An illustration of a phone taking a photo of a beautifully decorated room that is slowly falling apart at the edges.
Illustrations: Joel Plosz

How a Hot $100 Million Home Design Startup Collapsed Overnight

The untold story of how Homepolish’s extremely Instagrammable house of cards came tumbling down.

The company also landed a series of high-profile customers — Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine, model Karlie Kloss, and payments startup Venmo — as well as designers like celebrity interiors guru Orlando Soria.

Santos, dark-haired and so striking-looking one website referred to him as “the brains (and beauty)” behind the operation, was the CEO. Nathan, who had a shaved head, sometimes with a beard, was the chairman. They started the company with $400.

The founders openly favored signing up the most physically attractive designers, saying they would be more appealing to clients.

What had more important ramifications for the company’s future was Santos’ singular focus on press, with nearly all profits — at least in the early days — going to marketing.

“These guys have been growing 100% year over year, they’re profitable, their growth has been nearly 100% organic, and customers love them,” Hunt told Forbes at the time.

Santos and Nathan argued about how to use the infusion of cash. Santos wanted much of it to go to marketing; Nathan thought it should go to coders to strengthen the back end. But within six months of the funding announcement, the arguing stopped — Nathan left.

Noa Santos attends the Hamptons Magazine Celebration with Debra Messing on June 13, 2019 in East Hampton, New York.
Noa Santos attends the Hamptons Magazine Celebration with Debra Messing on June 13, 2019 in East Hampton, New York.
Homepolish CEO Noa Santos. Photo: Mark Sagliocco/Stringer/Getty Images

The founders could be “intimidating and scary” to the young employees who worked for them, says an early former employee. Santos frequently raised his voice and “would openly threaten people, saying, ‘If you don’t do this, we can replace all of you.’”

By employee estimates, 75% of the leadership team that started in 2018 didn’t end 2018 with the company.

By July 22, most employees had gone a full month without pay — meanwhile, Santos’ husband Instagrammed a photo: A six-bedroom, $1.6 million home the couple had just bought in East Hampton, complete with two ponds, a tennis court, and a Jacuzzi.

“As a founder you feel trapped. The box around you is getting smaller and smaller, and you have nowhere to move.”