Interview with CEO of Modsy, Shanna Tellerman

When you are looking to decorate a room, do you get frustrated? Do you buy a piece of furniture because it seems incredible at the store, and then when it arrives at your house you hate it? Or worse you have no clue what piece of furniture would go in that space?

That is how Shanna Tellerman felt, “After hours and hours spent on Pinterest, websites, catalogues, and in stores our enthusiasm was drained. Bored, frustrated and not even close to finding the solution, we gave up and landed with a half decorated living room.”

Out of that frustration, Tellerman founded Modsy, a startup that can help you with your design problems, the company’s website states, “Take the Guesswork Out of Buying Furniture.” Let’s keep reading and find out how under Shanna’s leadership Modsy has become a successful “one-stop digital catalog.”

So, Shanna, what’s your story?

I am the founder and CEO of Modsy, a personalized home design solution that helps you create a space you love by trying out furniture and layout ideas within a lifelike 3D version of your room so you can shop confidently.

I have always had an interest in the intersection of design and technology and attended Carnegie Mellon University with the intent to explore this interest further. I took my first computer graphics course there and fell in love. I received both my BFA and Master of Entertainment Technology (MET); then set out to start my first 3D startup out of graduate school.

This company was later acquired in 2010 by Autodesk, the leaders in 3D software. I then took my only diversion from the 3D world to join the Google Ventures investment team, where I worked for two years. At Google Ventures I was able to gain a new perspective on the startup ecosystem and truly understand the dynamics of venture capital, something that was extremely valuable when starting Modsy.

And so, with my past experiences in my back pocket, Modsy was born three years ago when my now husband and I moved into our first apartment together. Like many, I found myself trying to decorate but unable to visualize exactly how pricey new furniture items would fit in my space. What I really wanted was something like a West Elm catalogue, but all staged in my own home. This is when I recognized a technological hole in the interior design market as well as a massive opportunity for a disruptive 3D solution - that’s why I created Modsy.

Why should leaders lead, and when they do lead, what is their first responsibility?

I believe that great leaders enable as much as they lead. When leading your job is to create a vision of the future that is so clear that it motivates people to action and inspires them to do their best work. This vision should also be just hard enough to accomplish that it feels within reach but keeps everyone excited and challenged to strive for what lies ahead.

As a leader you do not, and often should not, know all of the answers, and that is where you enable. By setting the vision and motivating your team you can then empower them to create the path forward and to help uncover the answers to hardest challenges along the way.

What is more important to you, the traditional hierarchy (director, manager, the boss, etc) or how teams are formed to get the work done?

Because I founded my first company straight out of school, I never had much exposure to traditional workplace hierarchies. This is a blessing and a curse - on the one hand, I never had any bad examples to learn from, and I have always been free from pressure to conform to any given structure. On the other hand, I had to develop my management style entirely from scratch, and learned some hard lessons along the way!

At Modsy, I aim to unite the best of both worlds, understanding that some level of hierarchy is necessary for organization and workflow, while at the same time creating an environment and culture that is open-minded, transparent and where everyone on the team is encouraged to share their opinions. I’m extremely proud of our team - I believe that a great team builds a great company, and I learn from Modsy employees at all levels every day.

Are you open to the nontraditional ways that teams can get work done? Can you cite one example you are currently fostering?

Absolutely!

I believe in a diversity of experience and thinking on every level. Not only does diversity of gender, age, ethnicity and backgrounds help you create a better culture, it also creates a better business. Core to our belief in diversity is the belief that a diversity of experiences, disciplines and thinking will lead to a better business.