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Alumna and students design success in home-décor startup

from left to right: Nichole Ocepek, Ashley Baker MBA '10, and Jessa McIntosh
from left to right: Nichole Ocepek, Ashley Baker MBA '10, and Jessa McIntosh

The early threads of Loom Décor, a digital home décor startup, were sewn at the MIT Sloan School of Management and culminated in a first-place MarketLab project.

Ashley Baker MBA ’10 started plans for Loom Décor in MIT Sloan classes, such as The Nuts & Bolts of Business Plans (15.S21), and even met business partner Jessa McIntosh, the wife of Forgan McIntosh MBA ’10, here in Cambridge. The third business partner is Baker’s high school friend Nichole Ocepek.

“I came to Sloan with the intention of starting my own business … and I chose MIT because it is a very entrepreneurial-spirited place,” Baker says. Loom Décor is a site where customers can design their own furnishings and virtually plan their rooms, without an interior designer’s hefty price tag. Baker had worked as an interior designer and knew that a designer’s cache of fabrics is inaccessible to the public. “Regular consumers can’t buy designer fabrics. They have to buy them through interior designers. As a young professional, I couldn’t afford that,” she says. “That was the vision for Loom Décor. I wanted an average American with a stylish sense to get a designer look without having to work with a designer. We are essentially using an online platform to allow consumers to design their own home furnishings using designer fabrics. Plus, we have stylists available to help and handle the annoying logistics.” Loom’s target audience is women, typically living in urban areas, between the ages of 25 and 45.

Baker wanted to give back to Sloan — and since Loom Décor is an evolving startup, when she needed some extra business assistance, she turned to MarketLab, the Marketing Club’s popular action-learning initiative. In MarketLab, students are given the chance to work on real-life marketing projects for companies such as Google, Mercedes-Benz and smaller startups such as Baker’s.

“I was actively looking for a way to get involved with MIT. And working with students is a great way to be able to work on the strategic issues that we didn’t have time to work on. Also, they could take a step back, and look at the business for us, because we were just ‘in the weeds’ with building the site,” Baker says.

Baker and her partners devised a project plan for a MarketLab team that included assistance in helping define offline channels and go-to-market strategies. The team — comprised of MBA ’12 students Jossy Lee, Vanessa Kafka and Lucy Wang — researched the channels that Loom Décor was considering. The team was rewarded with first place at the spring 2011 Yahoo MarketLab Awards.

According to Baker, the award was well deserved. “They did an amazing job … my team was really enthusiastic, energetic and creative. I was really impressed with their project plan. It allowed us to do research and strategic planning that we wouldn’t have been able to do on our own.”

The winning team was thrilled with its first-place reward and the experience of working with Baker and her team. Kafka says, “Loom Décor was a fantastic company to work with. Ashley was actively involved in the process and was really excited to have us working on such a high-priority project. After spending the semester researching channel options they could use to complement their online service, we provided them with a series of recommendations, taking into account best fit, given the pros and cons of each, as well as the company’s short-term constraints and long-term goals.”

The team investigated lower-cost offline retail channels such as trunk shows, pop-up shops, home parties and in-home consultations. Baker is already planning to implement some of the team’s recommendations, specifically trunk shows, which she will start organizing this holiday season.

The Loom Décor beta site will go live in January.

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