Gita Ramanan is the founder of Design Cafe, an online interior design firm. Design Cafe makes the entire process of doing interiors of your home very easy and completely stress-free. Designs are shown to you in 3D and once you approve them, your entire home is installed in 90 days.
We speak to her about her entrepreneurial journey:
How did the idea for Design Cafe come about?
Designcafe.xyz was started with the view of democratising good interior design, i.e. catering to home owners who could never afford to hire a top-class designer by reaching out to them through the online medium and offering them the premium services of an award-winning design team at no additional cost.
With our venture www.designcafe.xyz, you can design and build your home in 5 easy steps — all in less than 120 days, track each stage of your work online and best of all, move in with a 5-year warranty. No more hassles of running to different designers and stores or haggling with a carpenter or worrying about quality: we take care of everything.
What market gap did you try and address?
My partner Shezan and I are architects, and we had been designing large homes and hotels across India. We used to be flooded with requests from smaller home owners (who have homes in the range of 1000-2000 sq ft) to help with the design of their homes. But we could not take up their projects because as a traditional design firm, we were just too expensive to hire. Yet, we saw the pain that they were going through with smaller inexperienced design firms/ freelancers and not to mention contractors… and that’s when we realised that there was a huge gap in the market that should be addressed.
The home interiors market is an extremely disorganized one, and to get one home delivered from concept to completion requires the combined efforts of over 20 people — designers, project managers, contractors and vendors alike.
How are you different from anyone else on the market?
First, we’re damn good at design. There is no other interior player (online or otherwise) that has the kind of awards and recognition that we have in the home design space.
Second: we make the entire process so very easy. You can see your home in virtual reality before we start execution, you can touch and feel every material, and you can even see designs of your kitchen instantly online for any size and shape. Once the project is on the floor, you can actually take a vacation, while our team takes off everything — while you track the work on your phone, and 90 days later, your home with a warranty and service guarantee to boot is handed over to you!
What is the most challenging part about being a woman entrepreneur?
In these many years, I have battled with many challenges such as Client Management and Employee hiring, Payroll and Accounts, Retention and Research and so on. A lot of these concepts were alien to me as I came from a non-business background, but what I have learned is to surround myself with smart and successful people who are happy to help.
In the midst of all these challenges, I must admit being a woman was not one of them. I certainly am not diminishing the challenges that women face while stepping out into the workplace today.
I also count myself as fortunate that I come from a Tam-Bram family, where getting educated and making a career from it was considered a part of the natural order of things. Two generations of women before me have shown me the path by managing both families and a career with aplomb… so much so in fact, we have a lot to prove and look up to.
I am also fortunate in my life-partner and extended family, who know and understand me intimately and honour my choices and intelligence.
You wear many hats, you are an entrepreneur and an architect, how do you manage it?
First and foremost: I love what I do: both as a designer and as an entrepreneur.
I remember coming across something Elon Musk said, “Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. This made such an impression on me. My partner & myself are both quite tuned to this ideology and typically work 60+ hours a week. But this made us push it up to 75-80 hours when we launched our new initiative www.designcafe.xyz and recently, our first-of-its kind Home Interiors Experience Lounge.
What was your hurdle in getting funding?
When we came up with the idea of www.designcafe.xyz, our business plan indicated it would be ideal if we raised money. Having run a professional firm till then, we had built no network of this manner, yet we progressed with typical (to us) confidence. We split our energies to two activities: finding the ideal investor and preparing a pitch. After countless hours of research, we were ready on both counts. We went in for a meeting (we had fixed up only 1 meeting with 1 angel investor). This is a typical hurdle for a lot of entrepreneurs: creating the pitch and getting connected with the right angel. Both are resources that can be available if we do a good amount of relevant research and are very clear on what we want at the end of the day. Another point we have come across is people pitching ideas with no experience or no proof of concept. Having worked in this industry for more than a decade, having a pro-active and synergetic founder team and a clearly laid our business plan helped us get our first investment.
We have also raised a second round of investment.
What advice would you have for other aspiring women entrepreneurs on getting funding and on starting up?
A certain amount of arrogance or stubbornness is a required ingredient in my book for any entrepreneur and helps them fearlessly encounter any challenge that comes their way
Both my partner and I have this sense of bull-headedness that has literally allowed us to storm through seemingly immovable barriers.