Sudhir Sharma, Founder & Director, Elephant Design, Pune

By Team YS|25th Sep 2008
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Design to differ

Different in their approach indeed! Like an elephant, who creates his own path as he walks into the jungle, so did a bunch of six youngsters, as they walked out of NID in 1989, redefining and building a strong brand in Indian design industry called Elephant Design. Sudhir Sharma, one of the founding members, tells YourStory about the importance of innovative thinking and his journey so far

Our story

We were still students when we started Elephant Design in 1989, a group of six 20-somethings from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, eager to carve out a niche for ourselves, do things differently. The idea was to remain students forever, build on what we had learnt, keep learning and take forward the variety of work we had done at the Institute.

We started with a small staff of six other people, all operating out of a small room in a busy old area of Pune. Cramped we were for space. So much so, every time somebody came to meet one of us, the rest had to move out and sit in the staircase. Those days, it took a long time to get a telephone connection and mobiles were unheard of. We struck an arrangement with another office close by, which had a telephone. We used to pay them for incoming calls and fixed a bell next to the phone. The man in charge there would ring it once if the call was for Sudhir, twice if it was for Ashwini, and so on. We would count the number of times the bell rang and accordingly, the person concerned would run to the other shop to take the call.

To say the early days were tough would be an understatement. To be honest, one often felt like giving it all up and trying out something else. But, on the positive side, those days also taught us to value criticism and work as a team, setting aside personal differences. We realised that ego and attitude were actually cover-ups for bad work. We also learnt early on that apart from the quality of work, your conduct too had to be pleasant and memorable for the client. Thus, even as we raised the bar progressively, we remained extremely approachable for small jobs. Before long, we had moved into our second office in Pune.

Looking back today, boy, we are glad to have held on! One of our biggest differentiating factor has been spending adequate time with clients to understand their real needs rather than proceed blindly with the mandate they hand out.

We believe the innovation process is an intuitive one as much as it is about research and systems. In fact, we are running a one-year post-graduate executive programme on innovation (www.elephantversity.com) based on this thinking. We were in Helsinki a while ago, discussing the course at three universities. It is our conviction that you can make a world-class product or service only with world-class thinking

Today we want to demonstrate the power of design process by transforming companies and lifestyles. The Elephant sees itself among the top 5 global strategic design, innovation and transformation consulting companies by 2010.

In this entrepreneurial journey of two decades, two things have driven us on: First, a conviction that we are best placed to do what we have been doing, and that we are the best at this job; and second, a realisation over several trips abroad that so much more could be done in India yet.

Our success could have lessons for other budding entrepreneurs. It is sad when young people get disheartened and give up on the advice of some stupid professor or after an incident with a rotten client. Our advice to them would be: Set some rules for yourself; listen to only positive people; follow your intuition and don't be ashamed of what you are doing, however modest it may be.

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