At the start of the fall semester in 2015, University of Pennsylvania classmates Stephen Kuhl and Kabeer Chopra were grabbing drinks at The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company, a Philadelphia speakeasy. The friends were griping about something many college students, urban-dwellers and couch potatoes can relate to — the hefty price and hassle that comes with buying a new couch.
Having moved to the area to attend Wharton business school, Kuhl had recently purchased a sofa and was frustrated by the experience — there was the two-hour round-trip trek in a rented van to a New Jersey IKEA, the $600 price tag and the two-and-a-half hours spent putting it together.
Chopra was equally fed up by a saga involving a West Elm couch: He waited for a sale to buy one and was then told that for the medium-gray fabric he wanted, he would have to wait 12 weeks for delivery. Instead he settled for a color that was in stock: orange. To avoid paying for shipping, Chopra went to the store with a dolly and wheeled it home himself, pushing it for two blocks along a city sidewalk.
"We were talking about these experiences with each other and we thought, 'You know, maybe there's a better way to do this,'" Kuhl, now 30, tells CNBC Make It. "There are so many companies that have improved the experience in buying products by selling them directly to customers online…Why can't we do that with couches?"
Inspired, Kuhl and Chopra decided to use the idea as a project for their entrepreneurship class. They spent their first semester at Wharton researching why a convenient, affordable and high-quality couch didn't exist, and found that the problem was the high cost of shipping such big, bulky items, which couldn't be stacked on top of each other.
The issue seemed surmountable, so the pair decided to look for a solution.
Working between classes from Chopra's apartment or at Huntsman Hall on campus, Kuhl drew elementary sketches of what a more delivery-friendly couch might look like: It would need cushions that could be compression sealed; a hinge in the couch would allow the backrest to fold down; and the legs would need to be removable. Plus the modules of the couch would have to be easily assembled without any tools, while still being sturdy.