Buying and selling used furniture through online marketplaces can be a scary proposition. You are meeting up with strangers or in unfamiliar areas. Reham Fagiri realized this in 2012 when she decided to sell furniture on Craigslist.
Having just graduated from business school, she was moving from Philadelphia to New York City and had items she wanted to get rid of before the move.
“I had this guy who came to look at my TV, and he got really frustrated with me in my apartment. I was a single woman at the time. I didn’t have a doorman, and I was alone,” Fagiri told Inc.
“A guy came to buy a TV, and I listed the wrong model number by accident. He got distraught and said, ‘I’m taking this TV, and I’m not paying you for it.’ I was by myself in my apartment, and anything could have happened at that point. I felt unsafe and told him just to take it; $100 was not worth risking my safety,” recalled Reham Fagiri, who is originally from Sudan.
This experience of feeling unsafe in her own home led Fagiri to create a new way to sell used furniture. She co-founded AptDeco in 2013 with friend Kalam Dennis.
Dennis, too, had bad experiences selling furniture on Craigslist, said Fagiri.
“He was really frustrated because people were low-balling him and not showing up when they said they would. He asked if he could borrow my U-Haul truck; I still had a few hours before I had to return it. He posted, ‘One day only, free delivery in New York City’ on Craigslist. Someone contacted him immediately, came over, paid in full in cash, and he delivered it. That was the ‘aha’ moment. I had been thinking about the safety aspect of buying and selling furniture. For him, it was frustration. So creating a safe place where buyers and sellers can communicate and transact — not in cash, with furniture pick up and delivery — became the premise for AptDeco. It hasn’t changed since,” explained Fagiri.
Instead of you dealing with potential furniture sellers and buyers, AptDeco handles it as well as delivering the purchases. It began as the middleman in buying and selling moderately to high-end used furniture in greater New York City and now has expanded to New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
AptDeco currently has about 50 employees who do all the work of the typical buyer or seller who use Craigslist or eBay. The team inspects your furniture onsite, disassembles and assembles, picks up and delivers. In exchange, AptDeco earns between 19 and 29 percent of a purchase.
AptDeco also has partnerships with several large retailers so it can offer furniture brands that people are looking for.
Before starting the business Fagiri and Dennis reached out for help and guidance.
Despite having a degree from her MBA from the esteemed Wharton business school, Fagiri attended Y Combinator, a technology startup accelerator that has been used to launch more than 3,000 companies, including Stripe, Airbnb, Cruise, PagerDuty, DoorDash, Coinbase, Instacart, Dropbox, Twitch, Flightfox, and Reddit.
“At the time, we had a product, probably less than 100 customers, and some sales. What we didn’t know — didn’t even know we needed to learn — was getting our first 100, 200, 500 customers. We both had corporate backgrounds. They advised us to meet our customers,” said Fagiri of her Y Combinator experience.
After graduating from the University of Maryland, I moved to New York and started at Goldman Sachs. I was part of the teams that built their software for investment bankers and traders,” says Fagiri, an engineer by training. “After almost six years at Goldman, I went to Wharton [School of the University of Pennsylvania]. I thought I wanted to leave tech altogether, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do; business school seemed like an excellent place to explore. And I ended up starting a company!”
According to Fagiri, she faced unique challenges being an immigrant entrepreneur. But it has helped that Dennis is American born.
“I had not recognized the opportunity patterns in the U.S. that are based on race, gender, etc. I grew up in Sudan, in an environment where I am the [racial] majority. He’s African-American; he had to break down that piece of American culture. I thought, ‘Well, it’s not going to stop me from doing what I’m doing.’ I think I helped push some of those boundaries for him,” she says.
Being from the Sudan also helped shape Fagiri’s entrepreneurial mindset. “The entire economy in Sudan is built on small businesses; there are no big corporations,” she told the Observer. “So if you have to make ends meet, you essentially have to build your own small business. My father has his own firm, and most of my aunts — it’s very woman-friendly in terms of business — have their own architecture or engineering firms. That’s how I grew up, and I think it’s influenced me more than I thought.”