

Since launching, the site – now rebranded as ufurnish.com – has partnered with more than 100 furniture retailers including John Lewis, French Connection and Dunelm, bringing more than 500,000 of their products with them.

“A lot has happened since the launch and in the past six months particularly,” she says.

Funding round

Just before Covid 19 hit, the couple closed a funding round in February, raising just shy of £1.8 million in funding from investors, including prominent Irish businessman Pat McCann (the founder and chief executive of Ireland’s largest hotel group, Dalata).

McGettrick’s career in finance certainly helped. “I was already running my own client portfolio and originating my own deals, so I had experience in raising money, though it is psychologically harder selling your own business idea.”

Though the coronavirus infiltrated everyone’s life, luckily, the online space benefited from lockdown. “Online sales have increased from 20 to 35 per cent since Covid-19, which has offered new opportunities for us.

“People are also spending more time at home. Both these factors are great for our business. Sales have increased by up to 50 per cent month on month.”

Things have been so busy that the company has now grown to a team of 12 people. “We hired six people during the pandemic. It’s strange not meeting someone in person before hiring them; there’s been a lot of Zoom calls.”

On top of all their work achievements, the couple became the first to get married in Ireland during the pandemic, navigating quarantines, guest restrictions and the post-normal environment to do so.

McGettrick says life in London is good, but advises people looking to launch a start-up to do their homework.

“Meet people within the industry to get their view, listen to the critics. Research, research, research. Also use the Irish diaspora and networks such as LIBS – the London Irish Business Society. They have been fantastic.”

So can you buy items in Ireland?

“You buy items online directly from the retailer, not from us. So it depends on whether retailers and brands ship to Ireland. We don’t have a specific ufurnish.com for the Irish market yet, but we plan to.”

First, the newlywed entrepreneurs plan to take the UK by storm. “We want the whole of the UK to become aware of our ability to help them furnish their home, in their style and specifications, and within their budget.”

After that, they plan to take ufurnish.com to Ireland and beyond.

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