Everyone wants a beautiful home that is welcoming, conveys their style, and increases curb appeal. This undoubtedly extends to landscaping, but for many people, myself included, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and at a loss for where to start. Enter Tilly, an innovative online platform that makes professional landscape design more accessible to homeowners. Four long-time friends (Sarah Finazzo, Heather Hoeppner, Alexis Sutton, and Blythe Yost) combined their professional strengths to create a way for people to achieve the landscaping of their dreams and what sets them apart is the fact that it can be done all online!
Recently, I had the good fortune of interviewing two of Tilly’s four co-founders, Alexis and Blythe, to get a better understanding of the amazing services offered by Tilly, but also to gain greater insight into their inspiration, what it’s like to be female entrepreneurs, working with your friends, and more!
Megan: How did you conceive of Tilly?
Alexis: We [our four co-founders] were all together in our favorite summer vacation spot, Montauk, New York, in Sarah’s backyard interrogating Blythe for landscape advice when we thought, “We are so lucky to have a ‘Blythe’ in our lives; what the heck does everyone else do who can’t afford a pricy landscape architect or designer?’ Then we just kind of ran with it and have spent the last 13 months trying to fill that gap for homeowners.
Blythe: For me, after 15 years serving New York area’s most affluent, I had been thinking a lot about this idea of bringing landscape design to your average homeowner; it just didn’t seem fair that the entire industry is so cost-prohibitive. So the stars definitely aligned that day. And of course, it’s way more fun to launch something like this along with three trusted (and brilliant!) friends.
M: What are the benefits and challenges of being in business with long-time, close friends?
A: Speaking for myself, the benefits have far outweighed the challenges! It’s really rare to have this kind of relationship with your lifelong best friends and to have found a passion we all share. Of course, there have been some tough conversations, but I’ve been so impressed and inspired by what these women are capable of, not to mention that we’re all moms with 10 kids between us! It’s allowed us to build the type of company we want to work for, and we’d want our children to work for; flexible, inclusive, environmentally conscious, authentic and one that contributes real value.
M: Tilly is women-owned and operated. Are there any female entrepreneurs that inspire you?
A: Absolutely! There are many amazing female entrepreneurs who, against all odds, have built billion-dollar empires within the traditionally female-unfriendly venture capital construct. They are absolute rock stars and one I’m keeping a close eye on is Katrina Lake of Stitch Fix. I’m super interested in how they use data to improve an experience that I personally love/hate: clothes shopping! And I’m even finding myself more inspired by those who have taken another path and are building a business on their own terms. I just read about Jessica Rovello who is buying her company back from the VCs who were running her life; that takes guts!
M: I love your style quiz! What landscaping style(s) resonate the most for you personally?
A: Thank you! We love it too. It’s a super fun way to engage with Tilly and start brainstorming on your yard before taking the plunge on a design. Even before moving to Colorado earlier this year, I was always drawn to the Naturalistic style and now I can’t wait for Tilly to design my new front yard!
B: This is a tough one for someone who designs landscapes for a living because I am always trying to get a feel for other people’s styles and then blend that with their built and natural surroundings. So there’s not much room for my personal style to come through, which is how I think it should be. But every time I take our style quiz I get Eclectic, so maybe there’s your answer!
M: What are the economic benefits of good curb appeal?
A: Great question! There are quite a few. We most commonly cite research that has shown a 6-13% increase in home value with professional front foundation design. Similarly, there is a reported 200-275% return on investment for landscape design projects. But another I hadn’t thought of until really digging in is that it’s one of the few home improvements you can make that will increase in value over time. A landscape is only considered “mature” after about three years, whereas a kitchen renovation starts to lose value the day it’s completed; similar to driving a brand new car off the lot.
M: What makes Tilly stand out is the fact that customers can get beautiful landscape designs all online. What happens after? Does Tilly stay in touch? Do you recommend landscapers?
B: We are looking at a number of different models for bringing our designs to life. Ultimately, landscaping can be very different from region to region and we are looking for ways to bring the best possible service to each area. Right now we offer direct Tilly installation in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, partnerships with local landscapers in Denver and Chicago, and are exploring other avenues such as plant delivery and contractor directories in other places.
M: Tilly has had press coverage in prestigious publications such as Real Simple, Parents Magazine, Apartment Therapy, and New York Cottages & Gardens! How do generate buzz about Tilly?
A: It helps to have a badass publicist on your founding team (Sarah), and at the same time, there’s a great story to tell. Editors love being able to share something new and practical with their readers. I also think it’s well overdue that Blythe gets the recognition she deserves, so it’s been really fun to watch her get out there and share her expertise to a much broader base! That’s what Tilly’s all about, making this information available and accessible to more people.
M: Where do you see Tilly in the future?
B: We really see Tilly as becoming the go-to outdoor resource for today’s homeowners. Landscaping and gardening can be a bit intimidating at the start, and while design is our entry point, there are a lot of exciting directions we can take it! So stay tuned.
M: Where can we find out more about Tilly?
A: Well, we just launched our new website, so I would absolutely start there! (www.tilly-design.com) And for more frequent updates, news articles, design samples, etc. follow us on Instagram: @tilly_design.
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