Preksha Baid, Y-walls founder: Winner of the British Council Young Creative Entrepreneur 2010 in design
Preksha Baid, Founder and Creative Director (Y-walls Design), believes in “The power of ‘WHY’—If I don’t question, I won’t search, if I don’t search I will not discover.” Rightly so, she seems to question why, as Preksha means “looking inside” or “seeing your inner conscience.”
Preksha graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design with a M.A in Textile Futures. Founded in 2008, her Delhi-based design practice Y-walls Design provides space design solutions with a focus on creating unique identities for public spaces in India. Y-walls believes in the philosophy to look beyond boundaries and adopt new approaches to design spaces that are socially sustainable, culturally rich, and beautifully crafted. India has a rich history of story-telling, which is getting lost because of rapid modernization. Through Y-walls, Preksha aims to revive the art of story-telling in India and build spaces that help people to connect and engage better with their habitat. Her company Y-walls Design provides public art and experience/interior/architecture design services. Preksha’s work has been internationally published and exhibited. Most recently, she received the Elle Décor International Design Award, EDIDA for her work ‘Apply-Ply’ in 2009, and the Young Creative Design Entrepreneur Award (YCE) by British Council in 2010.
In a freewheeling chat with Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist, YourStory, Preksha Baid explains her entrepreneurial journey and Y-walls philosophy.
YourStory: Thank you for talking to YourStory. Can you give your impressions about winning the British Council YCE award for design and its impact on Y-walls?
Preksha: It is a very special award, because before this award, I have received awards only for my design abilities. This is the first for my entrepreneurial skills. I feel like a bird with new and a stronger pair of wings.
I studied in U.K. So visiting U.K. as an entrepreneur after winning the award was a special experience. I interacted with various space design/interior design/ architectural companies and learned from their design and business approach. The balance of being creative designer and practical business acumen was strengthened with this visit. My focus was also to initiate collaborations with U.K. companies who are already working on space design projects in India or wanting to venture into India.
YourStory: Can you please take us through your background—education and work experience?
Preksha: I had almost no work experience before starting Y-walls. I did NIFT right after studying B.Com (honors) and after NIFT, I went to Central Saint Martins (London) for M.A. After returning to India in 2008, I worked as a consultant for an architectural company and started Y-walls in Jan 2009. Soon Y-walls will be 2 years old.
YourStory: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? When did you start and have you realized your vision?
Preksha: My ability of asking ‘why’ always helped me to take directions in life. Y-walls was conceived in London while I was studying M.A. I studied textiles but was more inspired or rather obsessed with spaces in which textiles are used. It was a step ahead from what I was trained in. I became entrepreneur because I wanted to create a creative environment to work for myself. Today all the designers at Y-walls work here because they believe in the philosophy of the company and love the freedom of expression. I believe people excel when they find the right environment. I did when I created one for myself at Y-walls.
I took the decision of starting Y-walls in September 2008 when the financial downturn happened. A lot of people asked me if it was a wise decision and I should stick to doing a conventional job. I thought for less than a minute. When you find the road to travel, it is not good to waste time on a journey where your heart does not agree. I started Y-walls only with a vision and not much capital. I always focused on ‘Why’—How, What, Whom, Where were secondary. A step-by-step process led to understand how, what, whom and where.
I have only realized the vision of starting a company; it’s like a having a baby. One continues to nourish the baby for life. It will take few years to realize my vision, but I have realized that a true entrepreneur enjoys the journey more than the destination. Now my focus is on the journey.
YourStory: Can you tell us more about Y-walls’ business model?
My business model has two verticals. One vertical provides design services on projects ranging from public art installations and the latter is interior/experience/architecture design. Our clients range from architects, corporate organizations, and private clients to government bodies. It is very project-specific. In the first year itself, we had revenues of Rs. 4 million, and had a growth of more than 100% in the second year. Other than the financial growth, today Y-walls has a huge database of craftsmen, vendors, contractors, technicians, designers, and artists and still continues to connect with people from different backgrounds. The in-house team comprises of architects, interior/product/graphic/textile designers, artists, space visualizes, storytellers, and artists. When people see things from different windows, the design outcome is unique. This multidisciplinary approach helps to bring freshness into our design output. Although the business is growing fast, I make sure I spend good amount of time in strengthening the design process continually because that is the heart of Y-walls. If the heart is weak, other parts won’t function. Finance is the brain, which is equally important.
YourStory: How did you fund your company?
Preksha: By completely bootstrapping. I just kept re-investing back into the business. Understanding finance is very crucial, something which you can learn only with experience.
Basics are to keep expenses low in the first year, and plan well when you want to expand when your basic set up is in place.
YourStory: What challenges did you face in terms of customer acquisition, selling the business model to customers, finance, people, others?
Preksha: I faced small challenges from buying the right systems for the studio to macro challenges of finding the right people to execute my designs and managing finance. Every thing was started from scratch and a parallel process of finding ways to move ahead also went with it. Setting up a design team, training them, finding vendors, contractors, craftsmen, technically skilled people and executing projects, it was all a continuous struggle. Being from a textile background, I did not know even to read architectural layouts. I only had a vision for spaces in my mind. To realize that vision, I had to learn a lot of skills and also find people who had the right skill set to execute my vision. I realized that it’s not important to spend time learning everything, but find right people who have the right skill set to realize your vision. I kept finding solutions at every step with a focus on excellence. Most of my clients find me, and I don’t believe in sales and quiet honestly I would not be very good at that, even if I attempt it. With every project, we generate a lot of value in terms of design, connecting with people and providing the right design solution for clients. As a designer, it is very important to be critical about the kind of future spaces that are being built and what impact it would have on our social fabric. Spatial design is a relatively new field in design and requires skills to understand the site context, architectural planning, interior detailing, product design and most important the aspect of human connection and interaction with the space.
As a creative practice, we work on different verticals, for example, we provide space design solution to a small shop in Lajpat Nagar by designing the modular shelf systems to crafting a Kalamkari ceiling for a luxury hotel in Hyderabad. Our application is not bound by geographical location or a particular demographic. Our strength is the ability to translate a brief clearly into a three-dimensional space, blend creativity with commercial success, and follow an in-depth design process, where everyone in the chain is equally involved in the design. As a designer and entrepreneur, the biggest challenge is to be consistent yet achieve change in each project, and to innovate in providing unique identities using locally available materials and artisans.
One of the challenges for a space design company is to achieve quality in execution of the spaces. For us, the journey is incomplete if a design concept is not executed with excellent quality on site. As a design studio, we equally stress on quality management as much as we do on research and concept design. The focus is also on learning, innovating and also be flexible in approach with problem-solving attitude at each stage of the project to make it commercially successful for clients and engaging for the public.
Today creative entrepreneurship is not only about ‘monetary success’, but also an ‘approach’ to have a vision for future, to build a company, to create job opportunities, to collaborate, to sell, to grow, to take risks, to challenge conventions, to find solutions, to bring change and yes, to have fun in what you do for living. It is very important, to not just be a creative person who happens to run a business but instead be an entrepreneur who can apply creativity to every aspect of running a business.
In 5 years time, Y-walls would be the best space design company in India. Next year I am launching whylights, which is a division (child) of Y-walls (parent) focusing on providing custom lighting solutions for spaces. We looked at more specific requirements of a space, and a new product line of Y-walls, whylights, was born.
YourStory: Based on your experience, what is your advice to creative entrepreneurs?
Preksha: Realize the power of ‘why’. If you don't ask why, you will not search, if you don't search, how will you discover?
When you start your business, make sure you buy the first dustbin yourself, because all of your negative thought processes, moments of self doubt will be required to be disposed in that dustbin. Also buy a piggy bank, where you can save your time and self-confidence to be fearless. You cannot do everything; instead find the right people who can work for you, use a magnifying glass and identify their strengths. Listen to the market needs and adapt to the changes.
Focus on excellence, and follow your instincts, rest is easy.