By MEREDITH PRICE LEVITT
For professional architects, animators and designers, software with the capability to view 3-D images of interior spaces has been around for years. But for consumers who want to see how a specific sofa will really look in their living room, the possibilities are just beginning to emerge.
With the recent launch of cmycasa.com, two young Israeli entrepreneurs are among the first to offer online solutions in this new market. Two years ago, Eitan Tsarfati and Tomer Galon came up with the idea to build a Web site that would allow people not just to shop online for furniture but to actually see how potential purchases will look and fit (or not) in their homes without having to learn new software or download a thing.
"The great thing about this is that it's all online," Galon explains. On the Web site, users can see templates of rooms and then place furniture from online catalogs in the room and view their design from any angle. Options include lighting, tables, appliances, seating, beds, flooring and rugs, accessories, children's furniture and even artwork. You can also paint the walls any color and choose from a variety of different flooring options. The next version will allow users to draw the exact dimensions of their rooms instead of choosing from different templates.
Like many business ventures, the concept started with an entrepreneur who noticed a gap in the market. According to Tsarfati, these tools, which were available to professionals, did not exist for consumers. Even today, most software solutions require people to first download the program to their computer, then learn how to use it.
Cmycasa quickly provides photo-realistic views of rooms from different angles, but its focus is on simplicity so that nonprofessionals can use it effectively too. "My mom was the first beta tester before we launched. I knew if she could use it, anyone could use it," Galon says. "The software considers light too and gives a good, realistic picture of how things really look."
Anyone who has ever tried to find a new kitchen table and ended up making three trips to IKEA can appreciate the value of being able to do everything at home - from seeing the table in your kitchen to purchasing the one you want and having it delivered.
"Instead of having to measure walls and then go to the store to measure furniture and then bring big things home to see if they look good or fit in the right space, now people can do it all online and have everything delivered to their home," says Tsarfati.
This, in fact, is part of the reason why the online software is free. The furniture companies and advertisers pay for the costs so the consumer can focus on interior design.
"WHEN WE first started working on the Web site, there was no competition," says Galon as we discuss the burgeoning space online. "Today there are a few others in this market, but no one else offers the simplicity of use and speed that we do for free."
Formerly employed by Microsoft in Denmark, Galon worked for more than 10 years in software development and was looking for interesting projects when he and Tsarfati came up with several different ideas for business ventures. This, the pair decided, was the most promising.
Tsarfati, who has a degree in architecture and owned an animation studio that provided services for the real-estate and home product markets, knew that this filled a unique need. After working in the start-up trenches for nearly a year, they raised seed funding from the Ofer Hi-Tech Group. Currently they are working on forming partnerships with large furniture companies such as Sears and Ethan Allen. In the future, the pair plans to allow users to upload and share their designs. They are also exploring the possibility of licensing their software to large design firms.
Yet despite the advertising revenue, they maintain that the furniture the Web site offers to consumers is unbiased because they make a percentage no matter what you buy or whom you are buying from. Their goal is to help people design their homes and find the furniture that is right for them.
"When Zappos first started, no one believed that consumers would ever buy shoes online because they were convinced they would have to try them on first," Tsarfati points out. By the time Amazon purchased the Web site in 2007 for more than $900 million, people had changed their minds.
Tsarfati and Galon are hoping the same principle holds true for furniture. Based on early responses from both users and potential partners who sell furniture, they are definitely onto something. "There is a growing trend in the United States to buy furniture online, and we want to be part of that revolution," Tsarfati says with enthusiasm.
This summer, just after their initial launch, they were named among the top 10 most promising start-ups of 2009 by the TWS2009, an event organized by Globes and the Israeli start-up blog the.co.ils. With a simple design that works well and is fun to use, several potential partnerships with large companies in the pipeline and VCs interested in investing further, the duo are certainly off to an auspicious start.
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