Oct 05 2018

Home & Living Start-up of the year 2018

Alexander Lenz (33) and Manan Voskanian (28) were named “Home & Living Start-Up of the Year 2018” as part of the Digital Interior Day at Cologne’s Tanzbrunnen event venue on 25 September 2018. For their product “Stylique”, they received a winner’s package worth over Euro 26,000 in addition to the title. ambista met up with the two winners for an interview after the award presentation.

Nowak: Many thanks for taking the time for this interview straight after the award presentation! It’s been a terribly long day for you both, but the long wait was worthwhile. Congratulations on taking first prize! How do you feel?

Voskanian: We’re tremendously excited, super happy and, of course, we’re curious to see what will happen next.

Nowak: What do you think that might be? What doors will this victory open for you?

Lenz: That’s really difficult to predict, because the winner’s package contains so many different things. Naturally, one really special highlight will be our trade fair stand at next January’s imm cologne. We were there last year, but for research, not as exhibitors. We frequently visit trade fairs and have done a lot of surveys to test our concept on our target group. Feedback has been really good, and we got the feeling that this is the perfect moment for our product.

Voskanian: What was really cool last year was the idea that we might be able to exhibit there too one day and show off our product Stylique in all its glory. It’s incredible that this dream is now going to become reality in such a short period of time.

Nowak: So, tell me: what is the concept behind Stylique?

Voskanian: Stylique is an online shop for which we curate unique products. We source them from special producers who don’t sell directly to end customers, or who the customer doesn’t know, because they are small manufacturers or they’re located abroad. When we’ve selected products, we create entire rooms based around them, just as an architect would traditionally do. We then visualise these images, giving our customers the opportunity to be inspired. This means that, as on Pinterest, a customer can click through a gallery, discover room concepts that really appeal to him and buy all of the products in one go.

Nowak: How did you come up with the idea?

Lenz: We met in Wuppertal when studying for our Masters degrees in Architecture. So, we’re both enthusiastic about architecture and interiors, and we looked online for inspiration in these areas, often on Pinterest. The room concepts pictured there are always unbelievably beautiful. We kept asking ourselves what products were being used and which manufacturers we could get them from. But getting hold of this information was extremely difficult, and it was rare that we were able to discover who the manufacturers were. We saw that there was a gap in the market, and that’s why we developed our product.

Voskanian: It worked so well because we were approaching the issue from the consumer perspective and simply couldn’t find what we were looking for online. We discovered relatively quickly that it’s not just a matter of taking cool pictures of cool rooms. The more we immersed ourselves in the subject, the more aware we became that it’s about much more than that. The perfect selection of manufacturers also involves factors like sustainability and standards. It’s about supporting manufacturers in their efforts to commercialise and market their products and creating an overarching platform that brings everything together – from visual representation and staging through to the actual transaction and shipping.

Nowak: How exactly did it happen? How long have you been working on your product now?

Lenz: Our start-up was born in early April 2017. That’s when we set up our desks in the living room and really started work. That was also the moment we became aware that it wasn’t just a crazy dream, but rather a real business proposition.

Voskanian: We first spoke about it in January or February and looked to see if there were any other competitors. We didn’t find anything at all. That’s when it became clear to us: we had to take the plunge. After we completed our studies, we knuckled down to work – we wanted to do our own thing. At that time, I was working in another start-up and Alex was working on his portfolio to present to firms of architects. I’d also been offered a good contract but we were just so sure about Stylique.

Nowak: In an ideal world where you can choose the outcome, where will Stylique be in five years?

Lenz: (Laughing) Yeah, of the two of us, Manan is more down-to-earth.

Voskanian: When we started our degrees, Monoqi was getting big and there was a lot of hype around it. Monoqi sells designer products – everything from socks to tables. The reaction amongst those of us on the course was huge. If we could reach a similar point where other people really like what we have to offer, that would be our dream.  

Lenz: We’d like to evolve into a company that is really taken seriously in the industry – the hype and support would be a bonus. True to the motto: cool, they’re doing something different. We just hope that people like it.

Nowak: What are your next steps?

Lenz: Well, for a start, we had no idea that we’d win today. That apart, our next steps have already been decided anyway. We’ve now gathered the majority of our manufacturers, we’ve got a strategic partner on board and we’re now rebuilding the site to include all the new products. It’s going to be really hard work – but we’re looking forward to it. Of course, the preparations for our trade fair stand in January will be particularly intense. The soft launch of our online shop www.stylique.de will also take some time. Naturally, we’re also rolling out our marketing channels to make sure there’s a lot of activity on Instagram and Pinterest.

Voskanian: The title of winners of the Home & Living Start-Up of the Year 2018 is now also sure to give us a real boost – everything’s in place, it’s now just a case of getting down to work and making this thing really big. And of course, we’d like to finish by expressing our sincerest thanks to the event organisers. It’s been a really amazing opportunity to present our product. Thank you!

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