Suburban Detroit may not be the epicenter of interior design, but that’s exactly where Nicole Gibbons, the CEO and founder of Clare, a direct-to-consumer paint line, got her start.
When she was growing up, Gibbons’ mother was a decorator and although Gibbons’ first job out of college was Director of Public Relations for a mass market retailer, she launched a design blog as her creative outlet. “It was truly just a place for me to talk about all the things I loved,” said Gibbons.
For a decade, her nights and weekends were spent pursuing her side hustle: designing for clients. But in 2008 the recession hit, and it wasn’t a good time to leave her day job to take a risk on starting her own full-time business. By 2013, the economy was looking up, though, and inspired by the Martha Stewart model of bringing design to the masses, Gibbons decided to take the leap.
Her first step was to build up her interior design clientele in and around New York City. Simultaneously, Gibbons started positioning herself as a design influencer. She appeared on Rachael Ray, HGTV, and spent three seasons on Home Made Simple on the Oprah Network. “All the while I was thinking about what kind of business I could build,” she added.
By then the first wave of direct-to-consumer brands had launched, with companies like Warby Parker in 2010 and Casper in 2014. “That’s when I had a light bulb moment around paint,” she said. “It’s something that’s really painful to shop for.” So painful in fact that it took one of Gibbons’ friends two months to pick a paint color that she ended up hating in the end.
Gibbons started out by networking in the paint industry to learn as much as she could about the marketing and manufacturing of paint. In the process she learned that the paint industry hasn’t changed the way it operates or sells its products in over a century. One woman she spoke with, who worked in the paint research and development space, even admitted that she hated shopping for paint. “That was a huge vote of confidence that I was onto something,” Gibbons explained. “People kept telling me that they wished someone would figure this out.”
And that’s exactly what Gibbons set out to do when she launched Clare.
Her first goal was to create a shopping experience for paint that was a lot more inspiring than the aisles of your local hardware or big box store, where a single paint brand has more than 3,000 colors to choose from.
The typical journey for someone who wants to paint their house is this: Narrow down from thousands of colors to a handful you want to try on your wall. Buy an eight-ounce jar of paint. Go home. Paint your wall. Wait for paint to dry. All the colors look almost exactly the same. Go back to the store and test more colors until you find the right one. Wait in line to get the paint mixed. If you have a job, which many of us do, you’re probably at the store on the weekend when it’s the busiest. Next you head over to the tool aisle, which is just as confusing as the paint aisle.
Instead, Clare has only 55 of the best colors in the best finishes, Gibbons explained. No more going back and forth to the store each time you want to try a new color. The company offers peel and stick color built with a high-tech color matching system that takes into account how much natural light your space gets, your existing furniture, and the colors you already have in the room. It also eliminates the need for testing multiple paint swatches on your wall.“We’ve created a suite of high quality tools so that even an unskilled painter can achieve high quality results. We bundle together everything from paint to tools. And we also have tons of online content that offer tips and inspiration,” said Gibbons.
In 2017 Gibbons built out the business, focusing on supply chain logistics and market research. “My goal was to get the business to the place where I could raise capital,” she said.
Her first step was to talk to people who had raised capital before. “I didn’t have a physical product or any traction so I had a bigger challenge than most,” Gibbons said. “When you’re raising pre-product you have to sell a vision. You can’t just have a compelling story. You have to give investors the confidence that you can execute on your vision.”
When Gibbons first pitched Clare to investors, she already knew who her suppliers would be and she had all the relationships in place in order to execute. “I spent all year working on it. I ate, breathed and slept paint. When the time came to talk to investors, I had a really clear path forward and a clear plan.”
Gibbons took her first investor meetings in September 2017 and by the end of October she had an oversubscribed round, raising $2 million, exceeding her initial target of $1.6 million.
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