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Author: Tan KW   |   Latest post: Wed, 20 Nov 2019, 9:38 PM


Cloud-based interior design service speeds up 3D models for China’s impatient home decorators

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Getting the keys to a brand new home is just the beginning for many middle-class Chinese home buyers. They typically face months of negotiations with interior designers and builders to decorate and furnish the empty rooms – and some are even enticed by realistic 3D renderings that can show exactly what the finished home will look like.
However, many buyers become impatient because a single change to the design can mean a few more days of rendering, so they end up going with a much faster 2D graphic instead, according to Wu Yue, owner of the North Home Technology design firm in Hangzhou.
“It’s necessary for customers to see the finished render. Otherwise, they can only imagine the final result, which is likely to be very different from the design,” he said.
Stepping in to fill that void is a Hangzhou-based startup whose three co-founders have used their computer graphics backgrounds to find a way to speed up the process from days to minutes.
Traditional rendering software like 3D Max is slow because it requires a large amount of memory and stores the render files on a computer, said Chen Hang, co-founder and CEO of online design platform Kujiale.com.
To overcome that bottleneck, the Kujiale R&D centre in Hangzhou, China assigns the rendering job to a cluster of more than 3,000 distributed computers and nearly 10,000 virtual servers in the cloud.
Chen, along with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alumni Huangxiao Huang and Zhu Hao, saw an opportunity in the home decoration market and founded Kujiale in 2011 as a cloud software service platform to speed up the interior decoration process for homeowners and designers.
Homeowners and designers can find floor plans from the Kujiale database – which covers 90% of floor plans in China – by entering the name of the community and living area. They can then select furniture from a list of 3D models and after deciding on a style, render the images before proceeding to the next step of purchasing directly from an online list of vendors.
A keen user of Kujiale’s proprietary design software, Wu is an interior designer with more than 10 years of designing experience. Now he makes changes on his laptop within hours instead of days and keeps customers on the hook by showing them the progress of rendering. This stops them from losing interest and looking for other designers. More importantly, the final result that the customer gets at home is very close to what they saw in the rendered 3D model, said Wu.
“[Before Kujiale] the user experience was usually bad. Homeowners became impatient and would often cancel the order because they didn’t want to wait three days for rendering after each change was made,” said Wu. “Decoration firms didn’t want to take the risk so they skipped the rendering part and provided only a 2D floor plan with numerous lines on it, which was hard for customers to understand.” 
In 2018, Kujiale generated revenue of 400mil yuan on a customer base of more than 15 million homeowners and 14,000 commercial enterprises. It taps into 6.5 million registered designers, accounting for 40% of interior designers in China.
Kujiale’s revenues are derived from subscriptions and its main business focus is the commercial market. In one recent example, the Nando’s restaurant chain used the service to design more than 40 restaurants around the world. Homeowners can design basic living spaces for free but are charged a fee for more advanced designs and enterprise packages.
The company claims a market share of more than 70% and a valuation of US$600mil. Last year it raised US$100mil in a series D funding round funding led by Shunwei Capital Partners and other existing investors, including IDG Capital Partners, GGV Capital and Yunqi Partners, and a series D+ round is in the works, according to Chen.
“The Chinese decoration market is not standardised and customers need personalised service,” said Micheal Mao, co-founder and managing partner of Yunqi Partners. “The industrial chain is full of small players...and they need to be integrated. Kujiale knows the industry’s opportunity and weakness [and]... I believe Kujiale can scale up the traditional decoration market.”
When the three co-founders, who each hold master’s degrees in computer science, tried selling their idea of rapid rendering in Silicon Valley eight years ago, nobody believed it could be done, said Chen.
“Investors only believed projects that were copied over to China at that time. They didn’t believe something that didn’t exist in the US could be a success in China,” said Chen. “But we have academic backgrounds in computer graphics and high-performance computing, and we knew it was feasible.”
The home decoration market in China is forecast to be worth more than 5tril yuan in 2019, according to a report by ASKCI Consulting. Growth drivers include an urban population of 59.6% last year and disposable income per capita of 28,228 yuan, up 6.5% from the previous year, according to the same report.
The Internet-based home decoration industry is expected to grow 26% year on year to 433.8bil yuan in 2019 as Chinese internet giants bring digitisation to the sector, according to iiMedia Research.
Last year online shopping giant JD.com teamed up with Qumei Home Furnishing Group to develop the smart furnishing market, while Tencent announced a digital marketing partnership with Red Star Macalline, one of China’s biggest furniture retailers, to build a smart marketing platform.
In 2017, Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba opened its retail chain Home Times in Hangzhou to transform the traditional furniture mall concept into a seamless online-offline customer experience. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.
Kujiale’s rivals include Guangzhou-based 3VJia, which finished its B round fundraising of 300mil yuan in 2018 led by Red Star Macalline.
With their Silicon Valley heritage, Kujiale’s founders were planning to expand in North America but Chen said that has been affected by the ongoing trade conflict and the Chinese government’s move to limit capital investment in the US. However, Kujiale has opened offices in the US, Malaysia and Singapore and will continue to develop the overseas market, according to Chen.
“We want to become a global leader in cloud-based design software,” said Chen, who estimated the potential worldwide market to be US$5bil.
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