As co-owner of his family's company Fortuny, a textile manufacturer with a factory in Venice and a showroom in New York, Maury Riad dealt with some of the best interior designers in the world. The majority of them worked independently or as part of small, two-person teams, and it struck Riad that these firms could work more efficiently if they pooled their resources. When he saw the success of co-working startups like WeWork, he had an idea.

"WeWork really validated that collaboration can be very effective," Riad says. "I always thought if you took that and applied it to one specific industry, it could be even more powerful."

So Riad did precisely that and launched Fuigo, a collaborative workspace and tech platform created specifically for interior designers. Fuigo gives designers office space and access to its design software, plus bookkeeping and payroll services, thus acting as the firms' HR departments. Most important, Riad thinks, is Fuigo's library of 1,500 products--rug, furniture, flooring and wallpaper samples provided by vendors and approved by Riad and his staff. "Their whole job, as interior designers, is finding stuff," Riad says. "Now we bring that right to you." Fuigo brought its first clients into its space this January, but it officially announced itself to the public on Thursday.

Fuigo's 18,000 square foot space, which has 58 seats, sits on the seventh floor of a building in Manhattan's midtown. Its Park Avenue address is another perk for unknown firms looking to win bids. "As archaic as that sounds, it still matters today," Riad says. "People like to see Park Avenue on their business cards."

Some of the designers that have already settled into Fuigo's space originated in other cities and wanted to create a pipeline in New York. Riad refers to one of the startup's first customers, a designer from Nashville. "He has a New York outpost now," he says, "and his business has doubled." 

Renting out and renovating the space, plus creating the software, was no cheap task. Riad and his co-founders--his brother Mickey and interior designer Bradley Stephens--started the company with a $4 million investment from the Riad family, which bought Fortuny in 1988. Stephens designed the space, which offers some nice views of midtown. Riad points out that the Fuigo name doesn't hang above the receptionist's desk. What visitors do see, though, are the names of the individual firms that inhabit the office.

An added benefit that wasn't part of the company's original vision: Contractors, architects, and drafters approached Riad about renting seats. Though he planned on limiting the studio strictly to designers, Riad presented the concept to clients that were already on board, and they loved it. Now, the space works as an ecosystem--the various parts of a project collaborate and funnel business to one another. Many of the projects are high-profile--one firm is currently working on a coastline mansion in La Jolla, California, others on large properties in London and the Bahamas. Each of the firms pay Fuigo $1,000 per month, plus a cut ranging from 5 to 10 percent of any bid they win--though the money isn't due until the firm gets paid.

Fuigo certainly isn't the first co-working space of its kind--spaces like this have become de rigeur, especially in the coding and technology worlds. But Riad believes this is the first co-working space geared specifically toward designers. The model, if successful, is one that could be leveraged into other markets: Riad says that, while pulling the startup together, he had insurance brokers and lawyers tell him they could benefit from similar setups in their own industries, which would allow them to work outside of big corporations and keep their payrolls skinny. While expanding beyond interior design isn't in the works for Fuigo any time soon, the idea of leveling the playing field for startups is one that excites him. 

"We allow you to start, run, and operate your own business, with very little risk, with the same resources that the largest companies in the world have," Riad says. "And that's pretty freakin' cool."

Published on: May 6, 2016