Entering into a new business with your childhood best friend might sound risky to some, but for British, Los Angeles-based interior designer Jake Arnold and tech entrepreneur and high school friend Leo Seigal it was a no brainer.
The 30-year-old Arnold, who moved to Los Angeles from London years ago, is a celebrity interior designer who has designed homes for Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, Rashida Jones, Aaron Paul and Sophia Bush. When the country began lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the duo moved in together. It wasn’t until Arnold began receiving hundreds of direct messages on Instagram from people all over the world asking for design advice.
“I was blown away by the number of people every single day messaging Jake with design questions as if he’s design Siri,” Seigal says. “Jake didn’t have the time, as he was working with his retainer clients.”
Seigal, who has helped launch several startups in Silicon Valley and beyond, and Arnold came up with the idea to create Zoom consultations for a fee with those who were DMing him that were seeking design advice, as simple as choosing a new sofa or a bathroom sink to tips on brightening up a room. They found that several people were more than willing to spend the money for a 55-minute consultation with Arnold. Thus, The Expert was born.
The Expert is a virtual platform that connects clients to interior designers around the world for one-on-one video consultations. The digital platform can be accessed via a computer or an app. This never-been-done-before concept connects designers to clients that otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive their services, due to being in another country or budget. The Expert offers 25- and 55-minute consultation from more than 60 designers (and counting) to provide advice to clients anywhere and on several budgets. The Expert features a roster of incredible designers around the world, including Arnold (Los Angeles), Leanne Ford (Pittsburgh), Martyn Lawrence Bullard (Los Angeles), Brigette Romanek (Los Angeles), Joy Moyler (New York), Martin Brudnizki (London), Danielle Siggerud (Copenhagen) and more.
Appointments, booked via a calendar feature on the site, range from $150 to $1,500 and can be as simple as a one-time consultation or several video calls for something more in-depth, like a full-scale home renovation.
“What The Expert has done, is that it allows people to have access to people that they wouldn’t normally have access to, but it doesn’t diminish the quality or the level of expertise that you’re getting, just because it’s online,” Arnold says. “When I spoke with these people and understood what they wanted to do in their houses, it became apparent to me that if I demystify the design process, then they can get a lot from it.”
As interior design is such a personable industry, it was a pivot from what Arnold was used to, but he’s still providing clients with tactile, long-term advice and specific recommendations so that he actually can make a difference in their homes.
“On the calls, I’ll always start with what their priorities are and make sure that as I’m going along, I’m going to give them actual steps and tasks to fulfill from A to Z, so that there’s takeaway,” Arnold says. “It’s not just having a conversation like a lot of these online forums, where you chat for 10 or 15 minutes. This is actually giving someone specifics and saying, ‘This is the fabric I like. This is the sofa I like from this company.’”
After The Expert’s beta launch in November 2020, they already have a 20% repeat customer rate and have done six figures of revenue since then. The official launch of The Expert was in early February.
“The Expert is being able to have quality time with someone where it’s focused, and you can ask all your questions in one place and have them answered on every call,” Arnold says. “It’s surprising to me because feedback that everyone sends says they get so much from it. It’s so amazing and it makes me feel really good that I’m helping a lot of people that really are grateful for the time that we spend doing these calls. And all our friends that we brought onto the platform feel the same way.”
When Covid-19 subsides, both Seigal and Arnold are confident that the demand for video consultations will remain, as it’s both time-saving on the designer and clients’ sides and it’s more straightforward. They see it as a profitable tool to supplement designers’ studio work.
“Someone across the country or out of the country, they’re not going to have access to me or another designer, so it means that people can talk to their favorite designers regardless of geography, and that exists with or without Covid-19,” Arnold says. “We are making our design global, and an aesthetic from a specific designer can be translated anywhere in the world by way of a 55-minute consultation.”