Startup Spotlight: Two Yale Students are Challenging the Furniture Industry

Photo: Hugo & Hoby

What career path do people chase when a prominent family legacy follows them? Often time’s they purposefully deviate from their ancestry’s expertise as a way to create their own identities, while others embrace it.

But, what if you both options were attainable?

That’s the case for Frederick Kukelhaus and Ben Young of Yale’ School of Management who opted to embrace their roots while creating a brand of their own. The two Washington D.C. area students met at welcome weekend for new students pursuing their MBAs at Yale, and became close in the process.

Kulkelhaus, a management consultant and Young, a statistics teacher and researcher, rented a house during their stay in New Haven and realized a deafening gap in the quality and pricing of sustainable furniture.

Photo: Hugo & Hoby

Photo: Hugo & Hoby

Frederick learned the art of crafting wood from his grandfather Hugo Kukelhaus, a widely known German architect and environmentalist. Ben picked up the trade from spending summers with his grandfather, Hobart “Hoby” Young, an accomplished craftsman and inventor.

In 2014, the two assembled what they learned from their notable grandfathers, and began creating modern furniture for their new home that ended up becoming the start of an enterprise in quality furniture creation called Hugo & Hoby.

Kukelhaus and Young did what they needed to do in the company’s infancy, borrowing tools from friends and even Yale. But as they’ve grown, H&H has now worked with dozens of craftspeople throughout New England in Connecticut, Vermont, and Maine, among others.

Photo: Hugo & Hoby

Photo: Hugo & Hoby

The two students researched the furniture industry for a year while generating a vision for a company of their own to “to design and build thoughtful, affordable, and sustainable furniture using a completely new e-commerce, manufacturing, and distribution strategy,” Frederick said.

What sets this company’s process a part from other retailers is H&H’s crafting partners aggregate customer’s orders and deliver the finished product 30 days later using renewable, minimally treated materials, in their furniture that lasts years.

“Over the past two years, our team has expanded to include designers, photographers, manufacturers, craftspeople, and foresters—each critical to developing this evolving idea,” Frederick said.

H&H is mutually beneficial to all parties, allowing clients to get involved with their designs and craftsman an opportunity to be exclusively creative.

CleanCode is a method H&H applies to their business model for total transparency. They believe customers should be able to trace their furniture back to the manufacturer, species of wood, geo-coordinates of the wood’s origins, and the craftsman.

Photo: Hugo & Hoby

Photo: Hugo & Hoby

Their ideology was put into practice when H&H decided to donate 1 percent of sales to One Percent of the Planet, a global movement where companies contribute 1 percent of their revenue to support environmental foundations worldwide.

As recognition for their innovation, H&H received a bronze award at the 2015 reSET Impact Awards honoring “innovative, impactful and viable early-stage ventures and startups from all types of industries.”

The company is just getting started, Frederick said, as the team hopes to play a part in helping the craft industry contribute to skills and job creation throughout the country.

“Our long-term vision is to create a distributed North American supply chain that uses centrally managed, standardized processes to leverage the craft skills of many small, medium, and large domestic manufacturers,” he said.

To learn more about Hugo & Hoby, visit their website or connect with them on Instagram and Facebook.

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