Edgar Blazona of BenchMade Modern: ” Quality is the lead driver”

BenchMade Modern makes custom, by-the-inch furniture in a very short timeframe. We deliver a custom sofa to your door in four weeks, not 14. Our disruption is changing the mindset of our manufacturing partners, pushing them to plan and prepare for a much shorter lead time than had ever existed previously in the market. As a […]

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BenchMade Modern makes custom, by-the-inch furniture in a very short timeframe. We deliver a custom sofa to your door in four weeks, not 14. Our disruption is changing the mindset of our manufacturing partners, pushing them to plan and prepare for a much shorter lead time than had ever existed previously in the market.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Edgar Blazona.

Edgar Blazona is the founder of BenchMade Modern, a rebellious luxury furniture brand for a growing generation of design junkies. Former graffiti-artist-turned-furniture-executive, Blazona traded in a job at a 600M luxury furniture company for a new kind of start-up that puts furniture design in the hands of the consumer. His entrepreneurial, hands-on, DIY spirit continues to push the envelope for modern-day furniture.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

When I was growing up, my parents owned a construction company, which first instilled in me an entrepreneurial spirit and a hands-on, DIY mentality.

In my early 20s, I ended up teaching myself how to make furniture. Basically, I didn’t have money and had an empty apartment, so necessity became the mother of invention. I found that the modern pieces I liked were out of my price range. And, realizing that I had a talent for furniture design, I set up shop on a street corner in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood — the original pop-up shop.

But, to effectively scale my business, the one-off furniture model wasn’t going to work, so I spent time working at Pottery Barn to learn more tools of the trade — sourcing and manufacturing.

I launched two of my own companies — Modular Dwellings and TrueModern — before my lightbulb moment where I realized the lead-time to make a custom sofa was ridiculous. How could it take more than eight weeks for custom sizing? From there, I set out to find a better way.

I started BenchMade Modern in 2015 as a technology-focused, custom sofa company. I wanted to disrupt the market and prove that a custom sofa could be delivered to a doorstep within a month.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

BenchMade Modern makes custom, by-the-inch furniture in a very short timeframe. We deliver a custom sofa to your door in four weeks, not 14. Our disruption is changing the mindset of our manufacturing partners, pushing them to plan and prepare for a much shorter lead time than had ever existed previously in the market.

BenchMade Modern is also disrupting the consumer mindset that you need to wait for months and months to get the exact sofa that you want with the top quality you want. We’re able to speed up that process quite considerably. And, our manufacturing speed doesn’t change the quality. We’re delivering a top-quality piece of furniture to your door in a month.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we first started, I was doing all of my own local deliveries. My thought was: since I had a truck, handling the deliveries myself would be a great way to save money for my start-up. So, I’d arrange delivery with a customer and show up with their sofa on my truck. Most of the time, they didn’t know that the “delivery agent” was the same guy who designed their furniture and founded the company.

The real thing I learned from this experience was how our product fit into its end environment — how was the scale, the shape, the fit and the feel? Did my stuff fit into these luxury homes or were there more tweaks to be made? I also learned about the challenges within the delivery process. Don’t ship a sofa with legs on it. While we’d all love to receive our furniture fully assembled with the legs, the reality is that this makes it harder and sometimes impossible to get a sofa into a home or an apartment. I was exposed firsthand to the environment where we’d have to deliver this massive product.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

As a self-taught furniture designer, builder and entrepreneur, when I started my first company out of high school, I was struggling to grow it and I decided that my best move would be to close it down and go work for someone else. In this way, I could really learn how to make things on a much larger scale. Clearly, building one-off pieces of furniture was going to be a long road to success.

So, I closed my business down and made some portfolios. The first one I handed out was to Pottery Barn, and I was hired there.

My first month of the job, we were presenting to Gary Friedman, the president at the time who now is the CEO of Restoration Hardware. We were presenting collections that everyone had been working on for months, and at the end of the presentation, Gary asked us what we thought. Everyone was afraid to speak up. And, I — being young and dumb — stood up and said I didn’t like the collection, I didn’t think the Pottery Barn customer would understand it. I got looks of death from everyone else in the room who had spent months developing the collection for this very presentation.

When the meeting wrapped up, I went back to my desk and started to pack up my stuff. I knew I was going to be fired. As I was loading up my box, someone came over and said, “Hey, Gary is on the phone for you.” And, there I was — a 20-year-old. Gary doesn’t just call me. He said, “I wanted to thank you for standing up and saying something during that meeting. Every good designer should have a point of view, and I appreciate what you did.”

I took my stuff back out of the box and came away from this experience with a newfound confidence as a self-taught designer. Gary taught me to trust in myself. And, more than a decade later, we’re still friends.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

In our case, disrupting the furniture industry, changing the timelines and offering custom furnishings has had a positive impact on the customer. Why shouldn’t they have these choices and only wait a reasonable amount of time for the furniture that fits their lives?

But, pushing on the complacency within an industry comes at an expense. The manufacturers are there to do their job, and I’m there to push their job. This doesn’t mean I’ve made a lot of friends on that end. But, at the end of the day, I want to give the customer an experience and change the norm.

So, in that case, being disruptive is positive. We’re giving the customer what they want and deserve. We’ve disrupted the manufacturing process but kept the quality, disrupted the operational side but not at the expense of anything else.

Where I think being a disruptor is a problem is when you are changing something simply for the sake of making a change. That doesn’t make it better.

Can you share the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“It’s all a phase.”

When I first had a kid, I was pulling my hair out at every stop — every bedtime disaster, every milk disaster, everything. Someone told me that it was all just a phase, and if I could remember that, I could address each “disaster” with much more clarity. The world wasn’t ending. Eventually, all of this passes.

So, I take this same advice and put it into a business sense. It’s the same thing. The problems that come day in and day out, they go away. By realizing it’s just a phase, it becomes easier to deal with any problems. They eventually will be fixed.

The start-up blues — it’s crushing. The best day of your life can quickly turn into the worst day. Start-ups are full of highs and lows. And, the best part is: it’s all a phase.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

For us, quality is the lead driver. If you break it down a bit, in our business, word-of-mouth is the most important. Reviews, Reddit, blogs, personal stories — if you deliver poor quality along the way, you lose that organic lead-driving position. So, we focus on the quality and also the experience, and people then tell that story to others. I got the sofa. The owner called me. The experience with the customer service team — I loved them! I want to invite them to dinner!

A customer is investing a lot of money, and I want to cater to their experience. That’s the lead generator. When the experience is wonderful, the next sofa sells itself.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

“This Week in Startups” by Jason Calacanis is all about starting your own business and talks about other entrepreneurs and how they did it. I listened to this podcast, literally years of it, in preparation to launch my own companies. I took notes throughout the years and eventually was able to use his tactics to convince him to invest in my company. This particular podcast was very influential in teaching me the skills of how to grow a startup, get an investor, and get everything off the ground.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be more agreeable.” It’s what I’m trying to work on these days. I’ve gotten great success by pushing and pushing hard — but I think there’s another aspect that I can work on, which is to agree and not always push in an effort to keep everything running smoothly.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Minimalism. In one’s home, the idea of minimalism and simplicity has a real feeling of calmness. And, it can actually change the way people react outside of the home. If your home is filled with 5,000 colors and trinkets, everything is chaotic — and your mind, body and how you deal with things also is chaotic. We spend so much money on going to yoga and things like that, and if you just got rid of half of the crap in your house, you’d be more centered and calmer.

When you go into an environment that makes you feel really, really good, you often don’t realize it but it’s because of purposeful things, purposeful placement. You’re not overloaded. It’s minimalism and simplicity.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow me at https://twitter.com/edgarblazona , and follow the BenchMade Modern story at https://www.instagram.com/benchmademodern/ and https://benchmademodern.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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