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What Renovating a Sailboat Taught This Founder About Business (2024)

by California Digital News

In the sea of entrepreneurship, finding your own course can often feel like sailing against the wind. Mischa Couvrette, founder of furniture and lighting company Hollis + Morris, knows this all too well. 

Mischa took an unconventional path to becoming a designer. He studied marine biology and environmental science in university before embarking on a sailing journey that would forever change his career trajectory. 

Mischa and some friends bought a sailboat, fixed it up, and sailed from Toronto to Guatemala. “It was this big project that made the even bigger project of starting a company feel that much easier,” he says. 

Inspired by the building process, Mischa returned to Canada—and to school—to learn design before launching his furniture and lighting brand. He says the key to getting off the ground was following the footsteps of other companies. “I really just looked at some brands that I admired and was just like, ‘Yeah, how do I get there?’” he says.

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Developing confidence in design

One of Mischa’s first big breaks came from making a connection at a trade show, where he was offered a window at Klaus, a premier furniture showroom in Toronto. That helped give him the confidence to continue honing his aesthetic, which embraced elements of nature. “I just got more and more comfortable and felt like I had a really keen eye for what people liked,” he says.

Three Hollis + Morris Constellation Pendant lights hung near a Swell bed.
Hollis + Morris designs still pay homage to Mischa’s interest in the environment. The Constellation Pendant lights and Swell bed are inspired by the stars and the ocean. Hollis + Morris

Mischa realized, though, that selling furniture in brick-and-mortar stores had its limitations. Hollis + Morris was often competing with more established furniture brands, and the stores’ sales representatives didn’t know his brand.

That’s when Mischa decided to start selling directly to interior designers and other professionals in the industry. He flew to New York and San Francisco to pitch architecture and interior design firms. Mischa says in the early days, the firms appreciated that he took the time as a designer to show his work, instead of pitching through salespeople.

Rethinking the B2B model

A majority of Hollis + Morris’ revenue comes from B2B sales. The brand works with firms that have big corporate clients like Equinox, Netflix, and Google. 

In doing so,  Mischa broke from the traditional business model by offering price transparency. In retail and B2B sales, furniture prices were often hidden. “We just decided at one point, ‘You know what? We’re going to go alone. We’ll put our prices online,’” Mischa says, motivated by his experience of entering the field as an outsider. In the years since, Mischa has seen other brands follow suit, especially as the industry undergoes a transformation. 

Hollis + Morris lighting fixtures above exercise machines at the Greenwich Village Equinox gym
Hollis + Morris fixtures provide the lighting in the Equinox location in Greenwich Village in New York. Hollis + Morris

Committing to sustainability

One theme throughout Mischa’s career has been his concern for environmental impact. It’s what first attracted him to the sciences and now drives how Hollis + Morris operates and scales. The products are made locally in Toronto using locally sourced materials. Mischa is wary of greenwashing, but he says the company does what it can, even in terms of designing products. “The goal is that the product lasts longer than any one of us,” Mischa says.

To learn more about Mischa’s journey from renovating a sailboat to launching a furniture and lighting company, listen to the full interview on Shopify Masters.

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