Number 11,896 on the list of unexpected consequences of the pandemic: the rise of e-design in all its forms. It’s no longer weird to supervise a drapery installation from across the country over FaceTime, and if you weren’t great at Photoshop mock-ups three years ago, you are now. Video consultations in particular are not only widely accepted, but they’ve also become fertile ground for entrepreneurship, as startups rush to fill the space with platforms and tools that help designers offer their services remotely.
Intro very much fits that bill. Launched in 2020 by entrepreneur Raad Mobrem—he founded the company that became QuickBooks online—the platform is a marketplace that allows experts of all stripes to sell short video consultation sessions. Over the past two years, Mobrem has been steadily enlisting a wide range of talent, from entrepreneurs to stylists to fitness coaches—the site’s current roster includes Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit; stylist and entrepreneur Rachel Zoe; and celebrity astrologer Alice Bell. Though Intro has always had a handful of designers (Nate Berkus was an early sign-up and is also an investor in the platform), the number has been steadily increasing in recent months. Alexa Hampton, Erin Gates, Keita Turner, Tina Ramchandani and Michael Cox are all new sign-ups, and the platform currently hosts 35 experts in its “home” category.
“We’re a tech company—we spent a good amount of time early on building our platform. More recently, we’ve started working on recruiting more experts,” Mobrem tells Business of Home. “Home is one of our most popular categories.”
Intro is simple. Once accepted on the platform, designers name a price for 15 minutes of their time (Berkus and Hampton charge $500; others ask as little as $65) and set availability (session length can be extended if desired). Clients can then book consultations, which are conducted through the platform’s mobile app. Mobrem says Intro has thus far facilitated more than 10,000 consultation sessions across all categories.
For designers, the platform’s appeal is partially revenue-driven and partially just to try something new. “I like an experiment,” says Hampton. “[COVID] has made us all realize that we shouldn’t be so ossified, we should try different methods. … There’s an interesting candor to this format—if you’re just talking to me for half an hour, I might be more quick to tell you Great-Aunt Susie’s blanket chest is terrible.”
Ramchandani, who signed up a few weeks back, says that her motivation was less about reaching homeowners and more about supporting aspiring designers. “People reach out on Instagram asking for advice, and I just don’t have the capability to respond to everybody,” she says. “It wasn’t just about selling my services—which I’m happily doing anyway—but being able to connect with people and help them in a different way.” The quick-hit format is a boon, she adds: “It’s not something that’s going to cut into my daily activities.”
Intro takes a commission on consultation fees: 10 percent if the client signs up using an expert’s referral link, 30 percent if they book through Intro’s app or website. The site also allows experts to devote a portion of their fee toward a charity of their choosing. Mobrem declined to share revenue numbers, but thus far Intro has attracted just over $10 million in venture capital funding from a unique pool of investors ranging from Silicon Valley heavyweight Andreessen Horowitz to actor Tiffany Haddish to NBA star Kevin Durant.
If you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, all of this sounds a lot like The Expert,” you’re not wrong. The two startups launched at roughly the same time, offering similar services. But in execution, each platform is distinct.
Founded in 2020 by designer Jake Arnold and entrepreneur Leo Seigal, The Expert has spent the past two years snapping up a deep roster of the design industry’s elite talent, giving it the air of an exclusive club. Meanwhile, Intro has cast a wider net, tapping experts from a wide variety of fields. It’s also chosen to focus on mobile as its primary platform, integrating booking, payments and consultations into a single app (The Expert, by contrast, connects designers and clients over Zoom).
Some of the fine print is different too. Intro’s commission depends on where the booking comes from, whereas The Expert takes a flat 20 percent commission across the board. Intro doesn’t ask for exclusivity from its designers—The Expert does. Intro defaults to a 15-minute consultation, whereas The Expert steers clients toward a 55-minute session. These variations, while small on their own, will add up to significantly different experiences for designers and their clients alike.
But maybe the biggest difference lies in the near-term plans for each platform. Seeking to leverage its design-world cachet, The Expert is looking to launch an e-commerce platform specializing in high-end home goods later this year. Intro, on the other hand, is planning to launch an open-to-all version of its tool, meaning that any designer—or, truthfully, anyone from any field—will be able to use it to book video consultations. Mobrem’s ambitions are Silicon Valley–sized and not really about the design industry per se. He wants to build infrastructure that allows easy access to expertise in all forms.
“Our goal is to answer questions for people who can’t find those answers easily online, because it involves a little bit more of a personal touch,” says Mobrem. “I think there are a lot of questions like that and a lot of people in the world who can answer them.”
Of course, designers can already offer video consultations with existing, free technology—it’s as easy as booking a Zoom call and setting up a PayPal account. But Mobrem’s bet is that by putting everything in one sleek package, he’ll make Intro indispensable. “Having worked in the tech industry, understanding what works and what doesn’t, ultimately the best product wins,” he says. “And that’s exactly what we want to provide.”
Homepage photo: Courtesy of Intro