How a CDFI loan made an interior design business grow
After college, Cristina Casañas-Judd, a beautiful artist and illustrator, used her creative skills to design sets for television, film and theater. She met her husband, a lead actor in Group of blue men, working on a whole. At the start of his career, he was a set dresser.
The two life partners also became business partners, launching an interior design studio in 2012, Me and General Design. At the start of the business, they started the business and grew steadily. In the fifth year, to accelerate growth, they decided to switch from working in the company to working on the company. They needed to hire additional people who would require outside funding. They choose a loan from a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).
As a set decorator, Casañas-Judd has become a quick problem solver. She fell in love with completing the scripts for TV shows, movies, and plays through their environments as depicted in the set. His work includes sets for Strange eye for the straight dude, Adventureland, The Messenger, Winning Season, and Then she found me. His work as a film set decorator includes The Abyss.
The duo realized storytelling was an essential part of any space, whether domestic or commercial. They can draw inspiration from the neighborhood, building architecture, character and lifestyle of the client to tell a full story. “We are known for our consciously designed interiors that uplift the human spirit,” said Casañas-Judd.
The pair started doing side projects. “On weekends and when we were on break, we designed the interiors of model apartments for real estate developers,” said Casañas-Judd. “It was fun and a different kind of creative outlet.”
When Casañas-Judd and Judd were about to have their second child, she realized that the long, exhausting hours of set design was not compatible with the type of mother she wanted to be. In 2012, the two embarked on full-time entrepreneurship and opened Me and General.
They had developed strong relationships with developers who loved their design sensibilities and the way they did business. Customers have come back again and again and referred others. Their work spanned from designing interiors for model apartments to lobbies and convenience spaces, such as lounges and gymnasiums for luxury apartment buildings.
Designing for high traffic areas established their ability and credibility in planning commercial spaces, such as boutiques. They are currently designing the interior of the public library in Port Washington, NY.
In 2017, with a solid growth history, the couple decided to accelerate growth by expanding the team beyond the single employee they had. To do this, they needed external funding.
They were referred to the SBA via networking, which put them in touch with Carol O’Connell, assistant vice president of development and advisory services at Pursuit Lending (formerly Excelsior Growth Fund), a CDFI. CDFIs are one of the best kept secrets in the entrepreneurial finance world.
CDFIs were created to lend money, at reasonable rates, to underappreciated small business owners whom commercial banks deem risky. Borrowers receive free advice to help them be successful. Technical assistance can include helping entrepreneurs budget with projections, produce financial statements, plan activities, and improve or establish a credit rating.
The Treasury Department and the banks mainly finance the CDFIs. Bank of America recently announced that its CDFI loan portfolio exceeded $ 2 billion. This cements them as the largest private investor in CDFIs in the United States. They produced Access to Capital Directory, which includes 200 CDFIs. The directory shows you the local communities served by the CDFI.
“The general and I needed to work on strategy and business development,” Casañas-Judd. Pursuit had his back. “When we needed help [preparing financial statements]Pursuit provided it. Pursuit paid some time with an accountant to get their financials in order. O’Connell discussed financing options with them. The couple chose a $ 50,000 SmartLoan. financing within two days of submitting your request and on flexible terms.
“Financial support has changed my life,” said Casañas-Judd. “He provided me with the financial education I needed. The Judds continue to work with the accountant who helped them prepare for the Pursuit loan. “O’Connell has become a trusted advisor,” said Casañas-Judd.
The company has staffed. Before Covid-19, they had six employees. Having employees gave him time to work in the business, not in this one.
“As an artist, I always push the boundaries,” said Casañas-Judd. Even with the millions of wallpaper designs on the market, sometimes she couldn’t find the right one for a client. A love of architectural elements in a Harlem building led her to design a wallpaper that used geometric patterns from the building on the wallpaper.
Casañas-Judd turned to Wolf-Gordon, a manufacturer and distributor of wallcoverings, to make the paper. Over time, the company noticed how often Casañas-Judd’s designs were revamped. Wolf-Gordon approached her to sell her designs to a market larger than her clients. “It was like a dream come true for me,” she said. “We have always been interested in licensing our designs.”
Casañas-Judd is a first-generation Chilean-American, known for her keen eye for color and use of textures. Judd is black and grew up in North Carolina. He is known for his southern charm and his timeless sensibility to design style. They are proud of their multicultural background and that of the team. Their small team of five includes designers from China and Turkey. It is well suited for a business based in Brooklyn, NY, serving the tri-state area.
The diversity is also reflected in the materials they buy for interiors and the resources they use.
Covid-19 drastically reduced revenue in 2020. As people started to move, things picked up and the company’s revenue picked up. The couple have left their studio and the team are working from home. “The team has become more efficient and productive,” said Casañas-Judd. They hold meetings on Zoom, over the phone and now in person at the Judds’ home.
Even with a year of decline in 2020, since receipt of the loan, annualized revenue growth is 59%.
The next step in their growth journey is to buy investment property, repair it and return it.
How will you finance the growth of your business?