Interior evolution
Online retailer Mobly is changing the way Brazilians shop for furniture

Interior evolution

If you think of the word “heaven,” the first thing to come to mind probably isn’t IKEA. But Brazilian-born Marcelo Marques ’10 describes walking into one of the furniture giant’s Chicago-area locations as exactly that.

“Just like any Latin American, when you go to the U.S., believe it or not, one of the things that impacts you most is IKEA,” he says with a laugh. “Compared to how things are in Latin America for furniture, not only prices but service and choice, IKEA is like a paradise.”

The company’s efficiency impressed Marques and his Mobly co-founder and co-CEO Victor Noda ’10 while they were studying at Kellogg. During weekly brainstorming sessions, the two Brazilians, who both had entrepreneurial and consulting backgrounds, discussed launching an e-commerce business that would have a real impact on the way things were done back home. After listening to Crate & Barrel founder Gordon Segal ’60 speak at Kellogg and later stumbling upon online furniture retailer, an idea began to form.

“We both had experience with the Internet and technology, and we liked furniture, which is an industry that is very fragmented in Latin America,” Marques remembers. “We spoke with people inside and outside the industry and everybody said it was impossible to create a ‘category killer.’ First, everyone wants to see furniture; second, the logistics are going to be crazy — the sort of pessimistic advice that you always receive.”

The last piece of the Mobly puzzle was logistics expert Mario Fernandes, who Marques and Noda met while working with online venture firm Rocket Internet. Fernandes partnered with the two in 2011 to launch what has become Brazil’s largest furniture and home décor retailer, with nearly 50,000 products available online for delivery anywhere in the country.

The company’s quick rise can be attributed to a decision made early in the process, Marques says. The trio couldn’t find a service provider that could match the quality of delivery and service they wanted. So they started from scratch, renting a warehouse and developing the processes and technologies to handle logistics and operations in-house.

Today, an integrated system that includes all supplier inventories allows for quick delivery of a wide range of products. “Logistics and operations form one of our biggest competitive advantages,” Marques says. “No one in Brazil is able to do what we do right now, which is deliver door-to-door all around the country all types of furniture, even large pieces.”

Although Marques says the company can’t disclose figures, market indicators say the 350-employee Mobly broke the $100 million revenue barrier in its second year of operation. With a promise of $20 million in investment from Latin American media group Cisneros, Mobly is poised to take over the region with plans for expansion into Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Colombia.

“We want to own Latin America,” Marques says.

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