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Three Entrepreneurs Create Houzz for Commercial Design

From hotels to offices, the Albert Lea startup is helping industry professionals build beautiful businesses.

Three Entrepreneurs Create Houzz for Commercial Design
Land O’Lakes

More companies are trading in their outdated offices for modern, design-forward spaces in an effort to attract talent. Designing a space that fits the company culture, physical requirements, and budget, however, can mean a lot of back-and-forth communication before details are locked down. To streamline the process, three entrepreneurs launched Mortarr, the commercial industry’s version of Houzz.

“Over 5 million Google searches for services and design ideas within the commercial space are happening every month,” says co-founder Abby Murray. “Houzz did a good job capturing a tool for residential, but there was nothing out there for commercial buildings, so we set out to address the need.”

Murray, along with co-founders Amy Petersen and Steve Pulley, founded Mortarr in July 2017. Since then, the Albert Lea company has grown to 21 employees and more than 1,000 subscribers.

Modeled after Houzz, which has more than 40 million users, Mortarr is an online inspiration gallery and networking platform for professionals in the commercial space. Through Mortarr’s website, users can gather photos, source products, and connect with professionals in the commercial construction and design industry, including architects, engineers, and interior designers. The platform is free for users; industry professionals and brands pay a subscription fee to maintain a profile where they can showcase their work and promote their services.

In September, Mortarr added a product specification feature, allowing companies to tag products and brands showcased in their photos. The feature makes it easier for users to source products, says Murray. “Commercial products can be hard to find because many professionals source products directly from manufacturers.”

A majority of the commercial design industry is composed of mom-and-pop shops, many of which operate by word-of-mouth, she adds. “Mortarr is an affordable way for small shops to showcase their work and grow their visibility. The subscription fee is less than $200 per month.”

Mortarr is also the parent company of a branding agency that Murray founded in 2013. The agency was renamed Brick in January—playing on the term “brick and mortar”—and now functions as an internal agency for Mortarr subscribers.

In June, Mortarr was awarded a $175,000 grant from Minnesota’s Job Creation Fund to help the company expand. In addition to the 34 employees Mortarr expects to add in the next two years, the company is investing $1 million to renovate a historic building in downtown Albert Lea for its new headquarters. The company is working with local Mortarr subscribers to redesign the space.

Mortarr is also working with higher education institutions to place it in the classroom. Arizona State University’s design school, Murray’s alma mater, recently introduced Mortarr as a collaboration tool for students and faculty. “We want the tool to grow with the younger generations,” says Jen Levisen, Mortarr’s communications director.

This fall, the company is releasing a mobile app to cater to the more than 30 percent of site visitors accessing Mortarr through their phone. “We’re meeting individuals where they are,” says Levisen. “Users can access Mortarr whenever, wherever.”

Next on the list: user experience enhancements and, eventually, virtual and augmented reality features.

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