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I really don’t have a ton of opportunity to do much with the design community.  Nor do I get out all that much, for networking events . . . in person.

So when this Facebook invite popped into my box a week or two back, I jumped.  Houzz in Baltimore = “I’m in.”  I mean — I was aware that the Houzz.com team recently presented at the Winter Market in Vegas.  But now, BMore?  And I’m thinking, “What, What?! . . . Tourrrrrr!” (But more on that in a bit.)

Houzz Home Page

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Houzz = House Porn

What I knew of Houzz was pretty much limited to the postings of friends Paul Anater, Jamie T Goldberg and others, featured contributors to the site.  And OK, truth — I have gone there occasionally, late at night, when the kids and wife were asleep, and when there was nothing, I mean – nothing on TV (translation: Just a joke.  Actually anytime really).  I’ve occasionally gone and gotten lost in a page or, well, a few of this beautifully packaged “house porn.”  Oh!  And I do also subscribe to their weekly email updates.

“What is it?” You ask.

Houzz is a collaborative online resource featuring some 300K+ images, most hi-res and professional quality.  Images are uploaded by home professionals looking to build an online portfolio or presence.  As a visitor, you can then browse by Style or by Space and organize what you find into your own “Idea Books.”

Image-Based Sharing is Pretty Hot Right Now

This line in a mailing from pro writer Tess Wittler caught my eye.  Speaking of pros connecting with prospects, her newsletter Jottings contained this bit:

They are eager to “pin” your articles and add your project to their “idea book” on Houzz.com.

Received just a few days before the event, it just solidified, for me, the “why I would be going.”

Connect with Houzz Baltimore

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Connect with Houzz (the Event)

The night hosted jointly by CaseWerks and the Urbanite Baltimore was MCed by Sandy Hillman from HillmanPR.  It seemed like a nice, comfortable turnout . . . I’d estimate 50+ individuals working either in or around (me) the field of design.

Adi Tatarko CEO Houzz & jb bartkowiak Building MoxieAll were there to see the real star, CEO, and mother of two, Adi Tatarko.  She took the podium to tell how Houzz was born in 2005 out of her own frustration.  As a new homeowner of a Silicone Valley “ranch,” and with a new list of required updates in hand, she found herself regularly grabbing up shelter mags.

She and her husband would studiously page through.  Frequently disheartened though, they found that publications only offered what she called — “limited appeal.”  With so many images, she thought, why then would they only find one or so image (per issue) that seemed to work for both of them?

It was this repeated frustration that inspired her to build what she calls a “small application.”  It was meant simply to help her manage her home project.  To start, she approached local architects about contributing to her new “tool.”  Some agreed straight out of the box.  Others soon followed, more actually approaching Adi to request inclusion of their portfolios too.

With support from the Silicone Valley workforce, this is how Houzz.com launched.  Humble beginnings, of course, that then led to a pretty remarkable tale of rapid organic growth.  Growth which prompted Adi to leave her day job just a 1 1/2 year after beginning development.  By then, Adi was already dedicated fully to the site that now receives some 70 million page views a month.

Some Ins and Outs of Using Houzz (Warning: I Use the Word “Algorithm” Below)

Liza Hausman, VP of Marketing, followed Adi and spoke on the in and outs of using the platform.  She offered many tips for the pro trying to make the most out of their Houzz experience.

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Recently Featured Bathrooms and the Bookmarklet ad on HouzzAgain with the basics: Visitors interact by sorting images into Idea Books.  These too are ranked and are searched.  For a pro user (the contributing source), it is obviously beneficial to have your images found and used (read: shared).

One simple tip that many may overlook is simply setting up one’s profile completely.  She recommends starting with a minimum of ten images.  But from that point, website magic does in part take over.  Liza gave us key insights into Houzz’s algorithm.

The algorithm then rates based on 1) The quality of the photos 2) Recommendations — the site’s recommendation feature similar in practice, I would imagine, to Facebook‘s Like option 3) Keyword tags placed on the photos & 4) Questions/Answers (like comments) —  engagement on a photo/project is represented by a swinging green tag.

Liza continued by pointing out a number of ways that pros were using Houzz.  From the top 10, these caught my eye: As a communication tool; For display of credentials and for client education; As a traffic booster (via backlinks); and For validation.  A few perhaps replacing Google‘s Image Search with a search of Houzz.

She actually started her portion of the presentation by highlighting their wildly successful iPad app.  Alluding to this New York Times article, it was said that ratings rival that of Angry Birds — a fact that would of course be unusual with a non-gaming app.

Houzz in the iTunes Store

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Houzz is a Social Media Tool (at least in my head) & They Continue to Develop

As someone that has not yet created a free profile, or let alone any Idea Books (I know, lame), I can not help but frame the site (in my mind) in terms of other social media tools.

A “Follower” function gives the platform a bit of Twitteresque feel.  A recently added Q&A section, similar to Facebook of course, allows for a new collaborative layer.  Through “comments”, pros can offer advice and may connect not only directly with their prospect base but also to the growing online community at large.

What’s coming from Houzz?  Look for more Styles and more refined Space categories.  Directing a response to a question posed by art dealer Jordan Faye Block, Liza hinted at “categories focused on Art and the Artisan” as well as a few others.

Houzz in the Words of a Power User & Editorial Content

Adi Liza Mark from Luke Works Presenting on HouzzGuest speaker Mark Melonas of the Baltimore-based cabinet shop Luke Works spoke highly of his experience as a pro user.  As he explained, he likes Houzz because it makes that first convo with a client easy.  A prospect can already grasp your style and know what you are about.  On the creative end, he said he uses it in one part as a sort of sketch pad, like a notepad, but visually oriented.

Featured Idea Books, you might ask, come from an editorial staff that sometimes dishes assignments to contributors (like Paul & Jamie above).  Featured Books appear on a “category home page” for a given time.  The team that night advised — if you would like to take a crack, “just contact” the editorial staff.

Both Adi & Liza noted that with many publishers short-staffed, several users have had pictures “discovered” for print.

Wrapping Up & Houzz on Tour?

Adi laughingly jokes that her house, and her original renovation plan, is not yet complete.  (It appears that that project was replaced with non-stop dedication to “another project”.)  Her success, Adi attributes in part to being a child at heart.  When I asked who in fact built that “small application,” Adi admits plainly — “My husband.”  As it was revealed, he (President, Alon Cohen) was a one time Senior Director, Engineering — eBay.  (Probably helps.)

Lisa & Fanny DesignLoft Interiors Baltimore

I was lucky enough to make some new friends that night.  Quick shouts to Fanny & Lisa from the DesignLoft and Elizabeth Cross Beard @ formally-featured Jenkins & Baer Associates.  It was nice too to catch up with old friend, broker/realtor Amanda Lopez @ Style House Realty.

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“The Houzz Tour” continues in New York next month as it stops into good friend Paula Cecere’s GE Monogram Showroom.  You might know that Building Moxie visited the A+D Building back in June.  Space is limited and the link below will allow for RSVP.  The Event is March 15th.  RVSPs by March the 2nd.  Say hi!

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Thanks for reading all.  Adi & Liza were great; thank you ladies.  Shout to Matt @CaseWerks for hosting.  Great Weekend.  ~jb