Reham Fagiri, WG’12, AptDeco. Learning to Stay close to the Customer
Reham Fagiri, WG’12
Co-Founder of AptDeco
I first met Reham in her cozy, informal office back in 2014, just two years after she had graduated from Wharton and started AptDeco. Today, her business continues to grow. As someone who started engineering school when she was 16, Reham is a hands-on manager who faces challenges practically, while continuing to learn.
What is AptDeco?
AptDeco is a marketplace for buying and selling used furniture, focused on New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. We are an end-to-end solution. We take care of everything from payments to pickup and delivery. We now have our own fleet of vans. So, we are vertically integrated — we brought everything in-house.
Say, you want to sell your sofa. You list it on our platform by filling out a form. Once it sells, we pick it up and deliver it. On the buyer side, the shopping works like any e-commerce platform. It can take as little as a day for delivery, and then magically, everything shows up all set up in your home.
What is a pivotal decision you made at AptDeco?
Bringing our delivery in-house. When we first launched AptDeco, we outsourced our delivery service to third-party moving companies. We are in the service business, right? But if the delivery service doesn’t deliver, or if it serves a customer badly, the customer blames AptDeco, not the delivery company. Things came to a head one day when our delivery company canceled all its deliveries for that day. So, we hired two guys and rented a Zipvan.
Even though we hadn’t had the chance to train our delivery people yet or provide them with uniforms, customers started calling, telling us that this was the best moving experience they had ever had. So, a lightbulb went on: We need to do this ourselves. Today, it has succeeded to the degree that other retailers are now using our logistics services and technology to help with their own delivery services.
How does a transaction take place?
We guide the seller on how to take photos of the furniture and fill out a form. Our team reviews the form and helps the seller set a market price. Once the furniture is listed, it goes live in 24 hours. Buyers shop like they would at any e-commerce site and choose a delivery date.
Do you store furniture?
We store nothing. We pick up and deliver the same day, which allows customers to receive the merchandise fast! Our team makes sure it has no blemishes. Less than 0.5% of the furniture has any issue, because we do a lot of work on the front end to make sure sellers are upfront and honest.
Does AptDeco arbitrage the price?
No. AptDeco deducts a fee when the item sells. It is free to list! The buyer pays for the delivery between $35 and $125, depending on the geographical area.
What have you learned?
Building a business requires a lot of patience. In the beginning, you need to follow your gut because you don’t have data.
Be obsessed with the numbers, the bottom line. Especially in the tech startup world, a lot of companies die by not focusing there.
Have the right team. When you build something early on, your team requirements will be different from those five years in. You need to make personnel decisions quickly and stick with them, and be comfortable with them.
Are people concerned about buying used furniture?
There are always early adopters, but we are past that stage. There is an education element. Branding is storytelling — that the seller is someone just like you, and lives in a clean house. It takes time. Think about Airbnb. Who would have thought of sleeping in someone else’s bed? It took a long time — and now it is a major competitor of hotels!
What did you gain at Wharton?
My time at Wharton was very defining for me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to get away from tech. Talking to my classmates, I found everyone was trying to get into tech. My friends were picking my brain to figure out how to get into tech, because I had been an engineer building technology products at Goldman Sachs. And I was picking their brains to figure out how to get out of tech. People came from so many walks of life. We ended up helping each other out. Joining Wharton empowered me to start a company.
I learned so much about financial modeling, pricing and marketing. Professor Americus Reed taught me how to learn from my customers. How I think about data came from my statistics class. And I always use what I learned in Professor Stuart Diamond’s negotiations class!
What drove you to become an entrepreneur?
It was a hard decision to leave Goldman Sachs. It had sponsored me as an immigrant for my H-1B visa. Goldman gave me a promotion, more money and I was moving up the ladder quickly!
But I felt I wasn’t challenged and when I found a problem that was painful, I thought I had a solution! So why not do it, instead of waiting for someone else to do it? And there is no job with such a wide variety of experience!