Interview: Ning Li CEO of co-founders on the Hollander Bike: Ning Li (CEO), Julien Callède (COO) and Chloe Macintosh (Head of Collections) co-founders on the Hollander Bike: Ning Li (CEO), Julien Callède (COO) and Chloe Macintosh (Head of Collections)

So it’s Monday and the start of another week. I hope you are all well rested after the weekend. I have a great post for you to kick-start the week, one which I have been seriously excited about all weekend.

For anyone who is not aware of I seriously recommend that you read on and then click straight through to the site and get exploring. You will be amazed at what you see, just as I was when I discovered the site this time last year.

Basically, was launched in March 2010 by a group of visionaries, or children of the revolution as they describe themselves, who saw a gap in the market for affordable designer furniture. The brainchild of entrepreneur Ning Li, the site aims to make a stand against the high-street retailers and designer brands who are charging extortionate prices for their products.

Jonah Sofa from designed by James Harrison

The story of started when Ning wanted to buy a sofa, which was being sold for £3k by a high-end designer brand. Just before handing over the cash Ning spoke to a friend he’d been to school with in China who had just taken over his parents factory and he had the contract to make the exact sofa that Ning was planning to buy.

It turned out the factory was paid £250 to produce the sofa so Ning bought it direct from his friend. This sparked an idea and he started researching furniture pricing only to find that the number of agents involved in the import process meant that the mark up was pushing prices through the roof. Ning realised that if he could connect the manufacturers of the furniture directly with the consumers he could bring the prices right down and so the idea of was born.

The funding for the business came from a chance encounter with Brent Hoberman, the founder of, which enabled him to get a £2.5 million investment for his revolutionary idea. One year on and the site receives about 500,000 visits a month and sells a shipping container full of furniture every day, worth £25,000.

Bouji chair in pavillion grey & turquoise from

Being the fan that I am of I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask Ning for an interview and you can imagine my delight when he agreed. I hope that you will be as inspired as I am not only by Ning’s story but also by the plethora of beautiful designer bargains that are to be had on the site.

Before launching you actually worked as a banker at Rothschild. How did you go from banking to furniture?

Yes that was quite a change! I chose to go from banking to creating my own company because I needed freedom. It was also a choice of privileging risks to the comfortable monthly pay check.

What exactly was the initial inspiration for What is the concept behind the company?

There is a gap in the market today for good quality furniture items at affordable prices. There is an elitist mentality in the furniture industry that only customers that can afford to pay £3,000 are entitled to have a trendy, well-made sofa. But there shouldn’t be any reason for that.

Stroller Desk by Steuart Padwick from

Setting up a brand new business is neither easy nor cheap. How did you go about getting off the ground?

It wasn’t easy, even when we have had the backing. It was a lot about bootstrapping, being resourceful and saving every penny we could to invest in the right areas.

Having no background whatsoever in the furniture business must have presented somewhat of a challenge. How did you overcome this challenge?

We don’t have a furniture background but we are all absolutely passionate about what we do and we love design. Also being sort of “outsiders” has proved to be beneficial as we can see things just as regular consumers would and we make choices on the same basis.

How do you go about choosing the products that you sell on the site?

Designers come to us to suggest their designs and we have a network of manufacturers that can make them. Our most active customers also help us choose the right products to manufacture by voting in our crowdsourcing “vote” section.

Who selects the designers that will have their work sold on

Our product team.  But again, the votes cast by the customers count a lot too.

Studio tripod floor light from

As well as up-and-coming designers, you also feature the work of established designers such as Steuart Padwick and John Stefanidis. How do you get them to agree to sell their work on

It is all about making good designs available and affordable to customers. Talented designers come to work with us because we all share the same ethos.

How are you able to charge such competitive prices in comparison to what consumers would have to pay for the same products if they were to buy them on the high street?

Because of our business model – we don’t have to pay for warehouses, inventory or high street shops. And we don’t buy from middlemen. All the savings (often up to 70%) are passed to the customers.

Valder Sideboard from

Who would you say is your target audience and how would you describe your customer base?

There are two types of customers on : Firstly, the smart customers that can afford to pay for a £3,000 for a sofa, but prefer to shop on because they know they can buy with us for £600 and secondly frustrated customers that could not afford to pay the £3000 for a sofa but would like to have one anyway.

It’s been just over a year since you launched the site. How are things going?

We have been growing very, very fast. There are 35 of us now in the team and there were just three of us a year ago.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.