When Fred Kukelhaus ’16 and Ben Young ’16 arrived at the apartment they would share as first-year MBA students at Yale SOM, they did the usual stuff—moved in their belongings, organized the kitchen, and went out to buy furniture. The two found that their options boiled down to two unsatisfying choices: spend too much for high-quality, stylish furniture or get cheap stuff that didn’t appeal to them and wasn’t particularly durable. So they decided to build their own—and make a business out of it.
In a way, Hugo & Hoby was born long before Kukelhaus and Young were. The company is named for their grandfathers, who were both designers, carpenters, and environmentalists. It seemed natural for the pair to decide they could earn a living building high-quality, reasonably priced, domestically manufactured, sustainable furniture. They spent months working on prototypes and developing business models, trying to find an approach that fit a couple of graduate students with lots of energy but little money.
In the end, they decided to launch their business through crowdfunding. Here’s how it will work: every few months, Hugo & Hoby will release several new designs on its website. Customers will choose whether to back a piece from the collection. If enough people put up their money, the design goes into production. “It’s a completely new way to approach the furniture industry,” says Kukelhaus.
Kukelhaus and Young spent the summer of 2015 as fellows at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, where they received a stipend to support their work on the business. It’s one of a plethora of Yale resources the pair tapped into as they launched three collections while students at Yale SOM. They’ve benefited from coursework and space provided by Yale SOM’s Program on Entrepreneurship. They built prototypes at the Yale Center for Innovation and Design. And they drew on support from Yale SOM’s entrepreneurial community, recruiting classmates for help with branding, pricing strategy, and market research. “You’re really surrounded by resources every single day,” says Young.
Kukelhaus and Young expect to release their fourth collection in the second half of 2016, as they look to expand Hugo & Hoby into the business sector.