Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In the Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.
If you’ve ever begrudgingly bought a sofa from a big-box store because you couldn’t afford an original piece from a boutique, Nidhi Kapur has lived your struggle. It’s what inspired her to start her e-commerce business, Maiden Home, which offers made-to-order furniture by high-end craftsmen at comparatively affordable prices.
She came up with the idea when she was director of business development at beauty-subscription service Birchbox, itself a startup at the time. “We were constantly listening to customer feedback and weren’t afraid to tweak the experience,” she says. “We were iterating on the fly, always innovating.” In late 2014, confident in what it took to build a brand online, she left her job at Birchbox to focus full-time on launching Maiden Home.
Her first step was to connect with furniture designers in New York City. “I couldn’t design a piece of furniture, I couldn’t draw it,” says Kapur, a member of WeWork 222 Broadway in New York. “But I could describe what I wanted it to look like—‘I really like the back that I found on this vintage piece and the arms that I found on this other.’”
She was about halfway through conceiving her collection in April 2015 when she traveled to Highpoint, North Carolina, for the manufacturing industry’s big trade show. “I had never set foot in a workroom,” Kapur says, “but I had researched and heard about the craftsmanship coming out of North Carolina. These artisans have raw talent, but they are lacking a way to reach the customer online. They sell through brick-and-mortar stores, they rely on those stores to do the marketing, and they don’t really control their own destiny.” She pitched them a solution: Build furniture for Maiden Home.
With three suppliers on board, she moved forward with product and site development, and in summer 2016, she launched the business in beta. (She initially invested about $500,000 from friends, family, and her own savings.) But she wanted to defer the press launch, which would be expensive, until she had more information. “I wanted to learn how people were reacting to the product. Do we want to make any tweaks?” Kapur says. She learned, she tweaked—and in March 2017, she made it official.
Today, the company is profitable (revenue hit $2 million in 2018 with a 15 percent growth rate month-over-month) and recently debuted a line of beds. Below, Kapur shares a diary of a workweek in the month leading up to her latest launch.
5:30 a.m. Fly into LGA on a redeye from LAX. Hit the ground running after a friend’s bachelorette party in Mexico over the weekend.
8 a.m. Arrive at my home in Tribeca for a quick hug and kiss with my son, Shaan, who’s 18 months old. Touch base with our amazing nanny, Patricia, about his plan for the week. Order groceries for his meals via Amazon Prime Now (greatest mom hack). As a parent, I’m working with real time constraints for the first time in my career. I have to be so much more focused and disciplined about how I use my hours.
9 a.m.-12 p.m. I’ve cleared my calendar in case of travel delays, so I have a wide-open window to catch up on emails.
12:30-2:30 p.m. Touch base with my two direct reports. We have five people on the team, including me; three of them are on operations (one reports to me) and one is on marketing (she reports to me).
3 p.m. Meet to align on final pricing for our bed launch. We’re focused on delivering a higher level of design and quality than comparably priced, mass-market options. We use a competitive mapping exercise to gut-check our pricing, making sure we’re offering a healthy discount to a comparable quality product at traditional retail.
4 p.m. Call with SGS Agency, a new marketing agency we’ve partnered with to manage our paid-advertising efforts.
5:45 p.m. Run home to see Shaan and take over for Patricia.
6-7:30 p.m. Dedicated time to catch up with my husband and Shaan. We read some books, then do bath, bottle, and bedtime. My favorite time of day.
7:30 p.m. Call with our event stylist to discuss the creative direction and timeline for an event we’re hosting at my home for editors next week. We’re going to transform the space to showcase our newest product launch.
8-11 p.m. Dinner with my husband, followed by catching up on emails (with Netflix on) until it’s lights out.
6 a.m. Wake up and squeeze in a quick Peloton ride with my favorite instructor before Shaan is up.
7-8:30 a.m. Get myself and Shaan ready for the day. Head out the door.
11 a.m. Meeting to discuss how we can better personalize our internal communications flow for interior designers. About a third of our owners are coming through interior designers, but to date, we just have a blanket approach to how we talk to customers, and we realized that was a missed opportunity. So we reworked, for example, the follow-ups that we do with customers, and adjusted them depending on whether they’re a designer or not.
12-1:30 p.m. Meet with event stylist at my home to discuss layout, styling details, and logistics. A lot has to come together in a short period of time, but we always make it happen!
2 p.m. Back at the office, we pause as a team to celebrate a “miracle of the week.” Each week we develop a running list of “miracles”—amazing things that have happened at work, big or small. This week we celebrate the successful resolution of a particularly tricky customer delivery—the team handled it so well the customer wrote us a five-star review.
3:30-5:30 p.m. Working session with our marketing manager on content planning for the upcoming month. When we hired her last summer, we decided we wanted to invest in content marketing—deciding on your furniture is so difficult, and we felt like the content could offer so many great resources. Our bar for including content in the lineup is: “Does this bring value to our customer?”
9 a.m. Start the day at Hudson Yards, an exciting new retail development in NYC. We are participating in a pop-up, so I’m visiting to see how the space is coming together and host a training for the sales staff.
11 a.m. In a cab back to the office. Have a check-in call with our leather supplier, Moore & Giles. Leather orders have recently exploded, and we’re working with the team there to secure higher quantities.
12 p.m. Weekly quality check-in with our operations team. Our quality reputation is everything, so we are constantly iterating based on customer feedback. If we see, for example, that one of our pieces has a higher-than-average damage rate, we might go back to check how we packaged that piece.
2 p.m. Meeting to review the new updates to our home page. We’re just coming off a big photo shoot and have a ton of beautiful content to refresh the look and feel of the site for spring.
3-5 p.m. Prepare for a team trip to North Carolina to visit our supplier partners. We’re setting agendas, printing materials, and discussing how to divide and conquer once we’re on the factory floor.
5 a.m. Out the door to LGA.
8:30 a.m. We land in Charlotte, NC, grab a rental car, and head to our first factory partner in Maiden. (I named the company before finding my partner here, by the way—such a coincidence.)
9 a.m.-12 p.m. Review final prototypes for our product launch. We make final tweaks to measurements, upholstery details, and specifications. Everyone’s super excited about how the product is coming together.
12-1 p.m. Lunch with my team at a local Mexican restaurant. We catch up on learnings from the previous meeting and go over agendas for the rest of the day.
1 p.m. Second supplier meeting in Maiden. Our second partner is actually a sister company to the first—all in the same third-generation, family-owned business.
3 p.m. Our last supplier meeting of the day in Hickory. They’ve built the final prototypes for other new products we have in the pipeline for later this year, and we go over pricing and specification details.
5 p.m. Back to CLT to fly home. We grab dinner as a team in the airport and jot down next steps from the meetings while the information is fresh in our minds.
9:30 p.m. Finally home. Give Shaan a quick kiss (he’s been asleep for a while), and catch up with my husband before hitting the hay.
9 a.m.-12 p.m. Patricia’s at a doctor’s appointment all morning, so my husband and I tag-team watching Shaan. A slower start to the day, but I’m grateful for a little extra time with Shaan, and he’s loving having Mommy and Daddy at home on a Friday morning.
12:30 p.m. Head to the offices of SGS Agency. We spend a little over an hour reviewing our performance to date on paid advertising platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, as well as learnings we’ve uncovered about our best messaging strategies and customer targeting. They’ll take this information into consideration when developing a new campaign plan for us.
2 p.m. Back at the office and jump on a call with a prospective investor. We’re not raising money at the moment, but I like building relationships with investors to get feedback on the business. That way we know we’re making the right choice when we choose to raise.
3 p.m. In-person interview with a final-round candidate for the operations team.
5 p.m. End the week with a new tradition: Friday snaps. Everyone on the team sends me one-liner shoutouts to their fellow team members for the week. I gather all the responses and call them out, rapid-fire, in celebration of another insanely productive week.
I really prioritize team and company culture. In the early days of a startup, you’re asking your team to dedicate themselves, with passion and hard work, to the building of a vision; in return, you hope to reward them with a career experience they can’t get anywhere else. One of Maiden Home’s greatest accomplishments is attracting the rock star team that I feel lucky to work with every day.
Growing from a few to a few hundred employees takes strategy and the right space.