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My college dorm room was anything but stylish. Armed with a leopard print blanket from Target, a purple XL twin comforter and pink plaid sheets from Macy’s, and no sense on how to style a space, I did the best that I could with the sterile, white walls and industrial-issue furniture. The aesthetic wasn’t great, but how could I make it better?

Things might have looked different if Dormify had been on the scene.  Founded in 2011 by a mother-daughter team facing a dorm room styling dilemma, Dormify, an online store and style consultant, offers chic products and dorm decoration ideas for everything from bedding and accessories to clothing, lighting, sorority items, and “survival kits” (kit names include “Cheer Up. Kit Happens.” and “Mom Misses You–Call Your Mother”). Dormify began as a team of four–Karen and Amanda Zuckerman (the mother-daughter founders), Nicole Gardner, and Stephanie Hayman, with everyone initially continuing to work their day jobs (with the exception of Amanda, who continued, and continues, as a full time college student studying design). Now in its third year of operation, with offices in the D.C. metro area and New York City, and preparing to launch its back-to-school line for fall 2013, Dormify is a start-up success story and a model for capitalizing on a niche market opportunity.  

Founding team member Nicole Gardner acts as Chief Operating Officer, overseeing Dormify’s business operations and strategy. Nicole began her career as an account executive at HZDG, an integrated creative agency. Having studied business and marketing in college, and being a creative person who enjoys fashion (a perk of her work at Dormify is that she can now call online shopping “research”), one of Nicole’s career goals was “a strategic role in a fun/creative industry like beauty or fashion.”  Also, having grown up in a family business, Nicole had her eye on working with a startup, so when Karen Zuckerman offered Nicole the position at Dormify, Nicole “jumped at the chance…to work in an industry that was more fashion-oriented and fun.”  

Nicole spoke to me about her startup experience from Dormify’s D.C. office:

In the beginning, when you were working at both HZDG and Dormify, how did you balance the demands of both jobs?

It was definitely challenging and stressful balancing both. I began working with Karen on the Dormify concept in summer 2009, but I wasn’t an official Dormify employee until two years later, when we launched the Dormify site. Working with HZDG clients from 9-6 each weekday, and then working on Dormify in the early mornings and on nights and weekends, I was really working two full time jobs, especially in the last year of Dormify’s development. But it was all worth it because I believed so much in the concept and loved what we were creating–it was exhilarating. And after my years of agency work, I was adept at time management, prioritizing, and multi-tasking, which is also important now that I’m juggling many different areas of the Dormify business.



What do you enjoy most about working with a startup?

One of the coolest things about my job is seeing things that started as an idea or as a conversation with a coworker turn into a real life product or campaign. The first day that our new products arrive is always exhilarating, and in turn seeing people purchase and love our products is so rewarding.

What advice do you have for people who are considering creating or getting involved with a startup?

Do it while you are young, energetic, and eager. Starting Dormify has been such an invaluable educational experience. Every win or loss has taught me so many lessons. Also, don’t get caught up in the trendy hype surrounding startups. Know that startups take a lot of work and sacrifice: weekends and evenings spent at events or pounding the pavement represent many missed happy hours with friends. You have to believe it will be worth it in the end.



What's next for Dormify?

We’ve just launched our full line for Summer 2013 and back to college. A lot of the new styles are completely different (in a good way) from anything that we’ve done in the past. In addition to pulling inspiration from the runways, street fashions, blogs, and our friends, this collection reflects our customers’ requests for fresh pieces ranging from modern and trendy to bohemian and eclectic. Our customers’ feedback and fashion statements really drove the design for this collection.

We are always working hard to take away some of the anxiety related to pulling a look together for an unseen dorm room–it’s hard for anyone to style a space that they’ve never seen.  And if you are a college freshman, it’s likely this is your first foray into interior design. To make it easy, we’ve packaged everything into specially curated collections–complete bedding looks that feel truly styled.

On that note, we just launched a new tool that generates free design plans revolving around our collections. All it takes is answering a series of design- and personality-related questions, and it produces the six closest matching options based on your responses. You can heart your favorites, see what your friends love, send your choices to your future roomie, and see complementary styles that your future roommate should check out.



Startups are stressful. How do you decompress?

Luckily our team is awesome and we have a lot of fun everyday—can’t you tell? In my free time though, I love to spend time with friends and family, especially trying out new restaurants. Lately, I’ve been looking at fun fitness classes to take, like anti-gravity yoga, and I have a weakness for TV—my hulu is always on when I am home. I also have a place in my heart for online shopping, but now, I just consider that to be research.


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