How an Innovative Digital Platform is Helping Designers Bring Their Visions to Life

Zoe Lowres

The slick exterior of the design and architecture world hid a mess of spreadsheets. When Zoe Lowres created a software solution with her co-founders, it was personal.

Fact file

Founders: Zoe Lowres, co-founder, 35; Traviss Orr, co-founder and CEO, 43; Claudio Oyarce, co-founder, 48
Investors: EVP, Investible and several private investors
First customer: An interior designer in 2020; launched full platform in September 2021
Headquarters: Melbourne, with team members in Perth, Auckland, Chicago, Toronto, London and Berlin
Staff: 35 and hiring

What’s your elevator pitch?

Programa is a software platform for the architecture and interior design industry. It’s a double-sided SaaS-enabled marketplace – we have tools for designers to manage their studios, projects and clients and tools for brands and suppliers. We connect the two.”

What was the problem you were aiming to solve?

“I’m an interior designer and people are surprised to find that so much of the architecture and design industry is run on spreadsheets. Behind every part of the design process – concepts, fee proposals, specifications, procurement, invoicing – there’s usually a spreadsheet. That causes all sorts of problems and inefficiencies. Our technology brings order to the complexity and helps designers, suppliers, tradespeople and clients work together more easily.”

How does it work?

“For designers, we help them manage every part of their projects: organising the work, resourcing, choosing the products, approvals and payments. For brands and suppliers, we help them connect and work with designers more efficiently by uploading their catalogue to the trade portal. Say I’m searching for a marble floor tile, Programa will bring up all the options from suppliers on the platform. With just one click I can add it, all its specifications and the rep contact details to my product schedule. Designers have to track any changes to the project and ensure that the information is accurate. Small things like accidentally mistyping a paint code could end up with a green wall rather than a red one. Until our platform, there weren’t any solutions to make that part of our job more seamless.”

How did you get it off the ground?

“I was working on a large project and all of the specifications were on an Excel schedule and included thousands of products. Traviss [Orr], who’s my partner, looked at the schedule and started asking me questions. ‘Do you guys have a system where you log all this? I use Xero for my accounting, surely you have something similar?’ I said, ‘No, this is it.’ We looked to see if there were other solutions out there but there wasn’t anything effective. Claudio [Oyarce] was co-founder of Denfair, Australia’s largest trade show for architects and designers, and had a great network on the supplier side so it was a natural connection. We came together in late 2019 and spent six months bootstrapping the beta version, which launched in 2020.”

How did you convince investors?

“When we were pitching, so many people had engaged an interior designer or architect and experienced the problem that we were trying to solve. Coupled with the size of the market and subscriptions on both sides of our platform, investors were really receptive. We were able to hire an in-house development team and we’re now being used by design studios in more than 75 countries.”

What’s next?

“We’re looking to expand in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe – when we switched on our international advertising, it was validating to find that the same pain points are shared across the world. We’ve also created a dedicated AI team to look at ways of implementing machine learning across the platform for even more efficiency gains in daily workflows.”

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