8 min read

Canoa’s 2023 handoff

Sit back in your favorite chair and read about our 2023 top features, community highlights, and 2024 look ahead
Written by
Chelsea Flintoft
Published on
May 30, 2024

We’re ringing in the new year by reflecting back on the big ideas, launches and lessons we've learned along the way. 

A year where AI dominated the headlines

2023 will go down as the year AI exploded into the mainstream, propelled by the success of publicly accessible AI tools like ChatGPT. While controversy soon followed in the form of lawsuits and much conjecture on the long term threats and opportunities for abuse of these tools, the practical applications were clear, and AI-assisted tools spread throughout tech. 

At Canoa we realized two things:

One is that we could not not have a position on AI and its impact on our industry. The other is that these tools can radically improve designers' work by reducing the load of manual, low-value effort that designers have to manage and which steals both physical and mental energy from the more interesting and impactful aspects of design. 

While there is a lot of hand-wringing about AI taking work away from designers, we believe that the opposite is true: That AI has the potential to supercharge designers, allowing them to do more design, and we think more design is a good thing for the world. 

We see the need for more design, not less. And any technology that helps designers do more should be welcomed. The design industry is at the very early stages of understanding the impact of AI. Fearing AI will not get us anywhere. Instead, designers must take control of their own tools and be an active part of their development. If not us, someone else will.

Federico Negro, Founder & CEO at Canoa
Federico Negro, Founder & CEO at Canoa

This year our founder and CEO, Federico Negro, has been a returning speaker at Harvard GSD, leading discussion and seminars focused on entrepreneurship and architecture, and sharing his thoughts on why we should embrace the tensions between AI and design. 

2023 Top Features 

We interviewed a lot of designers and furniture brands. We researched the way that designers find inspiration, source products and work with their teams. 

We built and shipped 20 releases with over 80 new features. A milestone for our 20 person team made up of designers, architects, product managers and engineers. Some of 2023’s new features were small, some were big but there are three that stand out and our team is  incredibly proud of: the Product Catalog, Canvas and Canoa AI. 

We began 2023 with a heavy focus on the product catalog and giving designers easy access to more products and enabling them to close the loop of circularity by connecting with pre-owned supply, along with thousands of other beautiful and sustainable products. 

But with the release of Canvas and Canvas AI, we did something else. We gave designers better ways to search and discover the products they want in that sea of options, and we brought it all together in a light and delightful design environment built for the creative process from inspiration to specification.

Product Catalog —

Canoa_Collection_Studio Anand Sheth
Studio Anand Sheth - Featured Collection

This year our focus was on products and product data with the launch of a robust cataloging tool with critical features to import, export, edit, share, and publish. This allowed us to establish a data link to hundreds of brands to fill the platform with thousands of new and pre-owned products. A direct data link to each of these brands meant designers had, for the first time, a massive catalog of always-live products with up-to-date information to use in their floor plans. Since then we have reached over 100 new furniture brands, 25,000 furniture sku's and hundreds of millions of product combinations on our platform– numbers we expect to double every 2 to 3 months in 2024. 

Additional features like saving favorites, creating kits, and collections were also added enabling designers to create and manage design standards or ‘kit-of-parts’ across projects and share them with others, a common and important service designers provide to their clients. One collection that stood out for us this year was Studio Anand Sheth’s Curated Collection that highlighted a mixture of boutique makers, large manufacturers and re-use. 

Canvas — 

Canoa_Canvas Users
Canoa - Canvas Users

In October, we launched Canvas into beta. Canvas is our second generation design environment and expands design capabilities in two critical ways. First, the ‘design space’ evolves from generating furniture layouts in the form of vector drawings to an infinite ‘'Canvas'’ where designers can now also play with images and furniture ‘cards’ or specifications. To top it off, we also turned on ‘'Canvas' AI’ an automation layer that leverages computer vision to augment the designer’s workflow as they search and discover new and surprising products based on image-based inputs. 

Prior to Canvas, we initially focused on more technical aspects of the design process, Canvas expanded our feature set upstream in the designer’s process: inspiration and concepting. With canvas, designers can now bring the rest of their design team, their clients and third party project managers, consultants and purchasing agents directly into their ‘design space’ to co-create and collaborate as they  develop healthy and sustainable designs from inspiration to final layouts and specifications, all in one place for the first time. 

Canoa AI–

Canoa AI - Canvas

Launching Canoa AI with Canvas was another milestone for us. Our approach to AI is founded on augmenting the designer, instead of trying to replace them. Specifically: Canoa helps designers create data-rich mood boards, furniture layouts, and product schedules all in the browser, assisted by a first-of-its-kind proprietary AI engine.

'Canoa' AI is a ‘co-pilot’ for interior designers that leverages computer vision and machine learning to aid with search and discovery of new and novel products. 'Canoa' AI also improves its recommendations with use. As more product data is added to the platform and combined into different designs in the form of mood boards, layouts and product schedules, billions of product-to-product connections are generated that help the model learn what a good product recommendation would be in contextually specific use cases. Designers can quickly shuffle through dozens of product recommendations, quickly identify unknown products from any image or search for new ones based on image or text inputs, replacing a workflow that is entirely manual, error-prone, and easily takes weeks today.

Things we said goodbye to

Canoa, Shopping Cart

We also made some tough decisions this year. After bringing commerce to our platform with the commercial furniture industry’s first shopping cart built into a design tool, we discovered that we weren’t having the impact that we wanted to have. We thought we were helping to streamline the procurement process, but we often found ourselves feeling like a middleman and the value to both designers and to suppliers was not as clear as it should be. 

Just as important as the release of new features, is the sunsetting of old ones. 

So, with the release of canvas we also changed the way that we make money. When we launched Canoa we thought that the best way to gain adoption would be by providing a free tool that would take a small cut of transactions of any project that chose to buy what was designed on the app. We were wrong. It wasn’t long before we realized that basing our revenue on the transaction priced out thousands of businesses that depend on these ‘fees’ for their livelihood, a clear barrier to adoption of our technology. We needed to make a change to gain traction in that market and so we did. With the release of canvas we eliminated the transaction fee as our main source of revenue and replaced it with a paid software subscription with additional features atop our basic free tier.. 

In doing this, we opened our doors to 

  • More brands and more products available through Canoa
  • Better relationships and a clear value for dealers and suppliers
  • An industry leading design and collaboration tool that truly helps interior designers do their work day in and day out

Our Growing Community 

We helped designers and brands connect. This has always been a part of why Canoa exists. 

In 2023 we saw 24% growth MOM with 2,300 new users and 600 active monthly users on platform. In a short amount of time we started to see designers, dealers and furniture brands not only meet on Canoa but work together.  Since October, we have also seen over 300 canvases made. Some of our community favorites include: Alma Lopez, Kevin Chung, Alex Jeongco. Tamara Roth and Emily Anderson. Some of our favorite brands include Hem, Designbythem and Denvir Enterprises.

We are incredibly grateful to our growing community made up of investors, designers, dealers, furniture brands, furniture rep groups and customers who have supported our growth this year. A big portion of our community are our early adopters who jumped in and gave us feedback on ideas and new features. Helping us to research, design, build and ship meaningful products that designers not only want but deserve. We always like to say, design is never done alone, and how we built and shipped our features this year is a testament to that. 

2024 look ahead

We’re incredibly proud of the work we did this year to arrive at the clearest distillation yet of the reason Canoa exists: To bring the interior design community together in a place that empowers it to design and deliver better, more sustainable spaces where people can thrive.

From our big ideas, launches, and lessons we will be taking the best of Canoa into 2024. We are relentlessly committed to giving the interior design community the best place to do their work by helping designers work faster and more effectively and by connecting designers to more products and brands that matter to them. 

On behalf of our entire team at Canoa, we are immensely grateful and excited for what lies ahead. Being able to build new tools that lets designers create more, collaborate more and share their vision more has been a privilege of a lifetime. 

Canoa - 2024
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